I’m a bad reader.
I know I read “1984” in high school, and I’m pretty sure I finished “Lord of the Flies” and “Animal Farm” too, but these were purely out of necessity. In the Pre-Internet Days (insert Old Man Jokes here), we had to actually write our own book reports and not just copy a summary we dug up online, written by some kid in Ding Dong, Texas.
But other than maybe reading the first chapter of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or “The Hobbit” or “Dune” — because someone who didn’t know me well enough told me I’d love them — I really didn’t read. Like, ever.
I won’t bore you with the details of how it all came to be that I would not only start reading for fun, but how I also, inconceivably, began writing books of my own, but the reality is: I’ve discovered books that I love. And what I’ve noticed is that these stories never seem to be the ones others have recommended to me. Is this because they still don’t really know me well enough?
I’ve decided, however, that I still remain a pretty bad reader. I’m slow for one thing. I also love to re-read books. Also, if I find I have a quiet moment, I’m often trying to get some writing done too. Combined, these factors make it difficult to really put up the big numbers as far as my “Books Read” list goes.
I’m a picky reader, too. My favorite book is not going to be part of a series; it doesn’t always fall into a specific genre; and it’s usually by an author I hadn’t heard of before. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than discovering a book on my own and not only having it resonate, but finding myself looking forward to when I’ll read it again.
Below are six under-the-radar books that I adore; books I have re-read and will probably continue to until I’m dead. And even longer than that, if I can pull that off.
THE HOLLOW HOUSE, by Carlo Dellonte 
“I felt no shame for the dreams I had left there. I saw no limits to what I could do to make them mine again. I had realized the Cliffs hadn’t changed who I was: on the contrary, they had given me the courage I needed to be myself.”
Synopsis: A young man is driving his car at night when a powerful storm forces him to stop at a bed and breakfast in a small fishing village. He has an encounter with the young woman proprietor. The next morning, the girl has disappeared, leaving the man regarded with suspicion by the locals.
This one I found when I was in Australia and looking through the bargain bin of a weird bookstore. Well, everything Down Under is weird, but a bookstore is one of the few things that can’t kill you in Australia, so there’s that, I suppose. As far I know, Carlo Dellonte has only written this one book, but “The Hollow House” is so rich in mood, mystery, and disturbing thoughts (it’s described as “a gothic tale of dark longings and fragile fantasies”), that I find it hard to believe Dellonte didn’t have another idea in his head somewhere.
The book is a slow burn, and there are enough moments when you’ll want to shake the main character’s head for not just getting out of that damn fishing village already, but it really is a pretty solid read.
I’ve read “The Hollow House” three times.
CHRONIC CITY, by Jonathan Lethem 
“Don’t rupture another’s illusion unless you’re positive the alternative you offer is more worthwhile than that from which you’re wrenching them. Interrogate your solipsism: Does it offer any better a home than the delusions you’re reaching to shatter?”
I remember picking up Chronic City simply because of the cover. Yes, I do judge books by their covers, and anyone who tells you not to should have their head examined. I’m a sucker for anything New York, so the golden lights of Midtown office towers was enough to get me. When it turned out this Jonathan Lethem guy could also write like a Mofo, this quirky book quickly became a favorite. Wait, shouldn’t Mofo be spelled Mofu? I’m not cool enough to understand the Urban Dictionary sometimes.
Here, we have Chase Insteadman (former child star whose astronaut fiancé is trapped in space), Perkus Tooth (pot-smoking pop culture critic), Oona Laszlo (self-loathing ghostwriter), Richard Abneg (reformed activist), and rumours of a giant tiger roaming the city. None are really likable, but who needs another hero, anyway?
The action is fairly sedentary, and Lethem’s lexicon can make you give your head a shake and re-read sections at times. Some consider his work pretentious, but it strikes the right literary chord with me. It’s a fine blend of contemporary, hard-boiled, and magical realism. Lethem’s other writing is good, but “Chronic City” is the one that stands out for me.
