THE ANIMATORS, by Kayla Rae Whitaker [2017]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

There’s a few moments here that easily make The Animators a 5-Star book. Just brilliant, quiet, heart-breaking moments that Whitaker absolutely nails. But there are other moments where I felt my attention drifting, wishing I knew where this book was really going. It’s a slow start, and the placing of certain events feels unusual to me. But it all gets there eventually.
When things happen in this book, they happen quickly. A sudden turn this way, then giving us a while to explore it and feel it out, before another sudden turn takes us that way.
Having an animation background myself allowed for some extra bonus treats in my reading. I’ve been through the struggle of trying to stake my place in that world. I kind of wish we were privy to more of Sharon’s struggles at the top of the book; instead, we’re quickly celebrating Sharon’s and Mel’s success in the industry. But upon reaching the end of the novel, I think readers would have been better-rewarded with a slightly different approach at the beginning.
Sharon herself, at times, felt more like a passenger than a driver in her own book. She just kind of went along with the things that were happening around her rather than controlling the action herself. In the end, I don’t know if I ever really felt like I knew her as much as I wanted to.
Flaws aside, The Animators is an exceptional debut from an author who is not afraid to write a raw, imperfect, and often disappointing world.

UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR, by Patrick deWitt [2015]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

If ever there was a novel that could be labelled “Irreverent” this would be it. Probably by a landslide. However, through all the flippancy, I’m not entirely sure what Undermajordomo Minor is trying to say. Something about love? Something about finding one’s place in the world? Something about wild, profane sausage parties? Maybe all of the above. Maybe none.
BUT! This twisted sort of fairy tale remains a fun romp. As is the case with Patrick DeWitt’s previous writing, the verbiage is delightful, but at times his use of language bothers me, with an almost a too-smart-for-his-own-good vibe. It’s a fine line, but I cheered more than I jeered, so let’s call it a literary victory.
If I was asked to compare DeWitt’s style, I might eventually say it’s not unlike Wes Anderson using an ink-dipped feather-pen. I’m a sucker for Anderson (like many), but I find he can hit sour notes with me from time to time, and DeWitt fits that description.
I’ll leave you with this wonderful quote from the pages of Undermajordomo Minor. Apply it to your own life:

“And what is [love] like? I’ve often wondered about it.”
“It is a glory and a torment.”
“Really? Would you not recommend it, then?”
“I would recommend it highly. Just to say it’s not for the faint of heart.”

The Underneath: Part 1

Endever Publishing Studios is a new publishing company with some bold and exciting new ideas for the industry. I’ll be posting more about them in the very near future.

For now though, I’ll share Part 1 of Endever’s new online serial, titled The Underneath.

Enjoy!

Endever Publishing Studios presents The Underneath Written by Coral Rivera and Andrew Toy

Source: The Underneath: Part 1

ARE YOU SEEING ME? by Darren Groth [2014]

Are You Seeing Me

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

Fun book by local-by-way-of-Australia Author Darren Groth. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Darren about my own writing so it was good to finally crack this one open.
Of the two main characters (twin siblings Justine and Perry) I found myself drawn to Justine more, which is unusual since Perry is arguably the more interesting character. It says a lot about Groth’s ability to write female protagonists. Are You Seeing Me? has heavy moments, lighter moments, in-between moments and moments of the absurd variety, and they all work well together. The many nods to handfuls of local sights and details, as well as a fair amount of hockey-talk were all appreciated from a personal standpoint.
I also feel this is an important book for school libraries, (dealing heavily with disability in the autism-spectrum) so if you have any pull at all, make sure they have a copy!

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: The Falling (Chapter One.2)

Continued from HERE.

 “I don’t think I’m in love with Gene anymore,” Kate answered. Intuitively, both Jesse and Tommy reached their hands over and placed them on the tips of Kate’s fingers, which were still anchored to the tabletop. “I’d like to believe that I was in love at some point. But to be honest, I’m really not so sure now.” Her eyes darted back and forth between her two best friends. “I think I might have made a mistake.” Breaking her hand away from theirs, Kate slipped on her coat and wiped her eyes with one sleeve, just to make sure nothing incriminating had leaked out.

As much as I wanted to show early that Kate was never one to put up with anyone’s crap and that she was a strong female voice, I also wanted to show her vulnerable side, as slim a side as that is. There’s no way someone will want to cheer for Kate if she’s being a bitch right off the bat. It’s hard for her to admit she may have made a mistake, but it’s important for the story that she does.

