Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House – Atmospheric and Unsettling with a Pitch Perfect Ending

49d7b-haunting2bhhIn honor of Halloween I decided to read the classic haunted house story The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I found this book on many “Scariest Books all Time” lists so I decided to give it a shot.  Full disclosure before I move on, thus far the two scariest books I’ve ever read were The Shining by Stephen King (for obvious reasons, REDRUM!) and The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty.  Admittedly, the latter isn’t a horror novel but watching asibling descend into mental illness and being powerless to stop it was terrifying to me.  Maybe that one just hit a little to close to home.  Nevertheless, both are terrific books and are highly recommended.

The other point I should probably mention is that the movie The Exorcist did not frighten me in the least.  Again, maybe it was because the movie was billed as “the scariest of all time” that I expected more.  Frankly, I just found the movie silly.  I kept waiting to be scared but it never quite materialized.  The little girls’ head turning 360 degrees was creepy certainly but scary?  Not so much. A movie that did scare me?  Manhunter (1986).  For those of you who aren’t familiar I believe this was the first movie to feature the Hannibal Lecter character (pre Anthony Hopkins).  I couldn’t get that movie out of my head for weeks.  You have been warned – watch with caution!

I mention all of this to provide a bit of context.  Meaning, I’m not easily scared.  At least, not in the conventional sense.  The Haunting of Hill House was no exception.  The book is very well written, steeping with dark, opressive atmosphere and containing evocative descriptions of the setting and characters.  A feeling of dread and claustrophobia persists throughout the story, though you are not always sure as to why.  Is Hill House really haunted or is it simply and old isolated home built with some architectural anomalies that manifest as paranormal activity?  Early on I thought I knew the answer but the novel cleverly turns the story on its head at around the midpoint.  Here is where I started to question my assumptions about all that I had read to that point.   This is also where the book really came alive for me.  I couldn’t put it down until I came to the end, an end that was brilliant in it’s execution and utterly inevitable given all that had preceded it.

I’m not sure I would have picked up this book in the bright light of summer but I have to say it was the perfect story in which to immerse myself in honor of Halloween.  If you’ve seen that horrible movie The Haunting (1999) do not let that deter you from reading the book.  The book is a completely different entity.  Once you realize that Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and even Liam Neeson have no business in this particular story you can enjoy The Haunting of Hill House for what it is – a spooky and surprising psychological drama.  Interestingly, Lili Taylor was well cast as protagonist Eleanor (but that’s pretty much the only good thing I can say about the movie).  If you’ve never seen the movie all the better.

PS: My favorite character in the book was Planchette!

Book Review: “Columbine”, by Dave Cullen. No Easy Answers.

Columbine.  For many Americans, this word conjures powerful words and imagery. I tend to associate the following whenever I hear the word:

  • School shooting
  • Bullying
  • Jocks
  • Trench coat mafia
  • Outcasts

Over the years, I had heard mumblings that perhaps this was the wrong narrative.  That someone, somewhere got the story wrong.  I hardly paid attention.  School shootings are a very heavy topic. Then there are some tragedies are just too difficult to process.  They require time to think about objectively.  Maybe this was part of the reason I avoided the subject.  Maybe I preferred to remain ignorant.  Who knows?

I’m a parent of a young child now and trying to understand these types of events is more important to me than remaining ignorant.  Not that these unfathomable events can ever be truly understood.  But I wanted to at least try.  I had heard good things about Dave Cullen’s “Columbine” so I finally decided it was time to learn more.

I’ll say first that the book went a long way to dispel a lot of myths surrounding Columbine.  Except for knowing that Columbine was a school shooting all my preconceived notions were wrong or at least woefully inadequate.  In terms of pure myth busting, the book excelled.  It went into detail around the events leading up to and the shooting itself, the victims, the impact on certain victims’ families, the law enforcement response, and the role of the media.

