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.”

ARE YOU SEEING ME? by Darren Groth [2014]

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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!

& 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!

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.

Social Media: GoodReads

Okay, maybe I’m not making the biggest impact in the social media universe, but talking about myself and making daily new connections in life is not exactly my forte. I do, however, remain very active on GoodReads, the world’s largest site for readers, book-sharing and recommendations.

I try my best to rate and review every book I read, especially if it’s helped inspire me to write or made some other impact in my life. If you share a love of books, I encourage to head on over and check it out.

One of the more interesting aspects of GoodReads is their Author Program, a completely free feature designed to help new and established authors promote their work and find an audience. Here, you can control your own profile, add a blog, post video, and publicize upcoming events.

On my own author page, you will not only find my first two novels but you can download them COMPLETELY FREE! You can download each as PDFs and open them as iBooks on your iPad. Easy! You can find my books by clicking on the following widgets:

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THE FALLING

And then find the “READ BOOK” button:

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So easy! The books are free (and great, of course!), and all I ask in return is an honest review! Recommend them too if you know folks who would also enjoy.

Swing on by. Read my books. Ask me a question. And thanks for your support!

Progress?

So maybe it’s not going exactly as hoped. Upon completing my third novel (This Never Happened), I began work on my query letter. A query letter is what an author will send to literary agents in an attempt to get them excited about reading their work. Perhaps my query letter need a bit of refining. Here are the initial stats in my query attempts:

Queries sent: 93.

Responses: 29.

Manuscript Requests: 2.

Of those two requests, I received a pass from one, though with some helpful critique. Specifically, the literary agent “had trouble seeing the genre elements of the work shining through” and found that “the first person point-of-view felt claustrophobic.” This was one of the first queries I’d sent out; in it, I labelled my book as “Science Fiction,” but have since reconsidered my genre and began querying under the genre heading “Speculative Fiction.” I think this may have eliminated the first constructive comment.

The claustrophobic comment made me stop and think a bit. I had to interpret what the agent meant as best I could. What does a claustrophobic point-of-view actually mean? The best I could do was presume it was maybe too much time inside my main character’s head; maybe too many internal thoughts. As I was considering this, the idea of switching my POV came to me. Since one of the premises of my story is that the main character dreams of things that are actually happening to his alternate world counterpart, then there already exists a symbiotic bond between the two. If the story was told in a Second Person Point-of-View then the reader could be guessing at the true nature of the narrator, along with all of the other pieces of the literary puzzle they’re already trying to put together.

So, I’m beginning the process of rewriting my manuscript. I’m still hoping there’ll be a bite or two from my first batch of queries, but I think I’m getting closer to having the book where it’s meant to be.

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.

So This Happened

Okay, it’s done. A few months past my personal deadline but I’ve completed the first draft of my manuscript for my third novel. Clocking at 19 chapters and ~95,000 words, THIS NEVER HAPPENED has finally happened. Next up is the editing stage, but with my style of writing (editing as I go) this won’t take very long.

Editing for me is proofreading, fixing some minor grammar, tweaking some dialogue, moving ideas around from chapter to chapter until it just feels right. I don’t recommend editing as you write since it’s the best way to slow down the creative process, but I’m stubborn and it ain’t worth fixing at this point.

I’m in love with some of my characters and there are definitely some favorite scenes and chapters, but I’ll share more of this in a future post.

After the editing comes writing a query letter and the hunt for literary agents, which might just be more daunting than writing a 300-page novel.

Onward!