The city itself breathes in with every tragedy: every obituary in the New York Times; every jackhammer upon its streets; every time a girl leaves a boy; every slight transgression that takes place within its invisible walls. And every time New Yorkers breathe a collective sigh of relief, every time they find peace in themselves, every time they find each other again, every time they bring new life into the world or enjoy a good book or put a fresh coat of paint on an old cracked wall, Manhattan exhales. The city breathes in. The city breathes out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

The city breathing was a device I added late in my first draft. I might add a “Breathe in” when something negative happens or is about to happen. Conversely, there might be a “Breathe out” alongside moments of relief and happiness. The above paragraph is the set up for this device so that later readers would quickly understand the use of the Ins and Outs. I like the idea that if our narrator is the city itself that there is also some minor omniscience there; a little bit future sight. It doesn’t feel as unnatural as if a character thought it, and it gives the readers a gentle guideline for the turns the story takes.

This brings us to the end of Chapter One. Soon I’ll begin chipping away at some of the ideas behind Chapter Two.

& Sons, by David Gilbert [2013]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

Just a really good work of contemporary literary fiction. The characters all had rich histories and the author did a tremendous job at interweaving excerpts from A.N.Dyer’s collection of fictional novels. Yes, as other reviewers have commented, it is pretentious at times, but this is the nature of a work like this. Our narrator is oftentimes a confusing choice and I feel like there could have been a few more opportunities to explore Philip Topping’s surreptitious role in all of this. The writing and word choices are engaging and David Gilbert offers the reader a great deal of humor along the way. My favorite chapter was definitely the one with the pretzel scene. I wish there was actually a bit more depth to the Andy/Jeanie relationship, and Isabel really deserved another appearance, but this is a novel about men. Fathers & Sons, more specifically, and any divergence from this might have only lessened the theme. Recommended!

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: The Falling (Chapter One.1)

So let’s get into this. The Falling: Chapter One.

PART I: The Letter

First off, you’ll notice I’ve not only divided the book into chapters but into parts as well. There are five parts to The Falling, and the titles of each are homages to my favorite TV series: Seinfeld. In Seinfeld, each episode had very minimalist titles (“The Voice”, “The Opposite”, “The Contest”, etc) and I’ve laid out my titles similarly. In fact, two of these coincide directly to Seinfeld episodes: Part I: The Letter and Part III: The Revenge.

Chapter One: Tom’s Restaurant – Morningside Heights

An even more obvious Seinfeld homage. Tom’s Restaurant is, of course, the stand-in for Monk’s Coffee Shop. An exterior shot of Tom’s in New York was used in the show, with the interior shots coming from a sound stage in LA. Morningside Heights is one of my absolute favorite NY neighborhoods and once I got to know my main character Tommy a bit more there was no better place to have his favorite diner be situated. In fact, the working title for The Falling was originally TOM’S. I liked it; it was short and catchy. But the more I looked at as a title it the stranger it seemed. I had never actually been in the restaurant but when a couple of my friends were headed to NY I’d asked them to snap some photos inside so I could use them as reference, which they did. Thanks Mike and LeeAnn!

2004.

My decision to set the story in 2004 came about because of a few reasons. I wanted the novel to feel timeless, and the best way to do that is to have it take place at a point in the past. I don’t know why that is exactly, but I’d heard it said somewhere before. Also, a key chapter was to take place as a flashback, back to September 11th, 2001. I realized there had been – and still are – plenty of novels cashing in on the emotional events of 9/11, and I really wanted to avoid it, but the further my story went the more I knew it had to be there. Because of the nature of The Falling’s timeline following that day October, 2004 was to be the right moment for my story to take place.

I’ve known Thomas Mueller long enough to know most everything about him, except perhaps the most important thing of all. I watched Tommy that morning as he took a bite out of the big apple.

My narrator, as mentioned in a previous post, is meant to be the great city itself: New York City. The City watches over all of its inhabitants, following their ups and downs, good moments and bad. And even though readers will not explicitly know for sure who the narrator is, there is a feeling of comfort with having The City tell the story, as opposed to a traditional 3rd-person narration. The “most important thing of all” is the twist in the novel, which doesn’t reveal itself until Chapter 25 (Tommy and his identical twin brother were accidentally mixed up as babies, so he is not actually “Tommy.” Literally losing his own identity comes as a major blow to the character later). “…as he took a bite out of the big apple” is an obvious metaphor for Tommy’s self-perceived conquering of the city.