I’ve read it twice.
THE COMA, by Alex Garland 
“The dilapidation was not a memory but a representation of a poorly remembered past.”
Synopsis: After being attacked on the Underground, Carl awakens from a coma to a life that seems strange and unfamiliar. He arrives at his friends’ house without knowing how he got there. Nor do they. He seems to be having an affair with his secretary which is exciting, but unlikely. Further unsettled by leaps in logic and time, Carl begins to wonder if he’s actually reacting to the outside world, or if he’s terribly mistaken.
I remember reading this in one sitting and thinking I was pretty special. But it’s really no more than a 60-page novella, just bulked up by a lot of blank space and strange drawings.
The narrator is in a coma, struggling to get out, and as such, scenes and locales and memories all shift around at unsuspecting speeds. You may not get any firm resolution from this book, but you will experience something to pause upon, and mull over for a while longer.
I’ve read “The Coma” twice.
THE FROG KING, by Adam Davies 
“Normally I say I’m a bookie but this time I say I’m a gay window dresser at Barneys so I can paw at her Miracled boob, faking like there’s a crumb there and I’m just helping her out, girlfriend, which at the very moment, of course, Evie returns like a conscience from the bar.
‘Wow, Harry, you really know how to take a girl out and make her feel like backwash.’ ”
Synopsis: A twenty-something young man in New York has to figure out life, love, careers, lexicography, and just why the hell he’s such a horribly unlikable character.
Harry Driscoll does not have many redeeming qualities (he’s broke, he’s drunk a lot, he’s a bit of a know-it-all, and he cheats on his girlfriend) but he’s undaunted and cocksure to the point where the reader almost wants to root for him. Almost. He just messes everything in his life up so easily and so gloriously, but that’s part of what makes this a fun read.
It has a very male-persepctive of living and loving in New York; I recall some of the minor characters being incredibly annoying (unintentionally, I believe); and the book can, at times, fall into the “trying a little TOO hard to be smart and witty” trap. But there’s so many great laughs here, and the dialogue is honestly some of the best I’ve ever read. Here’s a short excerpt from a scene where one character is listing Harry’s criteria for novels he hates:
“You hate anything with the word ‘chiaroscuro’ in it.”
“Especially if it’s used as a verb. ‘She was chiaroscuroed in the flickering light of the candle.”
“The same goes for women who are described as ‘elfin’ or ‘pixielike.’ ”
“This isn’t Middle Earth, you know.”
“You hate anything that uses the word ‘member’ for penis.”
“You hate novels that begin with a description of what someone is eating, or how their childhood smelled, or what they drive…You hate epiphanies. You hate reversals of fortune. You hate anything written by anyone younger than you are.”
“Boy, these are really piling up, aren’t they? I hate that.”
I’ve read this book probably three times, though not in a long time, so it may not hold up to my current and oh-so-very-refined tastes. Might be worth another read.
THE HORNED MAN, by James Lasdun 
“The large flakes were few enough in number that I was aware of each individually as it drifted by, though the sky had a lurid, bruise-colored tone, as if it were getting ready to unleash something more serious.”
Synopsis: “The Horned Man” opens with a man losing his place in a book, then deepens into a dark and terrifying tale of a man losing his place in the world. A professor of gender studies tells the story of what appears to be an elaborate conspiracy to frame him for a series of brutal killings, and we descend into a world of subtly deceptive appearances where persecutor and victim continually shift roles, where paranoia assumes an air of calm rationality, and where enlightenment itself casts a darkness in which the most nightmarish acts occur.
Such a peculiar book. Lasdun’s writing is wonderful, so much so, I sometimes find myself lost in the prose, not knowing what exactly it was I just read. The same can be said of the book in its entirety. “The Horned Man” is not for those who want answers or illumination. By the time the final page is turned, you’ll probably find yourself with more questions than you had at any other point in the book. But that makes it the perfect candidate for a re-read.
