The OF Blog: February 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

February 22-28 Reads

A bit of a struggle to read for part of this week, due to work-related issues, but somehow I managed to find the time and energy today to complete four books out of the seven below. There should be more time for reading in March, as I believe I won't be quite as wrapped up in work. Don't know if this pace of 32 books/month will last, however, as spring is coming and this is the year that I want to get at least close to the shape I was in when I was 17 years old. 15 lbs. down, a bunch to go. At least my bronchitis is fading and I'm not coughing up phlegm anymore. Now for this week's reads, those in progress, and those to be read in March perhaps:

58 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (last re-read in 1996) - Thoughts here.

59 Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), Best American Fantasy 2 - Review will be forthcoming tomorrow, I hope. Fewer pleasant surprises, but I found it to be stronger than the first edition. Will elaborate in the review. Highly recommend this to short fiction readers here.

60 Catherynne M. Valente, Palimpsest - Gorgeous prose, interesting setting, but I think my work-related issues put a damper on my enjoyment of this book (I read it during planning period/lunch period breaks this week). Will re-read later, as I think my opinion will increase quite a bit from good to perhaps glowing.

61 Roberto Bolaño, La literatura nazi en América - Somehow, Bolaño managed to out-Borges Borges in this fictional encyclopedia of writers influenced by elements of Nazism. Will write a full review of this one in the near future to explain the apparent hyberbole.

62 Roberto Bolaño, El gaucho insufrible - This is the third of four (to date) short fiction collections by the late Chilean author and the last (2003) to appear in his lifetime. Some outstanding stories here. Will write a feature on Bolaño in the near future.

63 Roberto Bolaño, El secreto del mal - Posthumous (2007) collection of short stories, non-fiction, and fragments of stories that will be of interest to fellow Bolañistas. Thinking about devoting a weekend in March (or my spring break in late March/early April) to translating in full one of the non-fiction pieces and posting it here so others can see better why I'm trying to collect all his available writings in Spanish.

64 Benjamin Rosenbaum, The Ant King and Other Stories - This 2008 collection published by Small Beer Press reminds me in many ways of another Small Beer writer, Kelly Link herself, in the juxtapositioning of the "real" and the "fantastical," although Rosenbaum's "plausible fabulisms" are not as whimsical. Very good collection, however.

In Progress:

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Las luces de septiembre

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (re-read)

Future Plans:

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (re-read)

Jo Graham, Hand of Isis

Jonathan Littel, The Kindly Ones

Jeff VanderMeer, City of Saints and Madmen (re-read)

February 17-28 Book Porn

Thirteen books this time, with four review copies (including the hardcover release of a book I've already reviewed based on the galley proof) and nine purchases. One is a new edition of a book I've owned for six years now and four are in Spanish (but most are/will be available in English translation). One graphic novel and four short story collections, along with a couple of YA-marketed books, round out the haul.

Top: Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (read this last year after borrowing it from the local library, buying a copy to read for the March 9-15 Blogger Book Club discussion); Catherynne M. Valente, Palimpsest (finished reading this on Friday; good prose, but I didn't like it as well as her recent The Orphan's Tale duology, but some of that may be due to reading it while feeling tired and irritated about work issues, so will re-read it later before reviewing it in full); Tobias Druitt, Corydon and the Siege of Troy (YA trilogy concluding volume. Will have to read the first two volumes before considering reading this one, but it does look interesting); Carolyn Turgeon, Godmother (modern-day twist on the fairy godmother element. Likely will read later this spring); Jeff VanderMeer, City of Saints and Madmen (I already own the Prime hardcover edition, but since there are updates here, thought I'd better get off my lazy ass and get it, as I really enjoyed the previous edition); Benjamin Rosenbaum, The Ant King and Other Stories (published by Small Beer Press, little surprise it reminds me in tone so far, 50 pages in, of Kelly Link's stories. Good so far); Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Brief Lives (seventh volume, this was one of the stronger volumes to date for me).

Top: Roberto Bolaño, El gaucho insufrible (this 2003 short story collection was the last published in Bolaño's lifetime; about to start reading it); Roberto Bolaño, El secreto del mal (Bolaño's posthumous 2007 story collection, his fourth. To be read shortly); Roberto Bolaño, La literatura nazi en América (just finished reading it and might write a full review this weekend); Francisco Casavella, Lo que sé de los vampiros (2008 Premio Nadal winner, will read in the next month or so); N.D. Wilson, Dandelion Fire (second volume in a YA series. Will likely buy the first volume to read, as this seems interesting, based on the blurbs at least); Peter Brett, The Warded Man (already read and reviewed).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Nebula Award finalists announced

Filched from Locus Online, with commentary:

SFWA has released the final ballot for the 2008 Nebula Awards, to be announced during the 2009 Nebula Awards Weekend, April 24-26, 2009 in Los Angeles CA.

Novels: Little Brother, Cory Doctorow (Tor); Powers, Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt); Cauldron, Jack McDevitt (Ace); Brasyl, Ian McDonald (Pyr); Making Money, Terry Pratchett (Harper); Superpowers, David J. Schwartz (Three Rivers).

I've read Doctorow's book (which I placed in my favorite YA fiction for 2008) and McDonald's book, which I believe ought to be a strong contender for this award. Need to get around to reading Le Guin's series here. Interesting how 1/3 of the finalists here were marketed as YA novels, but neither one appears on the Norton Award shortlist below.

Novellas: "The Spacetime Pool", Catherine Asaro (Analog 3/08); "Dark Heaven", Gregory Benford (Alien Crimes); Dangerous Space, Kelley Eskridge (Dangerous Space); "The Political Prisoner", Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF 8/08); The Duke in His Castle, Vera Nazarian (Norilana).

Haven't read any of these yet, although the Eskridge is tempting...

Novelettes: "If Angels Fight", Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08); "Dark Rooms", Lisa Goldstein (Asimov’s 10-11/07); "Pride and Prometheus", John Kessel (F&SF 1/08); "Night Wind", Mary Rosenblum (Lace and Blade); "Baby Doll", Johanna Sinisalo, David Hackston, trans. (The SFWA European Hall of Fame); "Kaleidoscope", K.D. Wentworth (F&SF 5/07).

"Baby Doll" is the only novelette that I've read. I seem to recall it being good, but not my favorite from the Morrow collection. Might have to re-read it shortly.

Stories: "The Button Bin", Mike Allen (Helix 10/07); "The Dreaming Wind", Jeffrey Ford (The Coyote Road); "Trophy Wives", Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Fellowship Fantastic); "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss", Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 7/08); "The Tomb Wife", Gwyneth Jones (F&SF 8/07); "Don’t Stop", James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s 6/07).

I've only read "The Dreaming Wind," but it was a very fine story...or par for the course for Jeffrey Ford. Will consider the others later, time permitting (Spring Break?)

Scripts: The Dark Knight, Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (Warner Bros.); "The Shrine", Brad Wright (Stargate Atlantis); WALL-E, Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Peter Docter (Pixar).

Not interested in film-related stuff, to be honest.

Andre Norton Award: Graceling, Kristin Cashore (Harcourt); Lamplighter, D.M. Cornish; Savvy, Ingrid Law (Dial); The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary E. Pearson (Holt); Flora's Dare, Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt).

Loved both the Cashore and Cornish efforts (both made my year-end list for YA fiction). Will have to look into the others, but choosing between Cashore and Cornish here would be tough for me, as both were outstanding stories.

The wotmania Files: Short reviews of Jorge Luis Borges' collections (2005-2007)

Here are a few short commentaries/reviews of some of Jorge Luis Borges' collections that I originally posted at wotmania in 2005-2007. Since I praise Borges on occasion here as being one of the best storytellers that I've read in either English or Spanish, thought I'd post my comments, even if I would have said a lot more here than I did there two-four years ago.

El Hacador/Dreamtigers and Siete noches/Seven Nights

I've just finished re-reading the original Spanish essay collection of Borges, Siete Noches (available in English as Seven Nights) and have waited to review his 1960 collection El Hacedor (Dreamtigers) in English so I could be cheesy and dedicate it to a fellow Borges fan, Mery, who turned 24 today. But there's already a birthday thread for her elsewhere, so back to the blind Argentine writer/poet/essayist, shall we?

Dreamtigers is a story collection that displays Borges at his most surreal and dreamlike best. The stories are indeed, as Shakespeare said in The Tempest "the stuff as dreams are made on" and these fragmented tales contain that mixture of the Real and Unreal that people our dreams. The titular story (in English, that is, as El Hacedor is the namesake title for the Spanish original) is a thing of lost, almost forlorn hope and beauty.

Although I could type out completely without proper citation Andrew Hurley's translation of "Dreamtigers," I will rather attempt to do my own translation, with consultations with the Hurley translation to smooth over rough patches:

In infancy I exercised with fervor the adoration of the tiger: not the spotted tiger [jaguar] of the camalotes of the Paraná and the Amazon wilderness, but instead the striped tiger, Asiatic, real, which only could be confronted by men of war, from a castle on top of an elephant. I would remain, stopping for ages, before one of the cages in the zoo; I ranked the vast encylopedias and books of natural history by the splendor of their tigers. (I always remember these figures: I who cannot recall without error the face or smile of a woman.) Infancy passed, the tigers and my passion for them faded, but always they are in my dreams. In that underground or chaotic pool, they continue to prevail and thusly: Sleeping, I am drawn into some sort of dream and suddenly I know that it is a dream. Then I stop to think: This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will, and since I have limitless power, I'm going to bring into being a tiger.