The CKY Grocery on Amsterdam had giant, bright red Spartan apples every day of the year

The fictitious Morningside Heights grocery store’s name comes from the name of a local grocery store I grew up down the street from. I don’t know what CKY ever stood for – and the place has since been demolished in favor of townhouses – but I had fond enough memories of walking there as a kid that I chose to use the name here.

He loved the four seasons, although autumn was easily the most anticipated. To Tommy, Central Park’s bright, almost copper hues in the fall were the epitome of orange. He loved the unique perfume of deli meats and subway steam. He loved the rain with such verve that every time it so much as drizzled, he would turn to the sky so he could feel the drops sprinkle onto his teeth. Because every raindrop that hit him had already experienced that much-envied journey from the tips of the skyscrapers all the way down to the cracked and foot-stamped sidewalks.

This was one of the very first paragraphs I wrote for The Falling. And using words like epitome and verve really helped set the tone and solidify the type of language I would use for the rest of the book. Even though this was to be my second novel I really didn’t feel like the use of language was too exciting in my first book. The Falling changed the way I write, and I still get that fuzzy feeling when I read excerpts from it. I’m proud of it and of the word choices that helped make the novel what it is. “the unique perfume of deli meats and subway steam” is one of my favorite lines from the whole book.

Everything was perfect in the city, and as long as things remained the
way he wanted them to, Tommy would continue to love the city forever.

This line is very obviously the crux of the story. It’s clear that things are bound to change, but could Tommy possibly ever fall out of love with his city?

Finding the letter in the mailbox was another reason for me setting the story in 2004. We still received letters from people in 2004! It almost seems too ancient a concept now. But having Tommy simply open up an email from Patrick rather than a letter felt too lifeless; less dramatic.

“You guys are not going to believe this,” Tommy said as he removed his coat and scarf. He sat down next to Kate and across from Jesse, placing the still not-quite-yet-brown apple core onto Kate’s empty plate. She hated that about him, how he’d walk into the coffee shop everyday as though he owned the place.
“Not now Tommy,” Kate interrupted. “Jess was just about to spill the details of his date last night.”
Jesse struggled, but managed his best ear-to-ear smile. Still, Jesse’s fake smiles were far more beautiful than most of the city’s genuine ones.

Immediately we are introduced to the three main characters: Tommy, Kate and Jesse. And I waste no time in having the readers really get to know them at their most basic. In three quick paragraphs we get a lot of information: Tommy is controlling and always assumes whatever thoughts are on his mind trumps whatever his friends might be discussing; Kate is brash, quick to voice her opinion and never afraid to tell someone to shut up; Jesse is a bit more socially awkward, but there’s no doubt he has a big heart and has a hard time disguising his feelings.

“Dinner?” [Kate] asked, with one of her infamous one-word questions. Kate didn’t like to waste words, unless of course it was to tell someone how disappointed she was in them.

The one-word question was intended to be something that resurfaced in varying forms throughout the book. As it happened, I probably only used it a couple more times. Partly due to me finding the right situation for it hard to nail down; Kate simply had too much to say most of time. She’s a chatty one. Still, I think it’s still an interesting character trait and the line above about not wasting words was too perfect to remove. It’s true that writers do find it exceptionally hard to cut their favorite lines sometimes.

Jesse sprinkled two packets of sugar into his steaming drink. He focused on the granules as they plopped in one by one. It was almost as though he was attempting to count each single glittering speck. The tiniest droplet of coffee arced from the cup to the letter on the tabletop. Observant as ever, Tommy was the only one who noticed. He rubbed the globule off with the back of his hand.

Coffee plays a big part in the book too; if you’re going to have a bunch of scenes with characters sitting around chatting what better prop to include than a cup of coffee? Movie directors do it all the time. You’ll see coffee pop up within scenes in The Falling many more times throughout. I wanted to note here just how observant Tommy is. He’s aware of everything and is always taking everything in. It’s part of what makes him a writer, and – as the main character in the book – it makes him the perfect character for the reader to live vicariously through.

The shadow from a crowd of people outside spread across the tabletop. “Hey!” Tommy banged on the window to get their attention. “Fuck off
already!” He cursed seemingly at random, but there was nothing arbitrary or illogical about it to Tommy. He did it all the time….On the other side of that glass were a million faces Tommy did not want watching him slurping coffee and stuffing breakfast sausages into his mouth. He banged his fist on the window again. The crowd scuttled away like startled spiders.