This book is dark, unsettling, and is the epitome of the Unreliable Narrator. It is also unlike anything you’ll ever read.
I’ve read “The Horned Man” three times.
EARTH X, Jim Krueger and John Paul Leon 
“When everyone is dead, what will I watch then?”
Should I throw a graphic novel in this list? Of course I should!
Synopsis: Great epics come along only once in a long while. Stories that push the normal boundaries and force the reader to think. Stories so powerful in message and so grand in scale that the guidelines by which such tales are usually judged are completely rearranged. EARTH X is one such epic. EARTH X explores the depths and heights of the Marvel Universe, from the roots of its humble beginnings to the peak of its ultimate potential. [Okay, that’s a terrible synopsis…]
“Earth X” was a limited series Marvel Comics published back in the late 90’s. I picked it up because, at the time, I was picking up basically everything. Though usually, I would read everything, and then follow it up by saying, “Why in the name of Wolverine’s great hairy back am I reading all of this garbage?”
But this was different.
Let me first say I’ve never been a big fan of alternate world/alternate future tales in comics. With such a rich history of characters already, I feel it’s mostly a cop-out and a money grabber to just write a story where Spider-Man and the Avengers die and the villainous team-up of Boomerang and the Hypno-Hustler raze America and rule the world with iron boomerangs and guitars. There’s never any build-up or repercussions or future continuation. It just exists for a moment, before disappearing forever.
But again, this was different. It’s an incredibly massive tale, reaching into nearly every corner of the Marvel Universe. And it just feels huge. And important. And the art is gorgeous too. Ideally, readers should feel comfortable with a LOT of Marvel history before venturing into this one.
I’ve probably read “Earth X” four times now.
Now that you’ve heard a bit about my favorite re-reads (and that’s not even all of them), tell me some of yours.
I was given the following short story prompt: “Write a scene that incorporates the following three things: espionage, a bagpipe player, and bacon.” (1000 words or less)
It’s a little unorthodox, and fairly preposterous, but here it is.
THE FIRST DEGREE
“You’re crazy, you know that?”
“I know that. You’ve been telling me for years now. But shut up, okay? The scene’s about to start.”
“Fine. I’ll whisper. How about that?”
“Better. I’d still prefer if you just shut up though.”
“You know, I told myself the last time I helped you that it was going to be for the last time. And now? I’ve snuck onto a movie set with you, and we’re wearing kilts and carrying bagpipes.”
“Honestly? If you truly want to never help me again, you’ve got to start making some better excuses.”
“Come on. You were clearly giving me the first — and worst — excuse that popped into that tiny head of yours.”
“I was not!”
“You told me you were bedazzling your grandma’s purse today. Now, granted, that’s maybe not the worst excuse you could have come up with, but it’s got to be pretty close.”
“No, you shut up. And you’re holding that bagpipe the wrong way again. Don’t you remember anything I told you?”
“What makes you the bagpipe authority anyway?”
“My cousin played the bagpipes. He was in a marching band and everything.”
“So he knows how to play the bagpipe song?”
“Every song on the bagpipe sounds exactly the same. I thought there was only one song. Isn’t it just called ‘The Bagpipe Song’?”
“How do you know?”
“Because that would be a stupid name.”
“My feet hurt. How long do we have to stand here for anyway?”
“Didn’t you log the plan away the last two times I told you?”
“I just like the reminders. And really, I still have no idea why you need to do this so badly. What’s with you and Kevin Bacon anyway?”
“Listen to me. Kevin Bacon is the center of the Hollywood universe! And the ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ defines how close you are to the center of that universe. If you’re a First Degree, it means you’ve made it.”
“Wouldn’t a Zero Degree be even closer though?”
“Well, yeah. I guess technically Zero would be closer than One. But that would mean I’d have to basically become Kevin Bacon.”
“Like John Travolta did in ‘Face Off’?”