The book failed to illuminate my main question, the question that really drove me to read the book.  The question of “Why?”.  Maybe it was too much to ask of the book.  Can anyone definitively answer “the why” of such a horrific event in a satisfactory way?  How can any of us understand how two seemingly normal kids from good homes decide to shoot up a school before killing themselves?  How can we understand the pathology that would drive a person to believe that such a course of action is not only reasonable, but the “only way”?

To Dave Cullen’s credit, he knows this is a blind spot in the book.  He does try to address this by discussing the killers’ journal entries, home videos, interviews with surviving friends, and reports from the FBI to describe the psychological profile of the young men.  The hypothesis appears simple: One of the perpetrators, Eric Harris, is a text book psychopath who planned the attack.  The other, Dylan Klebold, is a suicidal teen who got swept away by Eric’s grand vision and persuasive personality.

The apparent sympathy of the author for Dylan is curious to me.  It may be true that Dylan was clinically depressed and in pain.  It may be true that he had a shy and sensitive side.  It may be true that for a long time he had no intention of going through with any of it and was just enjoying Eric’s attentions.  But in the end, he did go through with it and was an active participant in the cold-blooded murder of 13 innocent people.

Eric Harris being written off as a textbook psychopath is also curious to me.  Maybe this is correct.  He certainly left behind plenty of evidence to support this hypothesis.  The key question for me is how did he get this way?  Was he simply born bad?  Was it a long, slow decline into violent apathy? Here the book provides no answers.

Potential answers, or at least more information, obviously lies with Eric and Dylan’s parents.  What did they know and when?  How did they intervene?  Did they intervene?  For years, they said next to nothing.  In their defense, they were vilified in the court of public opinion with greater than 80% people polled believing they were culpable for their sons’ actions.  What could they possibly say to mollify a grieving public?

Dylan Klebold’s mother Sue has become more public in recent years.  I have not read her book but I did watch her TED talk and read an searing article she wrote for Oprah Magazine, “I Will Never Know Why”.  She is poised, eloquent, and sad.  The toll her son’s actions took on her life is unmistakable.  I applaud her bravery in finally speaking out about her experience. She is not looking for absolution, she is trying to educate.  The message is clear.  If she can find herself in such a situation then surely anyone can.

Is this true I wonder?  There were warning signs.  The boys were acting out, getting in trouble in and out of school and were arrested for theft.  Though very intelligent, Dylan’s grades suffered miserably.  One family was aware of the danger posed by Eric Harris.  Another teacher was highly disturbed by Dylan Klebold’s writing.  Both cases were reported to appropriate authorities and to the boys’ parents.  Eric had a website that oozed with violent thoughts and hate.  The police were aware though failed to act.

It’s also worth noting that both Eric and Dylan were put into a juvenile-court rehabilitation program after their arrest.  Both finished early due to good behavior.  Eric breezed through the program and left a very favorable impression on the director.

While several people seemed to be aware that the boys were troubled, none suspected mass murder.  That, I think, is something we all can understand.  It is hard for most of us to imagine the unimaginable, particularly when the unimaginable includes suspecting that a loved is capable of murder(s).  In retrospect the pieces may fit but in the moment?  Perhaps not so obvious.

After reading “Columbine” I’m not really any closer to understanding why the boys attacked their school.  I have a great deal of admiration and sympathy for the survivors and the victim’s families. Dylan and Eric’s parents deserve if not sympathy then at least the benefit of doubt.  Maybe they did everything they could.  Maybe they tried to make an impact but failed.  If Dylan and Eric so easily fooled law enforcement, can we really hold their parents fully accountable?  In this sad story there is a lot of blame to go around, if any one thing beyond the perpetrators can even be blamed at all.

If I’ve learned anything from this book it is that there are no easy answers to a tragedy of this magnitude.  Laying blame after the fact is useless and unproductive.  The best we can hope for is to better understand the roots of violence and learn to identify warnings signs to prevent further tragedies.  Unsatisfying I know but at least it’s the truth.  That must be something, right?

 

Someday I Will Write a Tell All About My Family

 

TragdieAnd it will be a tragic comedy.