This was an idea that I always found amusing: if you have a famous location that lures throngs of photo-snapping tourists on a daily basis, how does that make its regular visitors feel? There was a story earlier this year about the “Goonies House” in Astoria, Oregon. This was the house used in the cult 80’s classic. So many fans (a thousand a day, the owners claimed) came by and would generally leave such a mess behind that the owners eventually just shut down public access to their home. It’s probably similar to Tom’s Restaurant in New York, with so many Seinfeld fans wanting to have their picture taken in front. Probably even standing by the windows where regular customers sit. Maybe even every day. Naturally, Tommy would find this extremely annoying and I think I turned it into a pretty funny character moment, one that could repeat itself in later chapters.

This takes us to about page ten. Stay tuned for the next part.

WIND/PINBALL by Haruki Murakami [2015]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10

Two of Haruki Murakami’s first and previously unpublished stories, each one only around 100 pages. I was going to write my review of the first story (“Hear the Wind Sing“), but then I thought, “Nah. I’ll read the second one and then review them both! Gosh golly, I’m brilliant.” Of course, half-way through book two (“Pinball, 1973“) I’d forgotten nearly everything I liked about the first book. Yes dear readers, I am brilliant indeed.
But this is the nature of Murakami. His stories all share very similar themes and characters that even if you enjoy his work it’s sometimes very hard to differentiate them. These are not perfect stories but there are perfect moments within them both. And when Murakami gets perfect right, well it’s perfect. It’s the quiet moments of reflection; young men maturing and finding their place in the world; girls preparing spaghetti; a trip to the doctor to have wax removed from an ear canal; waking up next to a mysterious girl with nine fingers; the weirdness of discovering a barn in the outskirts of Tokyo that is filled with pinball machines and the protagonist has a conversation with his favorite one. It’s stuff like that that makes Murakami.
No, nothing really happens in these stories, but sometimes it’s just a pleasure to read the words of certain authors.

This Never Happened: Chapter One

With my first draft complete I thought I’d share my first chapter. This is more of an intro chapter, short with a few clues as to where the story is going but without much plot.

Hope you like it!

(EDIT – 12/12/2016: I’ve since merged chapters one and two into my opening chapter, and as such the following version will be changed a lot heading into the book’s release date. Still, it’s fun to see how the book was originally planned out.)

CHAPTER ONE: TEN THOUSAND YEARS TOO LATE

Some mothers tell their sons they will be someone special someday. Some tell their sons they are the smartest in their class. The most handsome, maybe. My mother enjoyed telling me I was born ten thousand years too late. I’m not sure I ever knew what she meant by that. I remember how she would say it with a kind of crooked smirk on her face, sometimes after a little joke I never understood. Always when my father wasn’t home. “Oh, you wouldn’t get it,” she’d say. “You were born ten thousand years too late to understand.” I always wondered if there was some great event that occurred ten thousand years ago; something worth my mother’s blasé indifference and flippant comments, but I have no idea what that might have been. I know that in 8018 BC the world’s population was around four million. In 7219 BC mankind was beginning its transition from hunters and gatherers to farmers. I’m not sure where I might have fit amongst those Neolithic people, but I do know that I’ve never once felt as though I belonged where I actually was. Just like most young men, I suppose.

People say it’s impossible for babies to remember the moment of their birth, but I remember the light that day. It wasn’t a brilliant, bursting flash, a soft luminous luster or anything else that might come to mind when one thinks of light, but I know that’s what it was. I remember it easily because it has haunted my dreams countless times. And when I’m not dreaming it, sometimes I’m reminded of that wonderfully frightening flash when the F-Train bursts out over 4th Place. Or when the sun is caught within the steel web of the Parachute Jump. I can’t help from remembering. People will tell me they don’t remember the day they were born. They can’t comprehend what it must have been like to see that light – the light that bathes us all in our most vulnerable moment – for the first time. I don’t have the heart to tell them I remember every horrible second of it. Do you know what it is? It’s the same light they tell you to walk towards when you’re dying.

In 7103 BC people were building their world’s first cities. Earth’s citizens began living in mud-brick domiciles. They were just starting to learn how to deal with noisy neighbors and domestic disputes. I live in Coney Island, just a subway ride away from Manhattan. I sleep in a crusty apartment on Mermaid Avenue and I imagine it has approximately the same dimensions and appeal as those original mud homes. I have neighbors on either side of me, above and below. I know them as well as most anyone can really know their neighbors. The woman who lives on the top floor of my building runs a yoga studio in her bedroom and she claims the amount of psychic energy her students generate is enough to calm all the world’s aching souls. I don’t imagine that could be true since the world has as many problems as it does but maybe it’s my fault for not being able to comprehend. Or perhaps she just doesn’t know how to harness all that psychic energy she’s got bouncing around up there.