“Kevin Bacon wasn’t in Face Off. That was Nicholas Cage.”
“What’s his Bacon Number?”
“Two. Same as Travolta, actually.”
“So you’re better than the both of them?”
“Not yet, I’m not. But once you start shutting up, I’ll be one step closer.”
“Can we go over the plan again?”
“It’s simple, really. We already paid off the guys whose parts we’re taking, and we paid them more than they were getting for this gig in the first place. So everyone wins, right?”
“I don’t see how I win in this scenario. That was my money.”
“You know I’m good for it.”
“Of course you do. But can we please just focus here?”
“What’s this scene we’re in, anyway?”
“Kevin Bacon is the President of the United States, right?”
“No he isn’t.”
“In the film, dummy. Are you telling me you didn’t even read the synopsis?”
“I’d say that’s rather obvious at this point.”
“Okay, so he’s the President, and he’s tasked with stopping a nuclear war before it happens.”
“What year is this? That sounds like every action movie from the 80s. And we’re wearing kilts, because?”
“Because he’s on a Hail Mary mission to Scotland and needs to diffuse a bomb in the middle of the Highland games.”
“The President diffuses bombs now?”
“The details of the thing don’t matter. The fact is that I’m playing an undercover Scottish intelligence officer who happens to be a bomb expert and I help the Leader of the Free World decide which wire to cut.”
“I thought you only had one line?”
“It is only one line. I say, ‘Snip the blue one, me laddie.”
“I don’t know the first thing about writing, but that is terrible writing.”
“I’m not going for an IMDB screenwriter credit here! It’s a minor character role with only the one line. And I’ll get my name in the credits and a First Degree Bacon Number.”
“I don’t think you can stop a nuclear bomb simply by snipping a wire.”
“I didn’t know you were the expert on the subject. Now shut up, we’re almost on.”
(Director) “PLACES EVERYONE! AND…ACTION!!”
“Oh my god. Here he comes!”
PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A.
“You fellers play some mighty fine pipes there.
Now what can you tell me about this bomb?
And hurry now, we don’t have much time!”
BAGPIPE PLAYER #1
“Snip the blue one, me laddie.”
(Director) “AND….CUT! THAT’S SCENE EVERYONE!”
“Is that it?”
“That’s it. Mission accomplished.”
“Hey, I think Kevin Bacon’s waving you over. I think he wants to talk to you.”
“Probably congratulating me for making it to the center of the universe.”
“Hi, Mr. Bacon. It was an honor to play that scene with you.”
“Listen to me carefully, kid. I’m going to personally make sure this scene hits the cutting room floor. Nobody gets within one degree of me without my authorization. You hear me?”
“Yes, Mr. Bacon.”
“So what did he say to you?”
“He told me I look good in a kilt.”
“Really? What about me?”
“Sorry. He didn’t mention you.”
“Say, why are those security guards charging towards us?”
“I think it’s best if we got the hell out of here. And fast. Run!”
Embarrassingly good review for This Never Happened, courtesy of @mattwauthor
Review for This Never Happened, via @haeagar
I recently found a copy of (what I think was) the very first book I ever wrote. It is called “Hobo” and is a series of — well, two and half — short stories about a man named Hobo. He apparently had a home, because when he bought a dog it clearly states he went back to his house, so I guess he wasn’t really homeless. Still, he sure looked like a homeless person, because my younger self had drawn a title page (as well as accompanying pictures within), and we can plainly see that Hobo has ragged clothing, an unshaven face, and very messy hair. He even wore a rope belt too, a sure sign of true hobo-ness. I suppose he must have had some finances too, because he did buy that dog from the pet store (after he bought a mouse, which was after he’d been to the ear doctor and the butcher’s).
What is most unfortunate, is Hobo’s vacuous depth of character, and there really isn’t anything remotely close to a story arc presented in this volume. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it appears as though I was making the thing up as I went, and then it ends abruptly in the middle of the third story (entitled “Tumblefoot Tobby,” which is the name he gives his clumsy dog).