I love my family.  I do.  But I’ve always felt like I’m from a different planet. Somewhere in the great beyond my soul got shuttled into this family that I’m destined to never really understand, or fully fit, yet be eternally frustrated by.  They are good people, all of them. Lovable losers some might say.  Not me, though, that’s not how I see them.  Lovable yes, but losers no.  At least not most of the time.  Sadly, most do possess the crippling flaw of poor judgement.  I’ve seen it time and again.  No matter how noble the intention they always seem to make terrible decisions. At times, with disastrous and far reaching consequences.

Let me tell you a little story to illustrate this point.  My sister and brother in law – let’s call them Gemma and Clarke – recently found three little orphaned ducklings in their pool. They knew nothing of caring for ducks but because Clarke had just lost his beloved cat Grover he felt compelled to adopt them.  I asked Gemma what Clarke knew of raising ducklings? Absolutely nothing, she had replied with affection. But he’s so sad since Grover died that he needs something to care for and she thought this would be good for him.  I was dubious, why did Clarke think he could care for ducks?  Gemma mentioned he did some internet research and was up for the challenge.

Turns out ducklings are born without feathers and rely on their mother’s body for warmth.  These ducklings were born in July so chances were good they could survive without their mother until their feathers grew in, about 6 to 8 weeks from birth.  As luck would have it this July had a cold snap where evenings went down to the mid-fifties. Gemma and Clarke kept close watch on ducklings and even tried to take them inside for warmth.  Ducklings are surprisingly fast swimmers.  Every time they tried to catch them with a net they swam quickly under water towards the deep end of the pool.  After twenty minutes of duck hunting they could only capture one of the ducklings, the smallest and slowest of the trio.

They brought the little guy into the warmth and placed him in the bathtub.  Gemma said he seemed frozen in fear and didn’t move all night.  They tried to get him to eat but he wouldn’t take any food.  In the morning when the sun came up they returned the little guy to the pool.  He immediately rushed to his siblings and huddled with them in a far corner of the pool.

The next evening the same pattern repeated.  The temperature dropped, the duck hunt resumed, and the littlest duckling spent the night inside.  This time, however, he didn’t survive the night and then there were two. I was ridiculously upset by this little ducklings’ death.  Gemma seemed to believe that he was the runt of the litter and unlikely to survive in any case.  The other two were growing much faster and seemed hardier.  She and Clarke were more confident about their survival.  Again, I was dubious.

I went online to research the typical causes of death for orphaned ducklings. Hypothermia was one, predators another obvious one, but less obvious was hypoglycemia.  The ducklings must eat a specific diet during their first few weeks of life to ensure proper development of their internal organs.  To their credit, Gemma and Clarke bought specialized duckling food and they seemed to eat it readily.  But what if in their bid to save the littlest duckling from hypothermia they inadvertently caused hypoglycemia be scaring the little guy into not eating enough?

I was incensed!  To channel my fury, I did some further research on various wild life websites to find recommendations on what to do with orphaned ducklings.  They all recommended the same thing without fail – either leave them alone and let nature take its course (harsh, I understand why Gemma and Clarke didn’t go this route) or get them to a wild life rehabilitation specialist as soon as possible.  They needed to learn skills they would need to survive in the wild.  They also needed to learn to socialize with other ducklings their age.  Interestingly, one should not try and introduce ducklings to other adults. Apparently adult ducks are known to drown orphaned ducklings.  Who knew ducks could be so vicious?

I sent all this information to Gemma and tried to get her to do what was best for the two remaining ducklings.  With all my pestering, she did find a wild life specialist in her area that had experience and would take the ducklings.  For some reason, that never happened.  While Gemma never admitted why the ducklings stayed put, I suspected Clarke was the cause. The ducklings had replaced Grover and he wasn’t about to let them go. Admittedly they were cute but what would they do come winter?  Was Clarke going to build them a little shelter in the backyard?  Where would they swim once the pool was closed?  Would they keep it open all winter for the ducks?  What about once the ducks got their feathers?  How would they know to fly if they have never seen other ducks fly? Does instinct simply kick in?  Speaking of instinct, would they go south?  Gemma grew tired of my questions and stopped responding to my texts.