Oh, incompetence! My dreams never know how to generate the savage beast I so desire. Yes, the tiger appears, but it is shrivelled or weakly, or with impure variations of form or an unacceptable size or is fleeting in appearance or takes the form of a dog or parrot.

The other stories in Dreamtigers follow along similar paths where 'reality' has interstitial relationships with 'dream.' Another example is the story "Borges and I", for which there is a link to a translation.

If you've ever read and enjoyed Borges' other works or are curious to read stories that touch upon the stuff of dreams, then I would highly recommend Dreamtigers for you to read. Of the books that I have of Borges in Spanish, it is certainly the most poetic of his prose works.

But what if you've read Borges and don't get all of his literary/philosophical references? Or what if you want to know more about what influenced Borges? For those wanting to know more about Borges the essayist, I would suggest a reading of Seven Nights. This is a collection of seven speeches that Borges gave in 1977 dealing with a wide variety of cultural/literary topics including the textual meanings behind Dante's The Divine Comedy (and the roles of Reason and Faith in it); the shaping of Nightmares and how such a word has so many connotations in the various languages in which the concept of an evil, malignant dream exists; The Arabian Nights and the infinitude implied within its alternate title of The Thousand and One Nights; the core characteristics and values of Buddhism; the power of Poetry to capture in a word snapshot the soul's image; the arcaneness of the Kabbalah and the search for that elusive Word to bring life into being; and Blindness as a real and metaphoric condition - each of these elements reflects in part some of the elements present in Borges' stories.

If you want to see a thoughtful look at literature and the development and importance of Ideas, then his Seven Nights will make for an enjoyable read and perhaps will serve to interest you to explore further the topics Borges covers.

El Aleph/The Aleph

It should be no surprise that Jorge Luis Borges is one of my all-time favorite writers. The work he did over a 50 year period is truly remarkable, considering he never wrote a full-length novel. However, his exploration of how words and images connect with our imagination and with our hopes and fears to create a nexus of thought and meaning has had a profound impact on late 20th and early 21st century writing, both within and without the speculative fiction sphere.

Last Wednesday, I posted about his earliest well-known collection of stories, The Universal History of Infamy. I could post now about his most famous work, Ficciónes, but Jake already has covered that in a Book Club review (not to mention that last year I had a thread devoted to discussing some stories from Ficciónes). Instead, I'm going to talk about a work that I think is the equal to Ficciónes, at least in some regards. That work being The Aleph.

This collection of stories was released in 1949 and, to me at least, was a more coherent and focused collection than was Ficciónes. As I was reading these stories in Spanish (and later checking over them with the English translation I have), I kept noticing certain themes. Themes such as the Thirst for Knowledge, the Exploration of the Unknown, the Conflict between Orthodox and Heterodox, and the Search for the Meanings behind Life. In a very real sense, just as Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, "these are the stuff on which dreams are made."

Borges explores these themes in a variety of ways. In "The Immortal," not only is the main character lost in a maze leading to a fabled city, the language used is a labyrinth of meanings as well - what is immortality anyways? For "The Theologians," Borges uses the imagery of people hating and waging conflict from afar over a philosophical/theological truth that is substantially the same, with the action of the story paralleling what occurs on the metaphysical level.

Many of the stories focus on secret knowledge and how life is based upon and reacts to it. "Averroës' Search" is a prime example of this, while "The Zahir" is something else, something verboten in a sense that isn't immediately made clear to the reader. And the titular story, "The Aleph," deals with the Kabbalic knowledge in a way related to the creation of life and meaning from the associations with the first letter of the primordial alphabet.

Each of the stories have their own meanings and I will not delve further at this time (unless someone else who's read some of these stories wants to discuss them with me below?), but I would hold The Aleph up as being the second crowning point (after Ficciónes) of Borges' writing. A simple must-read in order for someone truly to be knowledgable of speculative fiction.

Historia universal de la infamia/Universal History of Infamy

This is the earliest of Borges's collections of fictions, except in this case, it's based on true stories...well, kinda. Written in 1935, The Universal History of Infamy (although Andrew Hurley translates it as The Universal History of Inquity) deals with 7 rather unsavory types and their rises and downfalls. From the 'cruel redeemer' Lazarus Morell to the Widow Pirate to Billy the Kid to a masked prophet who rose up in the years following the Hegira in the Middle East, Borges has taken accounts of real-life people and made them akin to his own creations, with a plethora of possible motives and intentions. Following the History proper comes some of Borges's earliest-known fictional pieces, like the stunning "Man on the Pink Corner" (about a street tough who goes down in a blaze of...well, he goes down in a moving way that needs to be read to be understood in full) or his account of multiple Mohammad's being produced. Each of these tales gives a hint of the cleverness and the twisting narratives that has made Borges not only one of the most important Argentine authors, but also one of the most important writers of the 20th century.

Without a Borges, I don't know if magic realism would have been as important. Without a Borges, I doubt a Gene Wolfe would have been inspired to write Book of the New Sun. Without a Borges, we likely wouldn't see the exact types of stories that a China Miéville or a Jeff VanderMeer or a whole host of others would have written otherwise. And we certainly wouldn't have a direct tribute to Borges written by Rhys Hughes (daringly called A New Universal History of Infamy) that pays homage in a way that is much more than just lifting inspiration and mode from the original.

For those curious as to what Borges is all about and why many of us think he's head and shoulders above virtually all other authors of the past 100 years, start with The Universal History of Infamy. It is perhaps his most accessible work and in it, you can see the seeds begin to germinate into the flowerings such as Ficciónes and The Aleph.

El libro de los seres imaginarios/The Book of Imaginary Beings

As many of you may have noticed recently, I have mentioning a certain blind Argentine writer more and more around here. There is a reason for that, as I believe Borges to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, not just in the field of les letres belles, but also in the realm of speculative fiction. Without Borges, I cannot imagine Gene Wolfe's labyrinthical works having that element of twisting mystery and double meaning to them. Without JLB, China Miéville might not have had the inspiration for many of the creatures that appear in the bestiary that is Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council, among other works of his. Without Borges's subtle manipulation of Mood, Tone, and Language to create multitude of possibilities within a dreamscape, so many other writers, both Anglo-American and Latin American alike, might not have been moved to write their own works of beauty.

It is with this in mind that I checked out from the library this week El libro de los seres imaginarios (available in English translation as The Book of Imaginary Beings). The book itself is deceptively small, only 210 mass-market paperbook-sized pages with a largish font, but within are contained a plethora of stories and images to ponder.

Borges was an inveterate collector of stories, often taking them, tweaking them just enough to make them his own. As I posted here, Borges took a character from Grimmelshausen's The Adventurous Simplicissimus and made him appear to be a vague menace, one that likely had a direct influence of Gene Wolfe's character of the same name in the Book of the New Sun series. Or Borges would take a legend, say that of the Garuda, and make it new, something spectacular to the point that a China Miéville would consider such a creature for his Perdido Street Station.

But these are just vague references, but how about this little writing of Borges's that appears at the end to the first edition of Miéville's The Tain, the story of the attack from the mirror people. In this story, Borges uses sparse but very descriptive and imaginative language to convey a sense of the surreal, of the fantastic lurking beneath the mundane world in which we purportedly inhabit to the oft-denial of our imaginative selves. It is one of the more remembered short pieces of Borges and indicative of his mastery of style, which thankfully translates rather well into English from the original Spanish.

However, I've been talking around the book, haven't I? In regards to what is included, imagine just about a hundred beings from satyrs to chimeras to leviathans to unicorns to banshees to krakens to basilisks to other fantastical fauna and flora from all across this globe of ours. Borges adds a bit of 'realism' to them, while also revealing in a few short phrases how we tended to view these 'creatures' and their 'place' in 'our' world. It is an amazingly subtle work that can be read on a multitude of levels - a simple bedtime story to a child to a penetrating analysis of our mythologies. It is as if Borges were but a mere presenter and we the interpreters of our own dreams.

The Book of Imaginary Beings is not a novel in the sense of a unified story. Instead, it is a collection, a true bestiary in written form. As such, it might do to read 5-10 of these 1-2 page stories a night before sleeping, perchance to dream. But however you choose to read, do read it. This is beg, borrow, or even steal territory here. So go out and get you some.


"El Sur"/"The South"

The first story I read for this discussion is actually the last one in the combined edition of Ficciónes. Because Mery was curious about why I chose this particular story, I thought I would elaborate on my comments to her earlier.

The story revolves around one Juan Dahlmann, a descendent of a German immigrant and apparent heir to the fatalistic romanticism of his maternal grandfather, Francisco Flores. Enamored with the life of the gaucho, Dahlmann saves the Flores ranch among other things. One day, he is cut by the edge of a metal door and the wound becomes infected. Fever burning, images of the recently-purchased The Thousand and One Nights run through his mind (hmm... anyone want to discuss the symbolism here of this book?). Carried to a sanatorium via a hackney coach, Dahlmann soon finds himself hating his body, infected and as weak as it is at that point. Stoic in front of the doctors, he lapses into crying self-pity.