I’m not certain why my younger self was so fascinated by the idea of a book about a Hobo, but I guess we all have to start somewhere.
It’s funny how I’ve only recently come to the conclusion that I am a writer. Because when I think about it now, I’ve been writing my whole life.
After the single volume of Hobo, I can recall attempting to make my own comic books, a hobby I’d always been interested in as a kid. There was the “Beaker & Nosey” period, a series about a purple cat with a bird beak for a head (this was Beaker, if you couldn’t guess) and his goofy best bud who had a bird body with an elephant trunk for a head (Nosey, if you’re having trouble keeping track here). After this, we had the “Bean Tales” period, which was basically a blatant rip-off of the Smurfs, but with a village full of tiny, bouncing, brown kidney beans instead. The Beans probably went on far longer than they should have — I even drew them on my wall and designed my own Bean World RPG system. Upon exhausting the limits of bean-related jokey characters (I’m looking at you, Bumblebean), I did my own comical superhero series called “Mutant Force”. If it’s not apparent by now, I did not have much luck with the girls through high school.
As ridiculous and childish as these ideas all sound, there was a definite progression in my storytelling; not apparent to me at the time, but obvious now in retrospect. I was becoming far more serious about world-creating, and how I would tell my stories. Character development — though still a foreign concept in my mind — was slowly happening.
A few years later, I was juggling the creation of two different comic book series: “Captain Parka” and “The Breakfast Special Comes With Toast”. Very much inspired by Ben Edlund’s “The Tick,” Captain Parka was a goofy superhero adventure starring mild-mannered hot dog vendor Ernie Milkdud, who had been traded a magical parka by some Eskimos in exchange for a few smokies. Much darker in tone, Breakfast Special had cartoony characters and a catchy title, but was really masking a tale about a lonely guy trying to be not so lonely.
Still, I was discovering that drawing — which, at the time, was the one thing I thought I could do — was not enough to say what I wanted to say. I decided I wanted to write, but presumed one could not just sit down and write. Especially if one had no previous interest in writing. I was an artist, right? Not a writer. I would have to delve into something I was familiar with, wouldn’t I?
Because I was now working in the film industry, I decided to try my hand at screenwriting. I wrote a couple of pretty depressing dramas before arbitrarily deciding to write a gag-filled, highly-offensive teen comedy. I called this one “Two Bucks,” which was a ludicrous story about a highschool kid named Scott whose dad is murdered by the mob, but still with an outstanding debt of two dollars. Now Scott’s got a weekend to scrounge up two bucks and pay back the mob! No really, it was actually pretty funny.
I’d hit my first bout of writer’s block not long after this (though I wasn’t really stuck on something; I simply wasn’t writing), and I was looking for some kind of jump start. I came across an ad in the paper for a 3-day novel writing contest, which sounded absolutely preposterous but also maybe exactly what I needed. So I did it. I prepared myself by roughly outlining my story for a couple of weeks and then I stayed up for those three days just writing. I think I had a 4-to-6-hour nap in there somewhere, and maybe went for a walk at some point, but basically I consumed iced coffees and Twinkies at a regrettable rate and wrote for three days. “Barber Chair Prophets” turned into a pretty good little 60-page story. I don’t think I came anywhere close to winning the contest, but I rediscovered how to be proud of myself and my work.
And then came the point where I go and get another big idea in my head. This time it was: “Well, if I can write a novella, then I should try writing a novel!” Most — including myself — assumed I was naive and didn’t think it was within the realm of possibility, but after the right idea came to me in the form of a seagull diving off the rooftop of a Vancouver condo, I dove right in myself.