Eventually I stopped pestering Gemma.  Periodically I would check in to see how they were doing and was happily surprised to hear that they were still alive.  Gemma and Clarke’s pool was another matter entirely.  Since the ducklings took up residence in early July they have not been able to shock the pool in fear of poisoning the ducklings.  Duck poop littered the pool floor and the water turned and unhealthy shade of green.  Clarke’s extended family was not pleased.  They used Gemma and Clarke’s pool as their weekend getaway and now that had been commandeered to care for orphaned ducklings not even halfway through summer.  This did make me chuckle a bit.  Clarke’s family was always imposing on Gemma’s hospitality.  Every weekend in the summer they descended like a pack of wild animals.  Meat, beer, children (theirs and others), smokes, and loud music from the eighties littered throughout Gemma and Clarke’s pristine home.  But that is another story all together…

As soon as autumn officially arrived I decided to get back to pestering Gemma to bring the ducklings to a wild life specialist.  Their sickly pool needed to close for the winter and the ducks would need to be relocated.  She couldn’t disagree with me any longer! Imagine my surprise when I learned that not only did the ducks learn to fly, but they flew off to more appropriate pastures!  Now that they were fully grown, one male and one female, they should easily be able to assimilate into one of the many other flocks or ponds in the area.

Still, I had my doubts.  Where would they sleep at night?  How would they know to shield themselves from predators?  Questions, questions, questions…

I should have left well enough alone.  I should have accepted this ending as the perfect closure to the story. But I just couldn’t. I spent two months invested in these ducklings and I just had to know more.  During my intense research phase I had learned that ducks often revisit familiar places and these ducks were no exception.  They did come back for a visit but not to Gemma’s house, to her next-door neighbors.  The neighbors that catch and eat wild rabbits.  The neighbors that have a chicken coop.  The neighbors that take the eggs and eat the full-grown chickens.  The neighbors that Gemma and Clarke don’t like and never speak to.

The last time I spoke to Gemma she said she’s pretty sure she saw the two ducks in the chicken coop.  Probably being fattened up to land on her neighbors’ dinner table come winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons From my Alter Ego: Getting Out of a Prickly Place

Escape Red Computer Keyboard Key Flee Rescue Correct Error

I like to think I have an alter ego, like Clark Kent but without the superpowers.  One side to my personality resides on this site, the more creative, inspirational, and frankly more open side. The other lives in the “real world”.  By that I mean the side of my personality responsible for paying the bills, taking care of family obligations, and just dealing with the daily tasks of adulthood.

My Clark Kent side was once a high-level marketing professional within the health care sector (aside: perhaps that should be my Superman side?).  While I loved the job itself, I most definitely did not enjoy the lifestyle it demanded.  Long hours, overseas travel, nannies needed to help with child care, and a general feeling that my life analogous to a little hamster trapped in a cage and running endlessly – while getting no where – on a spinning wheel.

When your life consists of waking up every morning thinking “I just need to get through this day” then changes need to be made.

And I come to the point of this post.  There are times in life where we may find ourselves in a difficult situation.  I am speaking specifically about professional life but it also can apply to relationships, friendships, lifestyle, etc.  How any of us land in this prickly place is as diverse as people themselves.  Often times, it may simply be the result of our life goals no longer being congruent with our lifestyle.  In any case, we’re seemingly stuck in an unpleasant situation with no obvious relief in sight.  As far as I was concerned, the piece of advice I often got from well-meaning colleagues was this –

“Don’t run away from something, run to something.”

The short hand of which is don’t quit you job until you have another.  I understand the logic and practicality of this advice and followed it initially.  But while I was waiting for that elusive “something new” to present itself I was being relentlessly driven into the ground by unrealistic professional goals and expectations, family demands, no time to plan for another job, and emotional and physical exhaustion.

What I learned the hard way is that sometimes it’s not possible to run to something new until you allow yourself the space for that new opportunity to manifest.

