Book 7

I have finally done it. I have boldly gone where not many people go anymore. It took me over a month, maybe even more than six weeks, but I have finally finished this whale of a book, this leviathan of a book. The hump of this book – the middle half approximately – was extremely tough to get through, as it was just so boring and dense at times that I had to put the book down and continue it later. But I eventually finished it, and now I can cast it to the bottom of the ocean where it belongs. Now, whenever someone asks me, “Hast seen the white whale?” I can say, “Aye, I have seen that mighty beast, and I have conquered it!”

OK, enough over-exaggerated and cheesy whale talk. Yeah, it took me a long time to finish Moby Dick (1851), but I also had a lot of other things going on, and some family sickness to deal with as well. Here’s what I really thought of it:

There is a ton I could say about Moby Dick. I will not be discussing any of the religious aspects of it though, as much of it is very controversial and I wish to keep that out of my blog for now. In general, I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the story of Captain Ahab and crew hunting the giant whale. I enjoyed the unique and well-crafted characters. I enjoyed the sarcasm and satire that Herman Melville heavily sprinkles into the book. And I enjoyed the ominous white whale, Moby Dick, this massive infamous beast that could be a whaler’s doom or his glory. There is much that I did not enjoy, though, which made for a very dense and painful read.

Moby Dick is comprised of three parts (according to me, not in actuality): The Introduction, the Information, and the Chase.

The Introduction is where we meet all the important characters like Ishmael, Queequeg, Ahab, and the mates. All these characters get long, drawn-out dramatic introductions, especially Queequeg and Ahab. It may be overdone a little bit, but I liked it. The suspense of finding out who these people were kept me reading. I was a little disappointed, though, that after all the character build-up for Queequeg, he nearly disappears for the rest of the book. He makes a couple cameos and then has an entire chapter where he almost dies, but that’s it. I was intrigued by the tattooed face and cannibalistic nature, and wanted more story for him later in the book.

The Information section of the book is what held me up and made me put the book down way too many times. In this section there are many chapters devoted to describing whales, whaling, and the ship. We learn about how a whale is caught, how it is cleaned and stripped, we even learn about how they use the skin of the whale’s penis as a shirt! We learn about the different types of whales, we learn about the whale’s physiognomy and countenance, and the different types of fins that each whale has. Sure, it’s all very interesting stuff, and Melville’s sarcasm and witty remarks make it a fun read (when I can understand his reference), but I just think it was too much. It seemed that what Melville really wanted to do was to write an informative book on whaling, but threw in a tragic adventure story to make it more interesting.

The Chase is the final conflict of the book. Moby Dick is spotted by the crew, and they immediately attempt to catch and kill him. They try for three days. The first two days, Captain Ahab’s boat is torn to pieces, and he barely escapes with his life. On the third day, though, nobody is lucky. The entire ship gets destroyed along with everybody in it. Except for Ishmael, of course, who is telling the story. This section of the book is not only the shortest, but it is also the fastest paced. It kept me on the edge of my seat, even though I already knew the outcome. But by this time, I just wanted to be done with the book, so I read it as fast as I could anyway.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book. It’s been on my to-read list for years, and now I can finally cross it off. It had a lot of unique and interesting features that will influence my own writing. I give Moby Dick 3 out of 5 stars


Write for Yourself

A couple weeks ago I submitted a story to my fiction writing class for critique. This is an upper level class, by the way, with two fiction classes as prerequisites, so it is more than just the basic fundamentals of fiction writing. So far, we have been focusing on technique, detail, and the aspects of a story. It has been quite interesting, and the teacher seems to be one of those mad genius types. You know what I mean? He’s got the “poof” hair that sprouts in all directions, looking like he got right to work in the morning instead of combing it, and he speaks more or less in riddles, which I’m sure only the most brilliant writers can understand. Anyway, he’s a really good teacher, and seems to know what he’s talking about. He’s had some good advice anyway!

Anyway, our assignment was to write a 5-page story and the whole class would critique each story during two of our two-and-a-half-hour sessions. I submitted mine for the first session, entitled “The Interview.” It was about a journalist, writing for a supernatural tabloid, who receives an invitation to interview someone with a secret. During this interview, he is told what seems like some cheesy vampire story, but turns out to be a teddy bear come to life and given omnipotence and immortality. Sure, it was a silly story, but everyone seemed to enjoy it, even the teacher.

But he left one comment that disturbed me.

But before I get to that, I should note that our first two assignments prior to this were 2-page non-fiction stories. First, we wrote about an embarrassing or you-wouldn’t-believe-this story about ourselves. Then we interviewed another student and wrote about an interesting or eventful time in his/her life. Though it wasn’t fiction, it was an educational experience, and has helped to improve my writing regardless. Being a college class, most people wrote about a failed relationship, an incident while getting drunk, or a hallucinogenic experience with drugs. Boring if you ask me, but that’s just my opinion. My interviewer wrote an extremely good story about my time on the submarine. He captured more emotion and mood in two pages than I could possibly express in fifty, and it was my story!

So our first two stories being non-fiction, we were finally on to fiction, like the name of the class suggests. My story went well, though there was some confusion about it. But that was the point. My intent was to fool the reader into thinking it was a vampire story, when really it had to do with a living teddy bear. And like I said, the teacher even praised it quite a bit. But, though he wasn’t trying to offend me, he did, a little. On the back of my paper, after all the good stuff, he wrote, “Next time maybe – for experiment – a realistic story – guys on a sub?”