But an interesting thing happens, not only does he recover, but Borges uses an interesting phrase for it (in English): "Reality favours symmetries and slight anachronisms..." In by hackney, out by hackney, with the putrid images of disease replaced by the clean memories promised by the autumn winds. As he leaves Buenos Aires and enters the true South (a metaphorical place as much as anything physical, apparently), Dahlmann seems to come more into himself, both in thoughts and in dreams. Again The Thousand and One Nights appears, but its fantastical imaginations seem to pale in the wonders and mysteries of a life somehow restored from the brink of a death by infectious rot. Images of peace and wonder flow at this point of the story.

As he travels South (and not just merely south), Dahlmann's perceptions alter subtly. Nothing is quite the same as it was before; things have a taste of "home," or of whatever symbolic (or maybe even real?) virtue that is bestowed upon them by the observing person.

The train stops in advance of his ranch/estancio, but Dahlmann is ready to walk. Small adventure, nothing special, yet very at the same time, as all adventures must seem to those participating in one. Slow walking, breathing in the odors and perhaps more of the grassy, clover-filled lands about him. Again, the juxtapositioning of images with objects, creating an effect of familiar strangeness, if such an effect might be termed that. The scarlet (blood?)-colored general store being one example.

He enters a room filled with gauchos, rough and tough. As he drinks his tart red wine, a Chinese-looking gaucho flings breadcrumb spit balls at him as a sign of contempt, causing the peones to laugh at his apparent weakness. Even a cursory examination of The Thousand and One Nights doesn't resolve anything in his mind or with the situation at hand. Realizing that he isn't well enough to engage in a fight, he attempts to leave when the owner complicates matters by speaking aloud of the situation. Interestingly enough, he seems to know of Dahlmann's name (what could this mean?), which makes the before-apparently anonymous insulting into something more, something akin to a direct attack upon his very name.

This forces Dahlmann, following his own code of honor (apparently gauchos, cowboys, and Appalachians are much the same in this), confronts the peones, especially the Chinese-looking gaucho, who draws his knife and challenges Dahlmann to a knife fight. Dahlmann has no knife, but an old, wizened gaucho tosses Dahlmann his knife and the fight is on.

Realizing that he is going to die, that in his condition, this is little more than justifying murder, Dahlmann feels liberated, much more than he ever did in the sanatorium. This is a death for him, perhaps the only one someone of his particular code could ever accept as "clean" and as being "real."


I annotated my above lengthy summary of the story for a reason. There is much of Borges's style that appears innocuous at first glance, but a more careful re-reading reveals certain clues (and before you ask, Mery, I also read this in Spanish, but I must write from the English edition for the others to understand) on how a reader can be led into interpreting this passage in many ways.

For those raised only in a city far away from a culture akin to that of the gauchos, this might be hard to understand - how can a man take joy in dying? Why the crying in the sanatorium? Why the difference in perceptions as one travels away/toward a destination?

I could try to answer these at some length, I suppose, but I rather not at this time, because there's so much more worth toward people discussing these questions above.

For myself, my own understandings are colored by my own regional perspective. Although my family past is full of relatively important people (as are many people's past), the recent past has been that of a brutal poverty that my grandparents on both sides endured. A poverty of living from one week to the next, hoping that the farm won't be foreclosed, that the cicadas won't emerge that year to destroy the crops, that there won't be devastating rains out of season, that the "creek won't rise." Yet those adversarial conditions bred a contempt for the easy way out. Although I'm of the first generation of my family to be completely raised off the farm, I can't help but have picked up some of that unbending attitude, of a resolution that while shit happens, one just can't be a coward and back down. One has only one's family and maybe friends to depend upon and songs have been written romanticizing this attitude.

So when I read of Juan Dahlmann's journey toward a death of his own liking, I just couldn't help but think of relatives who have refused medication in preference for just dying in a manner most befitting of them. It is not vainglorious, it is just how certain people want to live, as if choosing the manner of their death gives validity to the life that they had just lived to its (hopefully) fullest completion.

"Pierre Menard"

"Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote"/"Autor de Don Quijote" is one of my all-time favorite short stories to read, because as is so often the case with a reader considering what he/she has read from Borges, it is the reader's own attitudes that fill in the blanks to so much of this story.

The story begins with an interesting comment about "the visible works left by this novelist." Much can be read into this, or very little. Such a choice of emphasis. To refer to something visible is to refer not just to one's own perceptions, but also perhaps to the biases and attitudes of those reading the writing, those who will choose to see what he or she will see in the writing, leaving the rest behind. The following reference to omissions by a partisan Calvinist newspaper serves to underscore this particular interpretation of the story, for what is truth and history but how its readers/interpreters choose to tell it? More on this later.

Menard's background as a thinker and a writer, as provided seem to illustrate strong connections to symbolism, of the juxtapositioning of Idea/Form for Matter/Fact in such a way as to create perceptions and shadows to color the viewer/reader's understanding of what has been apparently presented. Poetic vocabularies, ideal objects, essential metric laws, enriching the game of chess - all these are included to develop this notion of transference further.

So by the time we get to Menard's audacious (and dare I say Quixotic?) plan to write anew the Don Quijote of Miguel Cervantes, the reader has been given the opportunity to consider just what is at stake here in this story in terms of interpreting Interpretation (among a great many other things, of course).

The various steps in Menard's struggle are interesting. The first one (dismissed as Menard as being too easy!) is to simply become Cervantes in purposes of language, faith, actions, and understanding of world events. Yet he decides to do this new writing (note my avoidance of the term "rewrite," for this would be a major disrespect to Menard here!) through the experiences of Pierre Menard, a totally different way of approaching the material at hand, even if the words are exactly the same.

Borges then points out (as a precursor to the ending paragraphs) a reading of Chapter XXVI of Don Quijote, which concerns "the nymphs of the rivers, mournful and humid Echo."/"las ninfas de los ríos, la dolorosa y húmida Eco.", which Borges ties into a line from Shakespare: "When a malignant and turbaned Turk." Interesting choice there, especially considering how Shakespeare's own words have taken their own lives independent of the author, his times, and of the poems/plays from which they come. And it is in this that I have chosen to interpret the story of Pierre Menard in the following fashion.

But first, a focus on another seemingly small comment. There is a reference to a philosophical fragment of the German writer Novalis which outlines the theme of total identification with a specific author. The italicized total is very key here, I believe. How do we react when we read this? Do we reject it out of hand, or maybe just a little bit subconsciously? Can we ever identify so much with anything, or do we create our own little spaces for distance, using the guises of Perception and Interpretation?

And then we get to the end part, where Borges interprets Part I, Chapter Nine of Don Quijote: verdad, cuya madre es la historia, émula del tiempo, depósito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo presente, advertencia de lo por venir.

(...truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future.)

Both Cervantes and Menard wrote this same passage. But how do we interpret this, presuming that Menard has created anew this interesting phrase? Do we try to interpret it via the lens of the early 17th century, perhaps following Ranke's dictum of Wie es eigentlich gewesen - How it truly was, or do we choose to understand matters as it relates to ourselves?

This passage is central here, because the narrator/Borges points out how such a passage surely must have been meant by Cervantes, just as he commentates how Menard's phrase shows an acute understanding of Jamesian ideas regarding the origins of history, full of pragmatism, compared to the poetic rhapsodies of Cervantes's version. One version of the Quixote might be a parody of the chivalric tales of Amadis of Gaul, the other a nihilistic destruction of the idea of Glory as being purposeful.

It is this interesting twisting of words (or is it only a seeming twisting and it's really my own biases doing the warping here?) that fascinated me so much when I first read this story. Now having re-read it in both English and Spanish, I feel like there's even more at stake here and that there are blind spots in my own understanding that could be fleshed out. Anyone want to weigh in with their thoughts on this story and its possible meanings/anti-meanings?

"Funes el memorioso"/"Funes, the Memorous"

"Funes, the Memorious/Funes el memorioso" is in turns an easy and exceedingly difficult story to read. A man trapped in a shell of his body, memory constant never fleeing, such a prison of the structures one makes of the world. When I read the first few pages, I almost immediately thought of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun, published in 1939, of a World War I soldier who loses his arms, legs, hearing, eyesight, and voice, yet somehow miraculously lives on (Metallica wrote their famous song "One" based on the movie version of Trumbo's controversial anti-war novel). But Borges goes a totally different path here.

As I've noticed when reading other stories of his, Borges leaves much to the reader's imagination. His stories are pared down to the essential frameworks, which incidentially leaves him plenty of room to place a word in such a way as to make us consider anew what he might have meant whenever we re-read his stories.

Ireneo Funes is a difficult character to comprehend. Uruguayan, young in chronology, his life after a horrible accident is more than just a terror for many of us. Trapped, sealed within his body's cage, Ireneo depends upon others to live. Yet the accident has caused him to have impeccable memory. But what happens when memory is all one is left and experience is taken away?

Perfect reconstructions of conversations, systems of analysis, and languages - yes, Funes is more than capable of those. But change, the moments between which we move uncertainly on our way toward life experiences and ultimately death? Funes seems to be constantly startled, viewing the world in such a way that while at first glance seems to be deep in details, in the end it merely becomes more ethereal and frail than our own forgetful memories of what we have experienced.