I was in the fortunate position of being able to leave my job without immediately needing to go to another.  Since leaving, I’ve tried to create a new professional lifestyle that is more in sync with my life goals and overall well-being.  This has not been a particularly easy road.  There have been many fits and starts along the way, some failures along with minor successes, and I have yet to figure out that magic formula. But my head is still above water and I’m getting closer to my goal, with unique opportunities presenting themselves, opportunities that I would never have uncovered if I had continued my admittedly exciting, yet highly stressful and all-consuming, professional career.

My alter ego would tell you that the lesson is all of this is always assume you will find yourself in a prickly place at some point.  Don’t fear it, plan for it.  Regardless of what you do or where you are in life, sock away enough money to allow yourself to maintain your current lifestyle without a job for a year.  Don’t rely on others for this money (e.g. parents or spouses).  This is about you providing for yourself.  This will give you power and flexibility to make choices based on what you want versus what you need.

Hopefully you never find yourself in that prickly place as I did.  If you do, of course first look for “something new” to run to.  But if that something new proves as elusive for you as it did to me use your emergency fund to remove yourself from an impossible situation as soon as possible.  Your mental and physical well-being will thank you for it.

PS: As soon as you find yourself another job start replenishing that emergency fund! Think of it as happiness insurance :).

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Is It Weird Enough?

I like to consider my ongoing writing a work of fantasy.  Which, technically speaking, I suppose it is.  But lately I find myself wondering if it’s really weird (or fantastical) enough for my chosen genre.  Certainly there are plenty of “other world” elements but believe me it’s no The Left Hand of Darkness of Ursula K. Le Guin fame.

I came across a book dedicated to helping authors create imaginative fiction aptly named Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer.  I’ve decided to work through the exercises in the book to see if it will help unleash my inner creative freak and ultimately enliven my story. The first challenge was to write a story about the below image.

660d7-img_2932

Well here goes, I hope you enjoy!

Writing Challenge 1 (Wonderbook)

Montague’s Miscalculation

Montague Creek was always in a foul mood.  He began life as a happy, carefree lad growing up in the countryside with his mother and aunt.  Some whispered that they were witches, but Montague knew better.  They were just eccentric widows who preferred to live simply and possessed a vast respect for Mother Earth and all her creatures.

Theirs was a quiet life.  Montague was home schooled and didn’t have much need of travel.  His entertainment was found in the forests and streams of his youth.  Here he ran free, his imagination preparing him for the inspiring world that he just knew lay beyond his childhood home.

All childhoods come to an end and Montague’s was no exception.  At eighteen he was shipped off to the city to attend University supported by monies he never knew his mother had.   She had saved her last penny to ensure Montague was able to attain higher education so that he would be able to leave the forest and make his life elsewhere, if he should choose to do so.

At first Montague very much enjoyed his new surroundings.  City life was full of glamor and excitement, with indulgences on every corner.  Temptation became overwhelming for innocent Montague, and he spent all his funds for University before ever completing his degree.  While the harsh reality of the world crushed down upon him, Montague never once considered going back to his humble roots.  City life showed him how pitiable his upbringing was and he would do whatever it took to remain in this sophisticated world.

Montague demonstrated a knack for numbers during his time at University.   He was able to secure a modestly paying job at a luxury department store soon after dropping out of school.  Month after month, year after year, Montague balanced the store accounts.  He was bombarded with the excesses of socialites on a daily basis – the furs and leathers, the glittering jewels, and the shiny new purses.  Why should he be denied such pleasures?  Over time Montague grew bitter and disenchanted with his lowly station in life.

Montague’s only joy in the store came from the two caged parrots that greeted customers with insults as they entered the store.  The silly patrons!  The parrots were such a novelty they ignored the insults hurled in their direction.  They thought the birds were telling jokes but Montague knew that the parrots only told the truth.

One evening when Montague was working late he decided to let the birds out of their cage.  They squawked excitedly and immediately flew to the back of the store where a large indoor koi pond emptied into a river outside of the store.

Montague wandered over to the koi pond following the flight of the parrots.  This part of the store was dark, lit only by the moonlight streaming through the large bay window that overlooked the outdoor stone patio and the river below.  He was reminded of the ponds and streams of his youth.  Where has all the magic in the world gone?