Living in New York confuses me. It’s not the politics of the city itself, nor does it have anything to do with the pressures or expectations its people place upon one another or the images one must try to maintain in order to fit in. It’s the little things, like how do the parking meters know exactly how much change you’ve dropped in? Same with the pay machines in the subway stations. I don’t understand how computer servers can store as much information as they do. When the U.S. Census reports that Manhattan has nearly two million residents, I cannot fathom how that’s even possible. How do two million people fit on one island? How do they keep from constantly bumping into one another?

When I’m working, I work for a laundry and linen supply company. Brooklyn Whites, it’s called. Sounds like a racist sports team but it’s really not. I pick up and deliver tablecloths and napkins and uniforms and floor mats from restaurants all over the city. It’s mindless, but I don’t ask for much. When I’m not working I’m usually on my bed. I like to dream. In my dreams, I’m not cleaning up the mess that others have left behind. In my dreams I don’t live on Mermaid Avenue. In my dreams I live in the country. Not like the Hamptons, but more like somewhere in Kentucky. Maybe Bowling Green or Elizabethtown. In my dreams everything is perfect; I’m just as I want to be. I’m everything I missed along the way to where I am now. It’s only when I wake up that I seem to experience this backwards reality.

In 7462 BC the English Channel was formed. In 7855 BC wild horses completely disappeared from Great Britain. In 8080 BC Earth’s last glacial period ended; our world’s last Ice Age. Up until this point, all of the food humans ate came from wild plants and animals. It wasn’t until much later that people began to think about domesticating their food supply. In 8002 BC people began to cultivate grains: wheat, rice, rye, oats, millet, and barley. My mother told me I was born ten thousand years too late. In my dreams I don’t have to try and believe her. In my dreams my mother didn’t leave us.

My name is Cepik Small. That’s pronounced “Seh-Pick” if you’re going to keep track. Like septic without the T. It’s Polish, though I have no idea which of my ancestors were the last to actually step foot in Poland. I doubt I could even point to it on a map. Friends call me Epic for short even if it’s the exact same number of syllables. But I don’t know many friends anymore. It’s all part of the same story. Some forgotten friends. A stupid name. A crummy apartment. An uninspired career. A broken heart. It might sound like I’m alone, and it’s true. But I’m not really lonely. At least not all of the time. I’m not sure what I was meant for, but I know it’s not what I’ve been given. My father told me he wished I would have everything I ever wanted in life, yet his own life seemed so barren and meaningless. We barely had enough money to get by. I’ve always felt as though I was a spectator, rather than a participant. I’ve felt this way in everything I’ve done and every place I’ve been. In my dreams I am definitely a participant. In my dreams, I wasn’t an outcast in high school; I was just normal enough to go unnoticed. In my dreams, I fell in love. In my dreams, I’m everything my mother and father really wanted me to be.

Research

A lot of research will go into every novel someone writes. Or rather, if authors intend to make their work as meaningful as possible they will do the applicable research. In my new novel (THIS NEVER HAPPENED) there is a laundry list of extremely diverse topics I felt I had to research in order to help the authenticity of the story. Some of this research time was spanning many days, while other bits only required a few relatively simple internet searches.

Because I think the range of topics in this book is quite impressive (and maybe a little bit out there) I’ve compiled a list of some of my research topics over the last 2+ years. Here’s what I’ve come up with, just off the top of my head:

  1. What was happening on Earth 10,000 years ago
  2. The Neolithic (agricultural) Revolution
  3. Black holes, and the death of them
  4. Alternate universes, parallel worlds
  5. Cosmological and astrological epochs
  6. Brain cancer
  7. Prosopagnosia
  8. Hypoxic Hypoxia
  9. Dementia
  10. Prescription drugs: pain killers, anti-depression meds, medicinal marijuana (psychopharmaceuticals)
  11. History of Coney Island, NY
  12. Coney Island Mermaid Parade
  13. Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore; freak show history
  14. Russians in Brighton Beach, NY
  15. Polish surnames
  16. NY subway  system, specifically routes within Brooklyn
  17. Roosevelt Island
  18. Shoe repair supplies
  19. Mythological creatures: griffin, headless horsemen, undine, pegasus
  20. Metal bands’ album covers
  21. French novels from the 1970’s
  22. MMORPG’s
  23. Virtual reality gear
  24. Conspiracy theories
  25. Drones
  26. The science of throwing a baseball

What does it all add up to? Hopefully a thought-provoking, frightening and sometimes humorous work of fiction. We’ll see.