This was an incredibly sad tale to read. Funes almost begs for our pity, yet he is so alien as to make it very difficult for any reader to be able to understand even remotely the way he must live his life. It is as if Funes were in a dream within which he could construct a world, but outside his prison/body, he was helpless to do anything.

"Tlön, Uqbar, Orbius Tertius"

This first story of Ficciónes is also one of the longest stories that Borges ever wrote. It appears to take the form of a detective story, albeit one starring a fictional Borges and a fictional Adolfo Bioy Casares, but yet its exploration of an "encyclopedia" of a "vanished" civilization, with its rather unique semantical orderings of time and space, is rather more than what it appears. A clue appears in a footnote in the middle of the story (p. 29 in my Spanish-language edition) that references the belief that in the act of repetition, one becomes all of the so-called others who have ever done the same; one who repeats a line of Shakespeare becomes Shakespeare for at least that instant. There is no real thing as a past or a future, just vague collections or interpretations of that continuous turmoil called the "present."

The story is one of the first to reference mirrors and the "creation" of doubles (or the "abominable" multiplication of beings) and as such, that imagery underlies much of this story. In the "discovery" of the XI volume of the Tlön Dictionary, I believe one can see in the ensuing discussion a mirroring and thus multiplication of ideas concerning the relationships between languages and realities. The Orbius Tertius is portrayed as being some sort of secret society. As the Tlön "languages" are explored, Borges confronts us with imagining one language without any nouns, only suffixes and prefixes to verbs to convey a sense of unrooted action, while another Tlön language employs only modified adjectives that describe while leaving the presumed subject forever in the background, thus making conceptualizations of most, if not all, of our philosophy impossible. How could we portray the world and our hopes and fears if there are no visible subjects/nouns?

In pondering that, Borges, I believe, has us by the short and curlies. The "postscript," dated 7 years into the "future" of the story, reveals a possibly sinister plot by the Orbius Tertius to take over "the" world by introducing a "new" civilization, ungrounded in our concepts of reality and thus not existing in our space but in another space and time. It is this postscript where the mystery mutates and becomes something more than just a mere intellectual exercise and becomes in part (perhaps) an example of how ideas influence reality rather than reality (or the concept of it, rather) influencing ideas. And considering the time (1940) that it was written and considering the place (Argentina) where Borges formulated the notion of an "ordered reality" emerging (perhaps in response to the quasi-Fascist government in place then), perhaps there is more of the then and there to his story than what can be taken from a reading thousands of miles and many decades later. Still, it was a very enjoyable story, one that has grown more chilling with each re-read.

"Las ruinas circulares"/"The Circular Ruins"

This is one of the more dreamlike and fantastical of the stories in Ficciónes and yet one of the more straightforward ones I've yet to read by Borges. It is a tale of a wizard who comes to a place of circular ruins and dreams of creation. He makes a deal with Fire to have his painstakingly realistic dream of a boy come "true," to be able to walk in this world without appearing to be any less real than them. It then continues until the "real" becomes in the end, nothing more than the dreaming of another, perhaps an allusion to the Universal Mind theory of a divine being that "dreams" all of our waking and sleeping moments, dreams of our hopes, fears, and silly goodness and earnest madness. When I read this again just now, I couldn't help but think of Calderón de la Barca's classic play, La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream). In miniature, many of the same motifs of that Golden Era (early 17th century Spanish theatre) appear here in Borges' story. And one writer dreams that of another writer's work, both becoming as real as a boy walking through flames...

The Book of Fantasy (anthology, read in English translation)

This book, full of short stories and excerpts from novels of the fantastic, consists of tales chosen by three famous Argentine writers/critics: Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares (The Invention of Morel being a work that I believe most here should read), and Bioy Casares' wife, Silvina Ocampo. The genesis of this collection began one Buenos Aires night in 1937, when the three started to discuss tales of the supernatural or otherwise fantastic that moved them the most. Since the 1940 original edition, the work was expanded in the 1960s to reach its present length of nearly 400 pages.

I bought this book in English rather than in Spanish because roughly half of the stories available were known to Borges and his friends in either English original or translation. There are many stories that ought to be familiar to readers here, such as Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" and Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw." But there are also many South American and Asian writers that are well worth the time to read.

The stories themselves generally tend to have a heightened sense of "otherness." The settings (or if you prefer, the "landscapes," as Moorcock referred to him in his book on epic fantasy) are varied and almost universally vivid in its tone and effect on the characters and the story.

For those that might want to know some of my favorite authors and stories, here is a partial list:

J.G. Ballard, "The Drowned Giant"

Max Beerbohm, "Enoch Soames"

Ambrose Bierce, "The Tail of the Sphinx"

Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"

Ray Bradbury, "The Golden Kite"

G.K. Chesterton, "The Tower of Babel"

Chuang Tzu, "The Dream of the Butterfly"

Julio Cortázar, "House Taken Over"

Herbert A. Giles, "The Man Who Did Not Believe in Miracles"

W.W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw"

James Joyce, "What is a Ghost?"

Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado"

Emanuel Swedenborg, "A Theologian in Death"

B. Traven, "Macario"

Evelyn Waugh, "The Man Who Liked Dickens"

Oscar Wilde, "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime"

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, "The Reanimated Englishman"

Plus many, many more that were just merely pretty good.

So I would highly recommend that you do yourself a favor and look for a copy of this book, although it's probably best to buy used online and get a good condition hardcover for around $10. It's more than worth any money paid for it.

Biblioteca Personal/Personal Library

Borges was much more than just a writer of speculative short stories. He was also a poet and a literary critic and in Biblioteca Personal (which is available in multiple languages, including English), he had collected 76 different introductions he had written for Spanish-language editions of works from across the globe.

While reading his takes on the lives and the importance of works by authors such as Julio Cortázar or Oscar Wilde or G.K. Chesterton or Edgar Allen Poe, I couldn't help but be struck by how insightful Borges' comments were. In the space of a mere 2-3 pages, he would almost invariably manage to sum up why the book was worth reading, why the author was interesting/important, and why the reader ought to be paying close attention to what she/he was about to read. Critiques/reviews/introductions do not come as finely as those that Borges provides in this slim 211 page book.

Excuse me while I try, probably in vain, to resist going out to read or re-read those 76 works. That alone should say something about how effective those collected introductions were, no?

El informe de Brodie/Dr. Brodie's Report

I finally managed to read this latter work (1970) of his in the original Spanish. For those who've read Ficciónes, The Aleph, or Dreamtigers and enjoyed that but thought that was about it as to what Borges "was about," then reading a book such as Dr. Brodie's Report might reveal a few new facets to this Argentine author's range of styles.

The stories here are not, for the most part, metaphysical. There are not armies of doubles marching down labyrinths toting mirrors to glean out arcane knowledge. Instead, there are gang fights, violence, and a bit of devolution seen in the title story. The writing is more direct, but no less of an impact upon the reader. Borges reports, we decide - what is it that motivates us as human beings? What drives us to kill, to join up with others, to become more (or less) than what we are now?

I enjoyed reading this collection. Although individually, these stories aren't going to have as an immediate of an impact as may a "Dreamtigers" or "Pierre Menard," they as a whole serve to stand as a testimony that Borges had many notes that he could play to get a reader to think and to react to what was happening in the stories. Highly recommended for those who've already had some exposure to Borges.

La memoria de Shakespeare/Shakespeare's Memory

I just finished reading the last-written collection of short stories that Jorge Luis Borges wrote before his 1986, collected as La memoria de Shakespeare (Shakespeare's Memory in English translation, contained within Andrew Hurley's omnibus translation, Collected Fictions). Written around 1983, there are only four stories contained within, but I feel like some, if not all of them, ought to be talked about in much the same fashion as his earlier stories from Ficciónes or The Aleph are discussed.

Before I did the virtual version of sitting down to write this review (having already had my tookus in park for a while), I scoured the web for reviews of Shakespeare's Memory. They were scant, perhaps in part because at first they were only available within the omnibus Collected Fictions. Perhaps it's because many reviewers are drawn to the first sparkles of creative light and are not willing to reflect upon the last refractions cast before the life's sun sets eternally. Whatever the reason, I want to devote some words to two of the four stories contained within, "Blue Tigers" and the eponymous story of "Shakespeare's Memory."

"Blue Tigers" is that of searching too far, of having the miraculous given unto you, in the guise of stones that multiply or disappear at will. It is a story that can be viewed as a reflection upon the Almighty and all of His names, or perhaps of our attempts to make order out of things beyond our ken. It was for me a cautionary tale, with multiple possibilities, but also rather straightforward in its storytelling and language. It is not another Tlön, nor did it need to be - it was its own story, possessing a unity of voice and style that did not hearken back to an earlier tale, but instead felt more as if it were written by a more world-wise and weary Borges, one who wasn't content with asking simply "What if?" but rather "Why this, perhaps?"

"Shakespeare's Memory" is one of the better tales that Borges has written. It is a reflection of how the Bard has had an influence on how he's perceived people and motives, but also a musing on how impossible it is to contain that dead man's "memory" within that of the living, vibrant souls, regardless of how "inferior" of a talent that person might possess in comparison. It is also a tale of personality conflation, of a confused jumble of images, emotions, and loves. It is a memory to be passed on rather than kept for oneself. It is, perhaps, a personification of the transmission of literature and ideas and how they are altered and transmuted by each person in line from the past to the now-present towards the future.