Almost as if in response to his musings the two parrots flapped down onto Montague’s shoulders.   To his great delight, the parrots began to chant.

“King Koi, King Koi, King Koi.”

Montague was surprised to see ripples at the very back of the koi pond.  I must be dreaming, he thought to himself.  A large wave was slowly moving towards where he stood, with the two parrots chirping on his shoulders.  Was that a shadow moving under the water?

A large gush of water shot up from the pond and drenched Montague from head to toe.  The parrots flew to the rafters where they continued to chant, King Koi, King Koi.

When Montague rubbed the water clear from his eyes he was stunned to find an enormous koi fish standing upright before him.  How could such a creature find it’s way into the store pond?   It had a huge and silly looking head, slick and thick body, and was somehow perched upright on his tail.  The fish spread its enormous fins and began to sing.  It was a soothing sound, deep and melodic, like the sound of waves underwater.  Montague began to feel drowsy; surely I am dreaming he thought once again.

A scream from the parrots jolted Montague out of his daze.  The last thing he remembered seeing was the fish’s huge mouth opening and the body crouching low, as if the creature was preparing to jump.

 

My Latest Obsession: YouTube Reaction Videos

Amazed couple watching tv

It’s a strange thing to admit, I love reaction videos.  Well, I should clarify, certain types of reaction videos, namely those that deal with entertainment pieces that (a) I love and, (b) evokes a strong reaction.

I’m trying to remember what piece of entertainment drove me to watch a reaction video.  I think it was The Force Awakens trailers.  I saw the first Star Wars movie when I was about seven years old at a drive-in movie theater with my family.  It was a very impressionable age and I was blown away not by the special effects (though I loved those too) but by Princess Leia.  Up until that point the only princesses I had been exposed to were Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty.  For various reasons, not my cup of tea.  Now Princess Leia, here was someone special!  There she was on the drive-in movie screen mixing it up the boys, powerful in her own right, and flying across the galaxy on a mission of justice.  Just awesome.

Like many others I was disappointed by the prequels so when I heard JJ Abrams was taking over the franchise at the behest of Disney I was cautiously optimistic.  This sense of excitement grew as the teasers and the final movie trailer was released.  The imagery, the music, the droids, and Han and Chewy (!) all transported me back to that magical, impressionable seven-year-old at the drive-in.  I think the final official trailer actually brought a lump to my throat.

To be perfectly honest, I felt ridiculous to be moved to tears by a movie trailer.  What on earth was wrong with me?  I couldn’t really talk about it with many of my peers so I turned to the virtual world in search of validation and on YouTube I struck gold.  Hundreds of The Force Awakens reaction videos were available on-line.  Here people of all ages watched the trailer and recorded their powerful emotional reactions.  Watching them I began to feel a little less ridiculous and instead experience a sense of virtual camaraderie with like-minded individuals.  You see, the power of Star Wars for us wasn’t simply being entertained, but more of a remembrance of what it felt like to experience child-like awe and a belief that anything was possible.

Since I discovered the world of reaction videos they are my go to place whenever I watch a piece of entertainment that provokes a strong reaction.  I enjoy watching realization dawn on the faces of others as they figure out what’s coming.  The tears of joy, the laughter, the cries of shock or horror are all highly entertaining to me.  It enhances the original work and also exposes me to countless others who are on my wave length, at least in terms of entertainment options.  Because I’m a serious of a sci-fi/fantasy geek two “Reactor” groups I very much enjoy on YouTube are The Normies and Blind Wave.  They are quite knowledgable about the shows/movies they watch, are highly expressive, and offer insightful commentary as to what they believe is happening with character development and plot.

