Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Youtube

Q: What I have I been watching on Youtube lately?

A:  Thug Notes http://www.thug-notes.com/, wherein Sparky Sweets, PhD. is droppin’ knowledge bombs on all y’alls. Each episode provides a succinct summary and accessible analysis of one of literature’s biggest ballers.

Thug Notes is more than just entertaining – it’s brilliant – and I appreciate the hell out of what they are doing because I know how hard it is. Back when I was in college I thought I wanted to be an English teacher, so I spent four years working as an in-class teaching aide and tutor at a high school.  It was a great experience that taught me an invaluable lesson: I was not ready to teach. I was too young and too green to handle a classroom on my own. I loved what I did as an aide, but I also saw the grueling effort it took to get kids engaged with some of the musty classics that made up the curriculum.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was on the required reading list for the 10th grade literature classes. It’s a good book, but it was tough for kids who watched 16 and Pregnant on MTV to understand how Hester Prynne could be shamed by the judgment of her community.  “Why don’t she just take off that big letter A?” one of my students asked. “Why don’t she move away? Hester be stoopid.”

I didn’t have an answer for that student. Her questions were valid, especially given that she had no real context for a story that was set 200 years ago. I had no idea where to start in providing context. Should I talk about Puritan society in the early Americas? About the biblical allusions? Maybe other stories set in the same era? The student lost interest before I could think of anything to say and the moment was lost. The Scarlet Letter remained a useless old story, just something to be skimmed and forgotten.

Maybe if Thug Notes existed back when I was teaching, I could have answered my student’s questions. The genius of Thug Notes is that it peels away the need for context by summarizing classics as if the stories took place today. It takes the characters out of the past and focuses on the timeless and universal themes – love, lust, betrayal, hypocrisy, oppression, ambition – and makes it possible for the audience to see the connection between the story and the struggle in their own lives. When that happens, it’s something like magic.

If there are any classics that you’ve never been able to connect with, look them up on Thug Notes. You might find a little more relevance in those stories. At very least, you’ll be entertained.

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January 2014: The Undeadening

As you may have noticed, this blog has been dead for over a year. Fortunately for me (and hopefully for you), blogs have many stages of deadness and this one was only mostly dead. With a little hard work and some spare parts, I’ll have it alive and kicking again in 2014. You can look forward to more book reviews, writing updates, rants about the state of publishing and anything else that gets my panties in a twist this year. Along with the new stuff, I’ll be going back to cover some books and events from 2012 – 2013 as well. If I don’t get to all of it, here’s a recap. In the past year and a half I:

– Bought a house

– Refurbished a house (found out the hard way how much rewiring and a new power box costs)

– Received a promotion at my job.

– Worked with a team of awesome people to publish the Legacy Collection: 9,500 classic scholarly book titles digitized and added across 15 subject areas, including contributions from over 100 Nobel Laureates. (http://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/science-and-technology/elsevier-expands-its-legacy-collection-to-more-than-9500-books2 )

– Traveled to Amsterdam, Oxford, Washington D.C. and Boston

– Acquired a second dog (aka monster bitch: destroyer of floorboards, doorjambs, mail and my dream of never finding feces in the living room)

– Completed the rough draft of my novel

– Began work shopping  and revisions on the novel

– Read a bunch of books (2013 titles here:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/297374-mollymillions?shelf=2013 )

So stay tuned and you’ll hear about all that and more as this blog comes back to life!

Pusher (Wo)Man

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In which I answer the age old question, “Where do you find this stuff?”

Comic Con 2012 has come and gone, leaving my bookshelves full and my wallet empty. If you haven’t guessed, what I enjoy most about the convention is that it is a cornucopia of new and exciting reading material. Better yet, it’s a whole community of people who love books and come there to talk about and recommend new material. This year I received many good suggestions from the Witty Women of Steampunk panel, the Dystopian panel and my longtime favorite, the i09 Fiction That Will Change Your Life panel.  Here are a few that I’m particularly excited about:

Ready Player One: A Novel
Earnest Cline
A serenade to all 80’s based geek culture – equal parts epic quest, love story and virtual space opera.