These two stories, along with "August 25, 1983" and "The Rose of Paracelsus," represent a Borges that still was continuing to probe questions about Self and Others, among other things. He just wasn't being as whimsical about it as he might have been earlier in his writing career. It would be a grievous oversight for people to neglect his latter fictional works only in favor of the earlier work. One would miss out on the maturation process that took place through the various experimental stages. Borges was not a static stylist; his pieces have their own tunes. We just only have to open ourselves enough to consider that the old dog still had tricks to show us that he hadn't done before his last years.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The wotmania Files: Interview with Brandon Sanderson (11/15/2005)

Before Brandon Sanderson was chosen in 2007 to complete Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, he was a first-time author. One of the members at wotmania, Bryce, contacted Sanderson and the following interview was arranged. Interesting to see how things have developed a little over 3 years later, no?
As a new author, many people are starting to discover Elantris and would love to know your story. Can you tell us a little more about yourself and how you came to be a fantasy writer?

My story starts back in junior high. I’d never really read any fantasy books, though when I’d been in grade school, I’d been a big reader. My favorite series was the “Three Investigators” books, a kind of Hardy Boys style mystery series.

Well, as I grew older, people tried to give me other books to read. Most of these were realistic fiction--the types of books that bored me out of my skull. My reading habits dribbled off, and I landed in junior high as an average student who just didn’t get through many books in a year.

Then I had a wonderful English teacher--Ms. Reader, ironically--who told me I couldn’t keep doing book reports on novels that were four grades below my reading level. Instead, she gave me her copy of Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly. That was the beginning of the end for me! I was amazed by the book--I hadn’t realized that there were things like that out there. The book engaged my imagination to an extent none ever had. I read through every book in the Library that had “Dragon” in the title, then quickly move on to the bookstore, buying whatever fantasy I could get my hands on. I still remember when both Dragonbone Chair (by Tad Williams) and Eye of the World (by, of course, our friend Robert Jordan) came out in paperback--both books quickly hooked me as a reader, and those two became my favorite authors.

I went to college as a bio-chemistry major, but it only took me about a year to realize that I was in the wrong place. I spent all my free time writing, and eventually gave in and changed to an English major. After that, I dedicated myself to becoming an author. I learned the craft (Elantris was the sixth book I wrote) and learned the business of writing, and eventually got a contract!

As a new writer, what are some of the surprises and favorite experiences that you've had with Elantris?

I’d have to say one of my favorite experiences was getting the cover art for Elantris. This can be a harrowing experience for a writer--you know that the cover is going to make a big difference in your sales, and you worry about how someone will interpret your book into a visual medium.

Tor was great with me on this one. They asked my opinion, asked if there were any artists I preferred, and eventually decided to go with the artist I’d asked for to do the cover. Stephen Martiniere is his name--he’s done work for Lucas and for the Myst video game series. I think he did a brilliant job with the cover. (Irene, Tor’s art director, is a real genius when it comes to placing artists with books.)

Overall, in fact, the experience of working with my editor (Moshe Feder) my agent (Joshua Bilmes) and the whole Tor team was wonderful. In relation to your original question, I’d have to say that the most surprising thing for me was how kind and easy to work with everyone was. Authors were very considerate in reading the book to give it a potential cover quote--Orson Scott Card, David Farland, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Katherine Kurtz, Simon R. Green, and Kevin J. Anderson all read the book and gave it quotes. Pretty much everyone I asked was very accommodating.

After hearing about some horror stories about the publishing industry, I wasn’t expecting it to be as easy as it was to work through the editing process and work with everyone in the industry. After all of this, I can honestly say that I think Tor is a first-rate company.

From what we've seen on the internet, it looks like Elantris is receiving a great amount of praise. What was your reaction to this criticism?


To be honest, as a new author, you really never know if your work is as good as you feel it is. Your editor and agent tell you it’s great, and your friends do the same, but honestly--how unbiased are they? Every author, I think, has a little voice inside that whispers “This book is
actually terrible, and everyone will see through you once you put it on the market. You think your book deserves to be up on those shelves with people like Asimov and Jordan?”

I realize that, in a way, my book STILL doesn’t belong on the shelves with Asimov and Jordan. Fortunately, there are only a few of them, and there is room up there for some of us who are still learning and growing. The reaction to Elantris has been nothing less than astounding--and humbling at the same time. My agent told me not to expect any foreign sales on my first book. We’ve sold in ten different foreign markets now. My editor warned that the review markets might overlook a book by a new, unimportant author. We got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and got very favorable reviews in Locus, the Library Journal, and Booklist.

And, of course, there’s the praise on message boards and blogs. In all honesty, this is what means the most. Some authors write to be remembered, some to win awards. I just want to tell good stories. That’s the beginning and the end of my aspirations. I want people to read my books and get that same excited, wonderful feeling that I got when reading Dragonsbane as a teenage boy. That sense of being taken to another place, of meeting people who feel real, and of seeing things that you’ve never seen before. When readers pick up my book and feel that it was worth the time and money they spent on it, then I feel vindicated in all the years I spent trying to get published.

What is your method for writing? Do you have a daily schedule? Are the novels planned well in advance, or do you let story take shape as you write?

I think a daily schedule is very important for writers. When I was working to get published, the thing I did was get a job working graveyard shifts at a local hotel. That way, I could go to school full time, work full time, and still have plenty of time to write. By doing that, I built a schedule for myself--I went to work every night, checked people into the hotel, and by about midnight things were quiet enough to sit down and work on my novels. I wrote for four or five hours, every night, and then did my other work for the hotel.

This got me into the habit of writing. People ask me how I managed to write thirteen novels before I finally managed to sell one (as I’ve noted, it was my sixth.) It’s because I had good habits. Writing was what I loved, and so doing it so much became second nature to me. Even now, if I’m not making significant progress on my current book, I start to feel anxious. I need to be writing!

I do make outlines. Plotting is one of those things that is difficult to explain. Not because I don’t know what I do, but because I can’t ever be certain that my method will be useful to another person. The thing is, everyone works in different ways. For some, a very strict outline is essential. For others, writing a book without an outline is necessary, for this gives them the freedom to discover what they really want to write while they’re writing it.

I’ve found that people who outline a lot spend more time up front planning. People who discover their story by writing it spend more time at the end revising. It tends to even out. The danger for the outliner, however, is that they sometimes plan so long that they never get to their story. On the flip side, it’s just as easy to spend so long revising certain sections of your story that you never get around to finishing it--so the other method can be dangerous as well.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s often very useful to try different things, and discover what works best. And, what works best is generally whatever keeps you writing and finishing things!

Anyway, here’s my method. I tend to lean a little bit more toward the ‘outliner’ side than the ‘reviser’ side of things. I like to know where I’m going. I, personally, can’t start a story until I know what the ending is. To me, that would be like starting a trip without knowing
your destination!

So, I always plan a good climax first. Then, as I’m pondering a story, I begin to pick out very important or interesting scenes. These could be climactic confrontations, moments of great character growth, or simply beautiful setting images that I want to portray. These ‘super-scenes’ will develop in my mind to the point that I’ve almost got them completely written before I put pen to paper. (Or, uh, fingers to keyboard.)

Once I have some of these scenes, and I have an ending, I decide where my beginning is. Sometimes, this is obvious. (The beginning is often one of the super-scenes.) But, if it isn’t, I try to start in a place of great motion--something has to be happening. Important events are afoot. I always tell newer authors to be wary of starting their stories too long before important things start happening!

Now I’ve got a beginning, an ending, and a smattering of scenes. I place the scenes in order, and they kind of become my destination points. It’s like a trip--I know I’m starting in LA, and I want to get to New York. I also know I want to pass through Denver, Chicago, and Boston. So, I begin building an outline. What do I have to do to take me from the beginning to the first super-scene? What character growth has to happen? What clues need to be discovered? All of these things go as bullet points on my outline beneath the ‘part one’ section heading. Then, I take myself from super-scene one to super-scene two. What needs to happen here?

I build an outline that way. After I’ve got ten or so bullet points for each section (one point roughly being a scene or chapter) I’m ready to start writing!

Also, I'm assuming that you're LDS. I could be wrong, but you teach at BYU, right? We were wondering if it would be possible to ask a question about how your religion and values influence the way that you write. I thought this was an interesting question, having just finished R. Scott Bakker's first book . If you want to answer this question, feel free. If not, don't worry about it.

No problem at all! This is the type of question that I like, since it forces me out of dry “how to write” mode and gets me talking about more personal things.

I am indeed LDS. I would be lying if I said that my philosophies on life, including my religious philosophy, didn’t influence my writing. Who we are as writers dictates inherently which kinds of conflicts we choose to put in our books, and how our story deals with them.

That said, I come down with Tolkien (and against C. S. Lewis) on the side of the debate about the didactic nature of stories. I don’t think that fiction--in most cases--should be written in order to perform some agenda, even if that agenda is to make people into better people. That undermines the story--to me, the most important thing about the book needs to be the story, and not a group of morals an author decides his readers need to learn.