In the midst of writing “Molt” — the tale of a young ornithologist who was only ever comfortable resisting change — I was also working on pitching the idea for a cartoon series with a group of friends and co-workers. I would take the lead as head scriptwriter for “8 Guys in the Head,” which told the story of Heath, who was a bumbling college kid, unlucky with the ladies, mostly due to having eight tiny, pink brainy guys working in the spacious office of his cranium, each guy representing different personality traits and emotions. If it sounds familiar, that’s because Pixar released an eerily similar idea years later called “Inside Out”. We were in love with our concept — and had a handful of scripts penned — but pretty much scrapped it after that, and I focused again on my solitary endeavours: writing novels.
I completed Molt and immediately self-published it so I could have it on my shelf as another notch in my belt of completed — though ultimately, still unnoticed by the world — projects.
But the novel-writing bug had officially bitten me now, and I was eager to start another. I jumped right into what I would call my ode to New York: a book called “The Falling”. This one was about four childhood friends who had grown up together in New York City, and it dealt with relationships, careers, dreams, love, and loss. I completed it in three years — while juggling a career change, going back to school, and having a baby — and it remains probably my favorite work to date. The Falling was sent out to literary agents, but after getting next to no interest, I was determined to not let it get me down. I jumped into writing a third novel: “This Never Happened,” a story about a young man trying to discover his place in the world. A young man who dreams about his life taking a much different path.
With a renewed enthusiasm, and a much better grasp on how the publishing industry really works, I shopped the heck out of This Never Happened. And then I shopped it some more. There was a part of me that was beginning to think I was perhaps only pretending to be a writer. But I was old enough now to identify when I should move on (ergo, quit) and when I should keep going.
Pretending to be a writer meant I was always seeking ways to connect with someone who actually was a writer. When I discovered that an established Young Adult author lived in my own quaint little neighborhood, I made a connection. The first time I sat down with Darren Groth, he asked me, “So, you’re a writer?”
I said, “No, I’m not a writer. I’m this and I’m that, and I’m trying to get published, but I’m not a writer.”
“Yes you are,” he said. “You are a writer.”
It took me a while to understand what he was saying. In fact, it wasn’t too long after one of our chats that I discovered Endever Publishing Studios, and before I knew it, I had signed a publishing contract and was collaborating with other authors.
And now my first book is out in a matter of days. Upon reflection of all my previous artistic endeavors — all of those projects I’d created for very little notice or recognition — I’ve finally acknowledged it myself: I am a writer.
If only Hobo could see me now.
Last week, I sat down to record a podcast with Jaime from Endever Publishing Studios. We talked about the upcoming release of my novel, This Never Happened (March 30th), as well as story crafting and literary influences.
Go on, have a listen HERE!
And don’t forget to pick up your eBook copy of TNH on March 30th!
Last week, I sat down to record a podcast with Jaime from Endever Publishing Studios to promote my book, This Never Happened.
Go on, have a listen.
TNH is available in eBook March 30th!
Reblogged at rtimmorris.com!
R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10
Did you know Death – the queen of the afterlife – has been working in a Portland hospital for the last few decades, spiriting away the souls of the dying? Well, it’s true. But Death – or Dee, as she likes to be called – has been growing restless, stuck in a holding pattern just waiting for the next great disaster to strike and claim the lives of millions. Billions even, if she’s lucky. I mean, how much fun can it be going from hospital bed to hospital bed just sucking out the last bit of wind from the elderly? Answer: not much, as it turns out.
But when a couple of young patients begin to challenge her perception of what it really means to be alive, Dee finds herself questioning the way things are done. Have the Fates and the Book of Fortune really had her best interests in mind all this time? Death asks, What about MY feelings?
This is a wonderful book with emotion across the spectrum. In fact, the entire novel evokes an ethereal-like feeling, which suits it perfectly. Dee is a fantastic new character while still remaining a classic one at the same time. Rivera’s voice is a good one, and is a great new addition to the world of fun, contemporary, fantasy fiction.
A DEATHLY COMPROMISE is Endever Publishing Studio’s debut release. Look for many more great Endever titles and authors coming in 2017!