If you’ve just watched something you can’t get out of your head a la The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, go watch a few reaction videos on YouTube.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

If You Build It, They Probably Won’t Come

READER -Realistic Neon Sign on Brick Wall background

I’ve written a book. A good book I think but of course I would say that wouldn’t I? I’ve explored self-publishing options. It’s definitely doable, by that I mean anyone with a book and a few thousand dollars to spare can absolutely self-publish. There are plenty of publishing platforms available (e.g. CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, AuthorHouse). But self-publishing a book really isn’t the challenge. The challenge is getting people to BUY your book. That’s where the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

For a new author, attracting an audience can be a daunting task. How does one get noticed? An agent certainly can help by securing a deal with a publishing company well versed in a specific genre, with the distribution and marketing muscle needed to attract the right customers. Sadly, it’s quite difficult to secure an agent these days and probably always has been.

Jumping into a hot genre can also help – think young adult dystopian or doomed teenage vampire romance – where the audience is already established with an insatiable appetite for new material.

Gaining positive word of mouth is another grass roots strategy. Just ask EL James of the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy. Her steamy content spread through the internet like wildfire (literally and figuratively) and established an entirely new genre I believe referred to as “Mommy Porn”. Pause and deep sigh…

My grand opus really doesn’t fit into any of these categories. In fact, a commercial agent I did speak with said while the work was good it was a “hard sell’. I took that to mean she was unsure of the audience. I thought I could try and build an audience myself by making my content available on a free platform that claims to attract the type of readers I seek. I thought they’d arrive in droves, helping to establish an audience. I thought these fantasy readers could act as those critical “Beta Readers”, providing feedback that would help me shape the work into something that would be attractive to an agent. I thought my content would get hit after hit helping to spread positive word of mouth.

None of these things have happened.

Is that really a surprise? I’m not going to name the platform just yet because to do so would be like holding it partially to blame for my lack of attention. That isn’t fair, though is it? I don’t know how to attract an audience and have done nothing to draw readers my content. The other simple explanation is that my idea/book isn’t any good. I’m starting to think this website is a golden opportunity to explore that concept more deeply. Hopefully the answer won’t prove too depressing!

“Game of Thrones” and “A Song of Ice and Fire” – How Will it All End?

Let me start by saying that I love pretty much everything Game of Thrones.  I love the books, I love the TV show, the comic con panels, the fan base, everything.  Even my eight-year old daughter knows I’m obsessed.  Season 7 of the HBO series just concluded this week and I find myself feeling, I don’t know, a little troubled.  I’m wondering what George R. R. Martin thinks of this spectacle and where it all seems to be headed.

The show is now officially beyond the reach of the books and I do wonder if the path the show is following is the same path that GRRM intended.  While visually stunning and certainly entertaining, this season has seemed a little too predictable.  The character arcs are too obvious.  Parallels to events earlier in the series are in abundance.  The result of all this is a clear signaling to where the story is headed.  Whatever GRRM intended he was never obvious.  What I love about “A Song of Ice and Fire” is the subtly in which events unfold.  Certainly, some big plot twists are foreseeable if one pays close enough attention, R+L=J springs to mind, but for the most part clues are only obvious after an event has occurred with consequence being a direct result of character.  There was nothing surprising in Season 7 of the television show, except perhaps, that nothing surprising happened.

GRRM has two more books to write before his grand opus comes to an end.  I hope he writes the books he always intended and does not force his vision into the current HBO story line.  Even worse, I hope he does not allow the conclusion of his masterful creation to be told by someone other than himself.  How awful would it be if he simply told the HBO showrunners how it all is supposed to end and allow them to drive the story to completion?  Worst of all that he never finishes the series as suspected by many in the rabid fan community. For me personally the best possible outcome is to let the Game of Thrones TV show reach its own conclusion.  It is a different animal than the books, particularly after this last season.  GRRM would then be free to write the end of A Song of Ice and Fire without limiting himself to the plot of the TV iteration.  It’s also a brilliant marketing ploy.  I can almost see the advertising –

 

“You’ve seen the end of Game of Thrones, now read the conclusion of A Song of Ice and Fire as intended by the creator, George R. R. Martin.”