So, while I deal with issues I think are important and valuable, I don’t intentionally put any sort of moralistic themes into my books. Being religious myself, I tend to deal with religious conflicts because they interest me. Those who have read Elantris realize that my antagonist is a very religious man. I did this not because I had a moral to prove in saving him, nor did I do it to show that any particular kind of religion is evil--I did it because his internal conflict fascinated me. What would a man do if his conscience disagreed with his religion? How would he react if he were told to do something terrible, but knew something even more terrible would happen if he didn’t follow orders?

In the end, I think it comes down to being true to your characters. One of the characters I enjoyed writing the most was an atheist. I knew from the start that I couldn’t put her into the novel just to have some warm-fuzzy of a conversion story--if that were her purpose, I’d not only be betraying the character, but insulting any of my readers who shared her philosophy on life. So, I worked hard to read up on the atheist worldview, and tried to present her arguments--where appropriate in the story--as forcefully and logically as possible.

Some people have told me that a side-effect of my religion is that my books tend to be inherently optimistic. I tend to write characters that are optimistic, even when they get thrown into terrible situations. I can look at it and see that they might be right, though this was never my intention. However, I guess that it really is true that you can look at an author’s soul through his writing.

When you said that you spent time working at a hotel in order to write during the nights, I had to laugh. I work nights at the Holiday Inn right now, and I tend to use that time to ponder writing and do a few things for wotmania as well. Quite the coincidence, no?

Perhaps. However, I notice that creative people I know have a singular aversion to ‘real’ work. We try and find people who will pay us to do our own thing, even if that requires us to sit at a desk over night!

Speaking of writing and what influences your style of writing, what advice would you give to aspiring writers? What important lessons have you learned that could help us (speaking for all aspiring writers at the site) to get published and generally write a better novel?

Well, lets see if I can get some quick ones down. First off, I’ll talk about writing, then I’ll give a few tips on getting published.

1) Write what you love! I believe that passion shows through in writing, and it is very important that you feel passionate about the subject you choose. Don’t switch from SF to fantasy just because fantasy seems to be selling well at the moment. Excellence will always get published--and I believe that passion has a lot to do with excellence.

2) Write something original. Don’t write what you’ve seen before. Try and capture the same feel of something you’ve read and loved without writing that same story. You do this, in my opinion, by experimenting a lot with setting, magic, and worldbuidling concepts. What was it you really liked about Tolkien? Was that he had elves and dwarves, or was it that he created new cultures that felt real?

3) Keep reading, and read a lot in a all genres to give you a broad basis of ideas.

Now, unfortunately, I’m going to have to contradict myself. See, here’s the thing--writing is a very strange job. You have to be one-half artist, and one-half realist. So, you need to have a professional mindset as well as an artistic one.

1) Write what you love, but if you love several things, write the one that will sell. If you’re a really creative person, you’ll often have a lot of ideas. Some of those ideas will be more marketable than others. Those should probably take priority.

2) Be original, but don’t be too wacky. Breaking conventions is all well and good, but you need to understand the business side of marketing. The sales department is going to know what genre sticker to slap on your book. If they can’t, they have a very tough time selling it. So, before you write, decide what about your book is going to be innovative, and what is going to be familiar. (And, if you do happen to write a brilliant western, fantasy, comedy, dark gothic romance hybrid. Just tell the editors it’s a historical fantasy and let them figure out the rest on their own.)

Just as a note, I think this, actually, is one of the best things Jordan did with Eye of the World. He was creative and clever, yet still managed to write an epic fantasy with many of the traditional elements. The books that sell, I believe, are the ones that walk the line between the familiar and the original. They have something old to love, but also something new to discover.

3) Read around in all genres, but pay attention to what is selling. Read first novels by new authors (hint hint) and see what the editors are buying. (In other words, find out which editors bought those books and which agents represented them.) It comes down to learning the business side of publishing, and learning the tastes of the different editors. You don’t have to write toward those tastes, but you improve your chances drastically if you can place your manuscripts on the desks of the editors who seem to like books similar to the ones you write.

About the WFC last weekend. Did you get to meet any authors that you previously hadn't talked to? We heard that there was some talk about R. Scott Bakker and his goings on at the WFC. How was WFC, and what role did you play there?

I got to WFC late, missing the first day and most of the panels on the second because of a booksigning in another state. So I had a fairly low profile at this con. I went to the parties Saturday night, then hit the banquet on Sunday. I did meet several people I hadn’t before--I got to talk to David Drake and Jim Frenkel at the banquet, and they were both very courteous and nice to a newcomer like me.

I’d say, however, that the last author I was really star struck to meet was Robin Hobb, who sat next to me at a booksigning at Nasfic this year. She’s one of my favorite authors, and one of the best things about being in this business is that I can actually sit next to her and feel--a little bit--like I belong there. It’s a weird feeling. (Don’t worry about my humility though--that was well restored when I had all of three people come get books signed by me, while she had quite the line. She deserves it!)

Elantris is a stand alone novel, which really excites many people here who don't prefer to get into a long series before it's well underway. You do, however, have a series planned, correct? What can you tell us about that series? Number of books, date of release, brief description, etc.

Well, if you insist. . .

First, let me say that I love having written a stand alone. I always wanted my first published novel to be a stand alone because I felt that was a much better way to introduce myself to a readership. Nothing annoys me more than looking through a bookshelf, wanting to try a new author, and only finding “Book one of this series” or “Book one of that series.” Not knowing the author, I don’t want to get bogged down by a trilogy (especially one that isn’t done yet) without having confidence that the author can tell a good story.

So, that’s why I don’t plan on a sequel to Elantris right now. I won’t say it will never happen, but it probably won’t be any time soon.

That said, however, I also love to read in a series. A trilogy of books give a reader more time to know the characters, and lets them return to a world they love and find familiar. A lot of my favorite books are part of a series. However, I told myself I wouldn’t let my series go on forever. I don’t have Mr. Jordan’s weight to throw around! I decided, then, that I would write only three books in the Mistborn series, with each book standing alone fairly well. That way, I could go on to another project, and worldbuild something new. (Which is one of my favorite parts of this process.)

So, the new series is called The Mistborn Trilogy. Book one, Mistborn, will be out in June of 2006 from Tor, and they plan to release the other two at nine month intervals. (Getting them out quickly so people don’t have to wait too long! And, don’t worry. The first two books are already turned in, so I promise that they’ll come out on time.)

Mistborn came from two concepts. First, I was watching the movie Ocean’s Eleven, and realized that some of my favorite movies (Sneakers, The Italian Job) were centered around a team of specialized thieves pulling off incredible feats. I wondered why nobody had done this in fantasy. So, I built a magic system with sixteen specialized parts, and came up with a team of underground con-artists who each specialize in one or more of these aspects of the magic system.

The second inspiration for the book came from the weight of fantasy novels I’d read when I was younger. It seemed to me that so many of them were the stories of a young peasant hero who went off to fight some powerful dark lord. I wondered what would happen if. . .well, the dark lord won. What if he squished that little peasant, as probably should have happened in all of those stories?

So, Mistborn takes place in a world where the dark lord won. A thousand years ago, a prophesied hero rose up to fight the evil power, and got abjectly defeated. Now, a millennium later, our little team of thieves is annoyed. Their prophesies failed, and the world has become a dark place where ash falls from the sky and most of humankind is enslaved. Our heroes, lead by a charismatic man with the powers of a Mistborn, decided that they’re going to take down the dark lord their own way--by stealing all of his money then bribing his own armies away from him.

Of course, they get involved with much, much more than they expected, as the story a thousand years ago isn’t quite as simple as everyone believes. (Sample chapters will be up on my website beginning in January!)

Last, but certainly not least, if you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

Well, I would certainly hope that they would, indeed, be monkey midgets, rather than just one or the other. I would have an infinite number of them, of course, because then they could produce fantasy novels for me in iambic pentameter while I swung in my hammock and ruled over my unending simian empire.

Great interview, huh? For those of you curious to know more about how others have received Elantris, check out the reviews section. And Sanderson has also provided commentary on the chapters in Elantris, so feel free to check those out here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reflecting on Tolkien: The Fellowship of the Ring

When I first read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in 1987, I had just turned 13 years old. An eighth grader at the time, I was already then planning on majoring in history when I would be able to attend college. Anything and everything that had a "history" feel appealed to me. Most of my readings then were library copies of narrative histories written in the 1950s. I found myself spending hours at a time examining historical maps of ancient empires and medieval fiefdoms, always wanting to go further, to learn more, to immerse myself in the experience. Discovering Tolkien after watching the cartoon version of The Hobbit on TV, I was drawn to the sense of a sad history behind that tale.

Between 13-17, I must have read the LotR books over a dozen times. It was the sense of history, the way that prior events influenced the storyline "present." There was this sense of loss and grandeur intermingling that appealed greatly to me. But even then, I wanted to know more about Lúthien, to know where Númenor had lain, why the Elves and Dwarves were estranged. LotR as a story was more valuable to me as an imagined history than as a fictional tale.