Year Zero
Rob Reid
Humans may not be the most intelligent life form in the universe, but we’re the only ones that make music.  Unknown to us, alien cultures have been listening in to our tunes ever since we started broadcasting and now they want to go “behind the music”. When you throw in copyright law and intergalactic finance the situation only gets weirder.  This one was a Comic Con special and came with a memory stick loaded with music and readings by the author.

Shadow Show
Edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
A short story collection tribute to the great Ray Bradbury, including submissions by Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers and many more.

Bedbugs
Ben H. Winters
As if the idea of tiny creatures that live in your bed and bite you while sleep wasn’t creepy enough, Ben Winters throws in a creepy brownstone, a secretive landlady, a young couple and psychological horror.

The Last Policeman: A Novel
Ben H. Winters
A police procedural set in a pre-apocalyptic United States raises an interesting question: What’s the point in investigating murders if we’re all going to die soon anyway?

Pictorial Webster’s:  A Visual Dictionary of Curiosities
John Carrera
A showcase of over 1,500 engravings that originally graced the pages of Webster’s dictionaries in the 19th century. I’ve already spent a few hours flipping pages and wondering at everything from Bell Jars to tarsiers. It makes a great visual prompt for any writer or artist.

Fatale, Book 1: Death Chases Me
Ed Brubaker
The first trade paperback of this Image comic book series, Fatale features hard-boiled secrets, lies, horror and lust from one of the best crime writers in the business.

Horns
Joe Hill
A man goes out drinking. The next morning he wakes up with a killer hangover and a pair of horns growing from his head. He also has the power to make people tell him their deepest, darkest secrets. Nothing good can come of this. Added bonus: I got a signed copy!

San Diego Book Awards 2012

Saturday night Tone and I attended the San Diego Book Awards banquet for the second time. The first time we went was in 2009, when Tone’s manuscript for Picking Up the Ghost was a finalist in the unpublished novel category. This time the published version of Picking Up the Ghost was a finalist in the published SciFi, Fantasy, & Horror category. Unfortunately, Picking up the Ghost didn’t win. I still think that being nominated twice isn’t too shabby!

The night wasn’t a total loss for the Milazzo household. A Year in Ink, Volume 4 , edited by Jericho Brown & Laurel Corona, won the short story collection/ anthology category. Since my short story, “Sleepwalking” is included in the collection, I can now say I’m published in an award winning book!

Daybreak

Title: Daybreak
Author/ Artist: Brian Ralph
ISBN: 9781770460553

Billed as an art house take on the classic zombie story, Daybreak delivers on that promise. Author/ artist Brian Ralph tells a careful, understated story about surviving the zombie apocalypse. Blood and guts are scarce, but hunger fear and fateful decisions are plentiful in these black and white pages.

Daybreak is told in the second person, placing the reader as the protagonist of the story. Usually I’m not a fan of the second person voice; it tends to be gimmicky and can become tiresome when used in longer pieces. It does, however, work well for this short graphic novel. In making the reader the protagonist of this story, Ralph makes the most of his medium. He forces the reader to interpret the images on the page rather than rely on narration or dialogue to tell the story. When presented with a panel of a room, the reader must visually search it, just as he would have to do if he really was running from zombies. The room looks empty, but is it? Look again. These wordless panels create a great tension and an immediate sense of intimacy with the few characters that do appear in the story.

With Daybreak Brian Ralph succeeds where many other zombie stories fail. He creates a world where looking and listening are just as important as shooting and running, where human interaction is brief but meaningful and everything can change at a moment’s notice.  It’s a refreshing take on a familiar genre.

Q&A: The Novel

Q: You’re writing a novel?
A: Why yes I am, thanks for asking!