 

I have no idea how the TV show or book series will end.  Maybe they will share the same conclusion.  The only thing I do know is that GRRM has said the ending will be bittersweet so here is my prediction.  Dany reaches the Iron Throne but dies in childbirth.  Jon (the father) reluctantly comes forward to claim to the throne he never wanted until his son comes of age.  My only hope is that if that happens Tyrion is by his side.  Then, in my world at least, all may not be perfect but all will be well.

If it were in my power in addition to Jon and Tyrion I would save all the remaining Starks and direwolves, Drogon and Rhegal, Davos, Tormond, Bronn, and – most importantly – Jaime Lannister.

On Anonymous Blogging

Wonderful commentary on the constant evolution of the social media landscape.

Tiny Rubies

typewriter

It’s the mid-noughties. I’m at university, London is blowing my mind, and I’m tapping away on my LiveJournal like my life depends on it. I’m documenting all of my experiences, preserving them through writing, and reading the blog posts of strangers around the world doing the same. I’m reading (and writing) about breakups, sex, mixtapes, road trips, family drama, and beautiful vignettes about places visited, or wild nights out, or a feeling.

I treated my LiveJournal as a kind of late night confessional, a place to process and unpick and get things off my chest. There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Snapchat back then. Facebook was just taking off, the wifi connection in our halls of residence was patchy at best, and everyone still spent hours creating MySpace layouts. People didn’t think about ‘managing’ their online presence. Anonymity still had value on the internet, in fact it was the…

View original post 485 more words

Lessons From My First Blog: Examining What Went Wrong

Mess Up Learn Repeat Life Lessons Mistake Knowledge Improve

I had a previous blog, now defunct, that I toyed with periodically for over seven years.  It wasn’t a success, but then again it was never really meant to be.  It was an experiment.  An experiment that taught me a lot about what not to do, mostly.  There are many lessons to learn in failure if one is willing to put ego aside and consider past missteps objectively.  I’ve never really been shy about evaluating my own failings so after much consideration here are the three main areas in which I think I went wrong during my first blogging adventure:

No Strategy

Why was I blogging?  Was the blog meant to be a promotional tool for my work in progress?  A confessional about how hard it is to write and publish a book?  An online diary of my daily struggles?  A commentary on current affairs?  In retrospect, my first blog was a mash up of all the above.  I guess if I had to define my strategy I had initially thought that a blog would be a great way to attract readers, an author platform if you will.  I’m sure you can probably already see the glaring flaw in my logic.  If I had no strategy, how was I to be sure I was attracting the right readers?  Specifically, the type of readers that would be willing to read my book once completed.

As it happened I did attract some readers.  Who there were or why there landed on my site I’ll never know because I never took the time to figure it out.  More on that point later.

No Commitment 

I blogged when I felt like it, ignored it when I didn’t (or got too busy in the “real world”).  In addition to a lack of overall strategy there was no regularity upon which a reader could expect a new post.  I could go months without posting when suddenly six posts would appear in a three-week period.  Not great for my readers and not conducive to developing a consistent writing practice and content generation scheme.

The fact that I separated my blog from “the real world” is also evidence of my lack of commitment.  The blog was a hobby, and a sporadic, part-time hobby at best.  It’s not really a mystery why it never gained sustainable traction.

No Metrics for Success

Despite my stumbling around in the virtual dark I did manage to attract some readers.  Quite a few of them in fact but statistics can be deceiving, especially when you don’t understand what the data may be saying.  For example, I would occasionally get huge spikes in hits on my blog on a given day without any new content.  I never understood what drove this behavior.  I had visitors, even quite a few repeat visitors, that appeared to read much of my content.  Yet, over a seven-year period not one person ever liked a post, commented, or signed up to receive e-mail updates.  Finally, and perhaps most perplexing, one post got approximately 74,000 +1’s from Google Plus.  Was that post really that good or was that result simply a quirk in the dataset?  I’ll never know because I never took the time to really understand the analytics of the blog.

I’m not foolish to think I’ve uncovered the secret to blogging success, or that I won’t repeat my past mistakes.  However, I am interested to see how improvements in these three key areas may impact my blogging effectiveness.  If nothing else, I’m sure more lessons await.