After I began majoring in history at the University of Tennessee in 1992, my free-time reading shifted from histories and biographies towards 18th and 19th century British and French literature. My history classes, most of them taught by social and cultural historians, introduced new ways of reading texts. Much of what I enjoyed about Tolkien went against what I was learning. My views on how histories develop, about the need to examine events not just from the perspective of the "winners" but also from the more oppressed groups (working class, women, non-Caucasians, etc.), all that began to change. I found myself not as eager to read about "long ago," about Elbereth. Instead, I began reading D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow and Women in Love and I began to question why Arwen got so little ink and why Éowyn had to be so "exceptional" in order to garner speaking lines.

Before this past week, the last night I had read LotR was in 1996, just after I turned 22. I recall thinking that Tolkien's prose was a bit trite, that the action, especially in The Fellowship of the Ring, was a bit too understated for an epic. I had recently discovered Ludovico Ariosto's magnificent Orlando Furioso and the action there seemed to be more centered in the present than in the narrative past. It took me far longer than normal, about a couple of weeks, to finish a re-read of LotR. Something was eating at me, but I couldn't quite put it into words. I could recite key scenes from the story, but it just felt stale and overused.

I have debated every now and then whether or not I needed to re-read LotR again, lest I risk it fading into memory as a hate/love work. I did read The Children of Húrin when it was released in 2007, and while I thought the tragic elements were done well, it did nothing to rekindle a desire to read LotR or Tolkien's other works. It wasn't until I read the little teapot tempests that revolved around Richard Morgan's recent broadside blasting Tolkien's works for its apparent conservative attitudes that I decided to re-read the series.

I read most of The Fellowship of the Ring on Sunday, mixing it in with stories from Best American Fantasy 2. It was a rather odd experience, as I kept slowing down in my reading, taking breaks to read online posts, pondering the stories in the above-named collection, and trying to puzzle out why things had become such a drag. Perhaps my lingering bronchitis and the medication I was taking for it slowed things down as well, but I believe it was the text itself that was the culprit.

The 13 year-old me loved the introductory section on Hobbits. The 22 year-old found that section to be skip-worthy. The 34 year-old writing this read it, but struggled to keep interest in the story. Ironically, it was the "history" elements that I loved as a kid (the stories, the songs, the Wights' origins) that proved to be most tedious. I tried to let my imagination stray, but I felt roped in, as if I couldn't just invent a reason for something, because the author had developed such an intricate substratum that I couldn't go two imaginary paces without stubbing my metaphorical reader's toe against Snippet A or B of a prior story that was influencing the present one.

The entire Book I felt too long. As interesting as the hobbit interactions with each other could be when the damnable "history" wasn't introduced to make them go "Oh, gee-wilikers, Gandalf/Strider! Tell us more about that!", I kept feeling that the literary "present" was swamped over by the backstory that Tolkien kept developing behind the scenes. As a result, the characters felt a bit diminished, being more than passive recipients of the fictional past than as active, dynamic characters.

Book II was a little bit better (fewer lays, more "present" action), but I noticed that my sense of wonder had faded over the years. Boromir's "fall" felt a bit flat, since there wasn't enough foreshadowing for my liking. Tolkien's usage of saga storytelling elements made for a duller read, as I just didn't feel that emotionally connected with each of the characters. The end result was a trilogy opener that felt lifeless, with the past events receiving more attention than the literary present characters/events.

It'll be interesting to see how I react to The Two Towers when I read it this weekend. I wonder if my experience with that novel, containing more action than The Fellowship of the Ring, will leave me with more fond memories than The Fellowship of the Ring managed to do.

The wotmania Files: Interview with Poppy Z. Brite (2/6/2003)

This is another in a series of interviews that Kory conducted at wotmania between January-April 2003.

Thanks for agreeing to do this short interview, the members at the site will enjoy it. Many of them are aspiring writers themselves, and they are all on the look out for information on authors they enjoy or haven't read yet. I'll include a link to your site on the page as well, so they can follow your links and infor mation there.

Great! If I didn't mention it, the site was recently redone by a new designer and I think it is much improved.

1 ) Your first story was written at the age of 3, I have a copy of your reading of it myself. Do you recall the actual creation of it, and what inspired the story and need to write it out?

I didn't write it out -- I just spontaneously told it into a tape recorder. I've been doing things like that since before I can remember. I've no idea what inspired that one, though I think it is a pretty good story for a 3 1/2 year old.

2 ) You started submitting stories at the age of 12. Do you have any of these stories around anymore? Are you surprised that any of them were never published?

No, I don't have them any more (thank God, or I'm sure somebody would want to do a chapbook), and no, it doesn't surprise me that they were never published -- from what I can recall, they were terrible!

3 ) By 18 you had your first published story. What was this story about and where did it get published?

"Optional Music for Voice and Piano," published in THE HORROR SHOW, a good little magazine that ceased publi cation in 1988.

4 ) Lost Souls, your first published novel, came out later. How did you manage to find a publisher and what impact did this have on your life?

in 1987, editor David B. Silva invited me to be part of the "Rising Stars" issue of THE HORROR SHOW, featuring two stories and an interview apiece from five new horror writers. Among them was my friend Brian Hodge -- we met through that issue. After the "Rising Stars" issue came out, I received a letter from Douglas E. Winter, whom I knew at that time only as the biographer of Stephen King. He was working as a publishing consultant for a hardcover horror line being started by Walker & Company, he'd liked my stories, and he wondered whether I had a novel in the works. I'd just begun my freshman year at the University of North Carolina and was hating it. That letter decided my future. I dropped out of college and began working on what would become LOST SOULS.

Through no fault of Doug's, the manuscript sat on the shelf for a year until Walker & Company decided they weren't going to start that new horror line after all. Brian Hodge, who had just sold his third novel to Dell, offered to show LOST SOULS to his editor. In 1991, Dell bought the novel as a paperback original. A few months later they decided to make it the first hardcover in the Abyss horror line and signed me to a six-figure, three-book contract. As for the impact this had on my life, it's very difficult to say, since almost every aspect of my life would be different if this had not happened. I suppose the most obvious impact is that writing has provided my sole income since 1991, and I've learned that this is not the luxurious situation I thought it would be! I'm not talking money -- though there have been feast times and famine times -- so much as the paradox that
once you become a freelancer, your time becomes less your own. For me anyway, the fact that I set my own hours causes me to feel slothful whenever I'm not working.

5 ) Of all the books you've published, Exquisite Corpse is the "most" in every horror related characteristic. What brought out such dark characters and storylines?

To me, the dividing line between my previous two novels and EC wasn't so heavily drawn. I didn't consider it more graphic, shocking, or extreme until everyone started saying it was. I still wonder if supernatural elements (present in the first two, but not in EC) don't provide a comfort zone for some readers -- "Well, I'm not upset by this, since it couldn't really happen." DRAWING BLOOD opens with a man murdering his wife and younger son, and the story follows his older son returning to the scene to learn what happened, so how exactly is EC darker than that? I suppose it ends on a more somber note, but for much of their lengths, the stories seem equally dark to me.

6 ) This year the 10th Anniversary edition of Lost Souls and your new novel The Value of X both became available. They are vastly different in topic. Have you gone in a new direction permanently, or is this a deviation which will eventually return you to the fantasy and horror genres?

I have no idea. I don't plan these things according to what I think will sell or even what I like the idea of writing; I work with what I have. Lately, "what I have" isn't particularly dark or horrific, and I am so inter ested in this work that right now it's difficult to imagine doing anything else. But keep in mind that I always feel that way. In an interview ten years ago, I said horror was large enough to encompass anything I might want to write. That turned out not to be the case, though I don't mean that as any sort of indictment of horror.

7 ) During your life and career you have been friends with and influenced by many renowned authors. Who do you admire and feel influenced by, either creatively or in work style.

Oh jeez, I'm always afraid of answering this question for fear of leaving someone out. I read and admire so many different writers, but I never really know if I've been influenced by them until years later, when I look back at my old work and think, "Well, that sounds like Peter Straub/Ray Bradbury/John Irving" (to name three writers I read heavily in my teens, not necessarily my biggest influences). Right now I'm interested in writing honestly about New Orleans (something I feel I've failed to do in the past), so I idolize John Kennedy Toole, who wrote A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, probably the best novel about the city. I like J.D. Salinger's Glass family stories because I've been writing a bunch of stories about a family, though of course they are nothing like the Glasses. I like the way Neil Gaiman seems to feel unconstrained by characters' time lines; he has the ability to go back and write an event from a given character's past and make it feel effortless and seamless. I'm thinking particularly of
the stories about Hazel and Foxglove in SANDMAN.

8 ) You have links to two magazines on your site, The Spook and City Slab. Could you tell us about them and why you have chosen to pitch in and help them off the ground?

Don't give me too much credit! I'm happy if my work somehow helps a new market, but I'm no publishing altruist. Those magazines approached me, I told them my minimum price for an original story, they agreed to meet it, and I wrote the stories. The links are on my site so people will be able to find my work.

9 ) How about a little information on the Church of the Subgenius?

I haven't kept up with them as well as I should, since X-Day apparently won't happen until the year 8661. It was supposed to be 1998, but apparently the aliens wrote it on a cocktail napkin and "Bob" read it upside down. You can get all the information you want by following the link on my site, though.

10 ) Similar to our home here, you have a Message Board called The Phorum. What types of topics would we be able to discover in discussion over there?