Q: What’s it called?
A: The working title is Snake Woman Rain Dance.

Q: What’s it about?
A:  Murder, Mexican folk magic, Aztec gods and wildfires

Q: For reals?
A: For reals.

Q: How much do you have written?
A: 50,000 words (about ½ the book)

Q: Can I read it?
A: When the rough draft is complete I’ll be pushing this story on anyone who is literate and slow moving enough for me to catch.

Q: Is this why you haven’t been updating your blog?
A: Damn your deductive skills! Yes, yes it is.

Q: Does this mean your blog will be lame an dead until you finish said novel?
A: No, I’ll keep posting lists, flash fictions and reviews. The updates will just be happening with less frequency.

Q: What do I do if I have more questions or feel the need to write a rambling and only tangentially related response to this announcement?
A: Use the LEAVE A COMMENT button below. I promise you I’ll read it.

List: Yelp Reviews of Old West Whore Houses

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Big Nose Kate's Saloon, Tombstone Arizona

 

Miss Kitty’s   (five stars)

“Enjoyment is to be had in any of her fine lady-holes. Try them all!”

Jolly Jane’s    (four stars)

“Good selection of purty girls at a low price. Some has peckers too, but I don’t let that slow me down none.”

The Oriental    (two stars)

“Fancy furniture and such. The whorin’ weren’t too good, but the gal did give me a bath.”

Big Nose Kate’s       (three stars)

“Name of this establishment is misleading. THERE ARE NO LARGE NOSED WOMEN HERE! However, a small nosed whore did fashion a wear a paper cone while servicing me. All was not lost.”

Bessie in the Alley     (one star)

“Worst hump of my life. Had more fun riding my horse.”

Armageddon in Retrospect

Title: Armageddon in Retrospect
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
ISBN: 978-0-425-22689-6

     I’m always wary of any posthumously published works by my favorite authors. That’s why I approached Armageddon in Retrospect, a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s essays and short stories, with caution. Being a great writer isn’t just knowing what words to leave in a story, it’s knowing which words should be left out. If Vonnegut chose not to publish these works while he was alive, he must have felt that they were not his best. Part of me prefers to honor the body of work that Vonnegut chose to show us, not what he left on the cutting room floor. Still, there’s much to be learned about the craft of writing by seeing less polished pieces from talented authors. It’s a fine line to walk, but I think Armageddon in Retrospect does it well.

     The book contains both fiction and non-fiction pieces like speeches and letters. The non-fiction in Armageddon is classic Vonnegut:  a dose of rueful humor to sweeten the moral outrage. His speeches seem like the ramblings of an old man, circular and humorous. By the time he’s ready to make his point Vonnegut has touched your humanity, opened your heart just enough to feel what he’s saying rather than just hear it.

     The best piece in the book is the letter that Vonnegut wrote to his family in 1945 after escaping a German prison camp. It is amazing.  Vonnegut takes only two pages to talk about his experience, covering all the facts up to where he is at the moment. It’s one of the most efficient pieces of communication I have ever seen. More than that, it appears to be the birth of his use of refrain.  When describing the death of some of his fellow soldiers Vonnegut says, “Many men died from shock. . . after ten days of starvation, thirst an exposure. But I didn’t.” The “but not me” refrain runs throughout his letter home, screaming his survivor’s guilt without ever addressing the topic directly.

     Most of the short stories in the collection are from early in Vonnegut’s career. He had not yet developed his trademark humor or learned to employ speculative fiction elements (like time travel) in to his work. Vonnegut’s anger in these early pieces is raw and often barely disguised by plot. These stories are not the easiest things to read. Still, they offer hope to struggling writers. If Vonnegut started out like this, it’s possible to keep working, to keep searching until you develop a style that allows you to tell even the most complicated of stories.

     Ultimately, I enjoyed Armageddon and recommend it to all Vonnegut fans. I enjoyed Armageddon – now how many people can say that?