I was astonished. A realistic story? Isn’t this a fiction class? As far as I know, most fiction takes unreal ideas or events and makes them real, just like I tried to do. My story, though it involved a living teddy bear, was certainly realistic. It had real details of a house in the middle of the woods, just like you can find just about anywhere in the world. The main character was a realistic person – a journalist striving for a good story. So it delved into the supernatural…so what? That is what I enjoy.

I’ve always been told to write what I like best, to not write just because that specific genre or style is popular, and that an author that writes what he enjoys most will write a better and more believable story. There’s a million quotes out there by successful authors that say the same. Now this guy is telling me to write something different, something that he wants to hear. I understand that he – and other people – would be interested to read about life on a submarine. But that doesn’t interest me. I did that for eight years, and I don’t feel like reliving it by writing a story about it.

There is a quote I read recently from an English editor and writer named Cyril Connolly (1903-1974), who was a good friend of George Orwell, and it goes: “It is better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” I cannot get over how meaningful that quote is, and it will stick in my mind until the day I die. Kurt Vonnegut, a favorite author of mine, also said something similar to a class he taught in 1965. He said, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” I keep that to heart as well.

For me, that ‘one person’ is me. I write for myself, not for what others want. Sure, I will write the occasional story for my child or for my wife if they ask, but they are family, and they deserve it more than anybody. But for the most part, I write what I want to write, and I will continue to do so until I have no more ideas to write about. If I make millions in the process, I will embrace it and be overjoyed that my stories have touched so many. But until then, and even after that, I will continue to do what I am doing. And that teacher may never hear about my time on a sub, unless I decide to write about it for myself. Even then, though, it may remain hidden in the pixellated depths of my computer.

Sleepy and Stupid

Every writer has a certain time of day that works best for them. For most, it is when they feel the most creative. For others, though, it is only when they get the chance. Unfortunately for the latter group, they probably aren’t getting their best writing done. I know because I am a part of that group. I try to write when I feel the most creative, but I always seem to get interrupted. The dog whimpers at my feet, wanting to go out. The baby starts yelling that it is time to wake up or eat or poop or whatever. I suddenly remember that some assignment is due the next day or in a few hours, and that if I don’t start working on it soon, it will not bode well for me. Whatever the case may be, I am yanked violently from my creative depths to deal with the issues at hand, if I am even allowed to descend into those creative depths. So, reluctantly, I write mainly when I get the chance, when those interruptions are tended to, when the baby and dog are both sleeping in separate corners of the house, when the homework is finished and all is quiet around the house.What comes out is mediocre at best, but I’m happy I’m at least getting something written. There’s always time to edit later.

So when is the best time to write? When do those creative juices flow more freely than ever? When is it that we are able to reach deep down into the darkest nether reaches of our mind and pull out the best material? Well, it differs for everyone, obviously, but there does seem to be some general agreement on one certain time, and my fiction writing teacher last semester put it quite nicely in a way I’ll never forget. At the beginning of each class, he would write a quote on the board. For the most part, these quotes had to do with writing. But if they didn’t, it was easy enough to relate them to writing, especially if they involved being creative. One day, the quote had to do with the time in which we are most creative. I wish I could remember the exact quote, because it was a good one, but the teacher  gave us his own version, and that has stuck with me. He said, “The best time to write is when you’re sleepy and stupid.”

When I told my wife that, she said, “Then you should be able to write well at any time!” Haha, she sure is funny! But it’s true, I am tired all the time. And as for the stupidity, well, I wouldn’t say all the time. Just most of the time! Anyway, there have been other, similar quotes, too. It was believed that Ernest Hemingway said “Write drunk, edit sober.” There’s no documentation of him saying that, though. I’ve looked everywhere, and others before me have too. But somebody said it, and it means the same thing: Write when your brain is sleepy (I wouldn’t advise drunk, unless you really want to do a lot of editing sober!). Write when you first wake up in the morning, when you are still groggy from sleep, and have fewer distractions. Write when you are drinking that first cup of coffee in the morning. Write late at night when you should be going to bed instead. That’s when the demons come out–when we aren’t completely ready for it.

There have actually been studies done that somewhat prove that we are most creative first thing in the morning, right after waking up. We are [somewhat] fully rested, maybe have some crazy dreams still lingering around, and our subconscious has probably been thinking all night about what it wants to do after we wake up, like an anxious child on summer vacation. The morning is exactly when I used to write. I would wake up every morning at 5 am (sometimes even earlier!) and write until everyone else started waking up. It was great. I had no distractions, no interruptions, I just sat at my desk and wrote. During those periods of writing in the wee hours of the morning, I not only wrote my best work, but I also wrote the most pages. Honestly, an hour of writing at 5 am got me at least twice as many pages as writing during any other time of day. Lately, though, I just haven’t been able to write that early in the morning. Actually, I haven’t even been able to get myself out of bed that early! But when I do, I just stare at the computer and try to find distractions for myself, instead of keeping them away.

I’ve been trying to get myself back into the habit of waking up early, but it’s been proving a little difficult lately. I’m not sure what the reasoning is, but hopefully I can get back into it. It’s been said that developing a routine will cause your brain to better prepare for it. So I say, why not create a routine of writing when I am most creative. Maybe getting back into that early morning routine will get me out of this slump I’ve been in lately.