Currently, everything from the pros and cons of THE VALUE OF X to how to cure a goldfish of ick. It's definitely (and thankfully) not all about me!

11 ) Now that the Value of X is out, what can we look for from you next?

The followup, LIQUOR, will be out from Crown Books in Spring 2004. It takes place ten years after TVoX and is quite different in subject matter and tone. I'll spend this year writing the third novel about these characters, which Crown will publish in 2005. I also have a new short story collection, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, coming out from Subterranean Press in a few months.

Thanks for your time Poppy, I appreciate it. By the way, I've run out of the Community Coffee you sent ages ago and would be happy to trade boxes again Let me know, and I look forward to your response.

I'll pick up an extra bag next time I go to the store.



Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reflecting on Tolkien: Preliminaries

I decided that since there seems to be yet another fuss about Tolkien that I would push forward my planned re-reading of The Lord of the Rings (my first since 1996) by a few months and go ahead and see what differences, if any, occur in my take on the series. I just finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring a few minutes ago and while tomorrow is likely out of the question, I do hope to blog about things that I noticed within the text, matters that I liked (and those I didn't).

Before any interject comments in regards to Tolkien's other works, I have read all of those in the past. However, my criticisms (whatever they might be) will be limited solely to LotR because I am more interested in that text than in texts that were unpublished in Tolkien's lifetime and also because what I have to say about LotR will revolve around that text alone.

That being said, the format likely will be different from most of my formal reviews and perhaps will be more "personal" in nature than what is the norm for me. Hopefully, there will be some willing to weigh in with their thoughts on the posts, which will in part reflect upon some of the issues debated in certain circles today about his writings. One suggestion before any start to post: there are no sacred cows when it comes to textual analysis. Keep that in mind, please.

OK, it's bedtime. More in a day or two.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 15-21 Reads

Not as many books read this week, despite not being at work for two extra days, due mostly to this lingering illness. Out of the seven books, one is a re-read and another is in Spanish.

51 Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (re-read from 1996) - I wrote a post about this book earlier in the week and my conclusions haven't changed in the interim.

52 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Fables & Reflections - This sixth volume in The Sandman series has a personal meaning for me, considering a friend of mine quoted passages from it in a letter she sent me when I was going through a rough spell in my life. It's hard not to think of her whenever I read on in this series, so instead of commenting on this and the seventh volume, I'd rather just acknowledge the ways that stories can be tied in with people one grows close to in life.

53 Dan Simmons, Drood - Posted my review of it today.

54 Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Diarios de motocicleta - Che's writings from his 1952 trip with a close friend across South America. Interesting mixture of personal reflections and Che's observations of the brutal poverty he saw during those travels. Interesting read, although not one I'd recommend to just anyone, for obvious reasons.

55 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Brief Lives - See my comment above for #52.

56 Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World - After a six-month delay in reading it (work got in the way back in August and for some reason, I never resumed reading it until a week ago), I finally got around to finishing Harkaway's debut novel. A shame I waited so long, as I found it to be a brilliant mess of a story that hit so many personal concern spots that it'd take a while to list them. Thinking about writing a formal review of it in the next month or so.

57 Alexandre Dumas, Georges - Going to have to reflect a bit before deciding my overall opinions on this 1843 novel. This story involving a mulatto landowner's son and his struggles against racism was in turns engrossing and disenchanting, with Dumas' switching back and forth between highlighting the ridiculousness of racism and using prejudical phrases in the narrative.

In Progress:

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Las luces de septiembre

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), Best American Fantasy 2

Future Plans:

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (re-read from 1987-1996)

Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower (re-read from 2008; Blogger Book Club selection for March)

Irwin Shaw, Evening in Byzantium

Dan Simmons, Drood

My Dearest Macready,

Many thanks for your kind words of remembrance. This is not all in my own hand [part of this and other letters contained a form letter-like address], because I am too shaken to write many notes. Not by the beating and dragging of the carriage in which I was - it did not go over, but was caught on the turn, among the ruins of the bridge - but by the work afterwards to get out the dying and the dead, which was terrible.

The Letters of Charles Dickens

Thirteen years ago, when I was a first-year MA graduate student in History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I began a systematic reading of all of Charles Dickens' work. Despite having a monthly budget for maybe a handful of used fiction books, over the Fall semester of 1996, I bought and read every single one of Dickens' works. The last one was The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which I hesitated to buy because it had been left unfinished when Dickens died on June 9, 1870.

Around this time, I believe it was mentioned here and there in the Oxford World's Classics tradebook edition of one of Dickens' works, I first heard about Wilkie Collins, one of the finest authors of the 1860s-1870s era "sensation novels" and a friend and sometimes collaborator with Dickens. I bought Collins' The Woman in White and The Moonstone, enjoying them both. Each of those novels has much to recommend themselves to modern readers, even if the hodgepodge elements of scandal, mystery, intrigue, all mixed in with ordinary life might seem a bit confusing (if not bloated) to many today.

When I read that Dan Simmons had decided to write a novel based on the last five years of Dickens' life, beginning with the June 9, 1865 Staplehurst train wreck and ending with his death exactly five years later, I was intrigued. Based on previous novels, such as Illium/Olympos and The Terror, I knew Simmons could create stories that felt "real" due to the extensive research. I also knew, thus causing some trepidation, that Simmons sometimes will slant the discussion in a way as to leave out certain other interpretations of historical (or character) developments. This proved to be the case in Drood.

The story is told in an epistolary novel format, with Collins telling "his" account of the 1865-1870 last years of Dickens' life. Within the first few pages, I not only saw evidence of Simmons inserting a lot of real-life conversations and letters (such as the verbatim quoting of a letter he had written to a friend days after the Staplehurst accident), but that with how he constructed the setting to fit with Collins' 1860s "sensation novel" writing style. I was impressed by this, as it gave the novel not just versimilitude, but also lent it a feeling of mystery and terror that mixed well with the complex character interactions between Dickens and Collins.

The plot on the surface is a simple one: Dickens encounters a strange, ghoulish creature who names itself Drood while Dickens is helping to clear the trains of bodies. This odd encounter haunts Dickens and he, a mesmerist of some standing, passes the story along to Collins. Throughout the early chapters, Dickens (often dragging Collins along for the ride) goes to several unsavory places in London, including an opium den, seeking word of who Drood might be. In the process, several characters (including John Jasper) who make their appearance in slightly altered form in the real-life The Mystery of Edwin Drood, are introduced in passing. For those such as myself who are familiar with the authors' oevre, these little details add much to the subtextual reading of Drood.

As the story progresses and the mystery grows ever more omnious, Simmons subtly introduces several of Collins' personal quirks into the narrative. Not only is Collins a laudanum addict, but his real-life references to his "ghost self" that seemed to write his novels for himself are used masterfully by Simmons in several dream-like sequences to create terrifying spectacles that read as if they had come out of The Moonstone. By the halfway point of the novel, I found myself reading faster and faster, curious to see if Dickens and Collins could unravel the mystery of Drood before it claimed them, whether in real, diabolical form or metaphorically as the two characters began to sink into the mud of their own respective traumas.

However, there are places in the novel where I feel Simmons treats his characters, especially Collins, rather unfairly. The historical Collins explored social conditions in many of his novels and while perhaps it is true that his novels declined in popularity after Dickens' death, to hint that this was the sole result of Collins' own "demons" is a bit much. There is little to nothing said of how Collins grew more and more concerned about the plight of women, especially those of the working class who often were "sold" into marriage or into prostitution. Based on the plot and setting, it would have been easy to integrate this element of Collins' personal/professional life into the story without sacrificing momentum.

Futhermore, Simmons appeared to make Collins into a more and more unlikeable character as the story progresses, perhaps in order to set the stage for the penultimate chapters in which drug-induced dreams and "reality" mix together in a fashion making it near impossible to tell which is which. The Collins (and Dickens, I might add) that appears in the latter chapters is such a complete wreck that while Simmons has done a mostly outstanding job in creating a dark, destructive atmosphere surrounding the two, the ending is relatively drab, like a water-damaged firecracker. Drood is, perhaps as he ought to remain, still a complete mystery. But the Dickens and Collins of the final chapters, changed as they ought to be from the five years' experience of mystery, dread, and suffering, are strangely less as characters than they were at the story's beginnings.

Simmons has Collins brooding so much over Dickens' gregarious personality, his abilities as "the Inimitable" as compared to his own talents as a writer, that I wonder if Simmons might have envisioned Collins as John Jasper and Dickens as Edwin Drood, considering how the ending plays out. While it certainly can make for a wild ending for many, for myself, my knowledge of the two writers stood defiantly in the way of enjoying that clash. It just felt as though Simmons tried too hard at the end to have a "twist" ending in which the unreliability of the narrator would come into play. As a result, Collins and Dickens became little more than ciphers for me in those closing chapters.

Despite the relatively weak ending, for the most part Drood is a wonderfully-researched, well-plotted novel. Simmons' use of the "sensation novel" format added much to the narrative and while I disagreed with his decisions regarding his main characters and how the story concluded, I believe that most others would enjoy reading this atmospheric, highly-charged novel. Hopefully, many readers will find themselves wanting to (re)visit Dickens and Collins as a result.

Publication Date: February 9, 2009 (US). Hardcover.

Publisher: Little, Brown
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