Second Night of the Bradbury Program

Story: “The Weight of You” by Melinda Moustakis

Poem: “To Margaret” by Edgar Allen Poe

Essay: “10 Things To Know About Authors” by John Scalzi

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Review: “The Swan Thieves” by Elizabeth Kostova

(SPOILERS)

For the past several years, if you asked me who my favorite author was I would answer Elizabeth Kostova. Her debut novel, The Historian, is a masterpiece of modern literature. A modern Dracula tale that mixes a multitude of genres–horror, mystery, historical fiction, history, travel, and suspense–into a literary cake for the ages, it was guaranteed to be an international bestseller.

Several years later, Kostova released her second novel, The Swan Thieves. It took me a while to clear up my backlog in order to get to it, but as soon as I was able I jumped on it. Here is a brief synopsis followed by a few of my thoughts.

A painter named Robert Oliver is detained after attempting to stab a painting at an art gallery. Confined to psychiatric care, DC-based shrink Andrew Marlow takes up his case. Very reluctant to speak even a word, Robert simply provides his permission for Marlow to talk to whoever he needed to and a collection of letters between two 1870s painters, which for some reason seem to affect Robert deeply. After this the painter clams up and refuses to speak. The search for answers to Robert’s mysterious condition leads his doctor all over the world.

I’m just going to be honest and not beat around the bush. This is one of the worst books I have ever read. In a way I know it is very unfair to compare it to Kostova’s first book, but if you were to look up reviews of The Swan Thieves online almost every single one of them inevitably gets back to The Historian.

There is nothing of interest in this book. Arguably, the only parts of the book that really stand out are the letters, which give very brief glimpses into the artistic and social society of 19th Century France. Kostova inserts these letters at her leisure, out of rhythm with the rest of the story and having precious little to do with the plot. Allegedly, they exist as clues to Robert Oliver’s actions but fail miserably in their duty. While it is a letter that provides the bombshell revelation (to exaggerate a little) in the final pages, it is a separate document form those we had been forced to consume over the course of 500 or so pages. It was a let down all in itself.

Most of the book involves the reader listening to Robert’s ex-wife and former mistress encounter extremely long, detailed accounts of their lives with Robert Oliver. These accounts are set against a backdrop of brief visits that Marlow has with the women or a few personal memoirs of the mistress, who rather quickly but expectedly becomes the unnecessary love interest of Dr. Marlow. After these end, the doctor quickly hurried to Mexico and then Paris to talk to two elderly experts on art before the “mystery” essentially solves itself.

That is the book, ladies and gentlemen. As with its predecessor, it weaves together several different genres–historical fiction, mystery, and art history–nicely and the prose is some of the best I’ve ever read. But there is nothing to get excited about in the book. There is no villain, no conflict, and what ended up as a novel could easily have been a novella if it weren’t for the mostly-unnecessary relationship accounts that provide the bulk of the book. They provided a build-up for a book that never happened. The Historian opened up with a neck being bitten. If anything, I wish there had been even half of that kind of physical content present here. It would have made for a much less clinical reading experience.

If I had to play the stars game, I would give The Swan Thieves 3 out of 5, simply because the prose was masterful and the letters gems. Otherwise it would be a 1.

Emergency Writing Measures

After several days of writing my novel, a few things happened.

First, I realized that the direction the book was taking (I write in a process very unique to myself) so early on was the wrong way to go. I have therefore quit working on it until I figure out what I want to do with it. That was a real downer.

Secondly, I found myself struggling with just about everything that makes a great story work. I was confident in my dialogue and felt that I have been improving quite a bit in transitions and my character’s inner voice, but description was severely lacking. It’s been my greatest writing weakness for a really long time and it’s a hurdle I can’t seem to get past.

Therefore, I have made a decision. In order to assure myself that I am still in the novice phase and to ensure that I keep reading and writing and learning, I am bringing back an old favorite.

Starting today, The Bradbury Program is back on!

For those who don’t remember, one short story, one poem, and one essay a night for the next 1,000 nights. Or days, or mornings. Whenever I get to reading. By doing this I can learn to write by being constantly exposed to various different authors and their unique styles.

In the past, I’ve usually lasted a month at this sort of thing.

Let’s see if I can make it to 1,000…

A New Goal of 2000 Words

Last night I really surprised myself. I have been averaging a little short story a week for the past couple of weeks and fully intended to keep up the momentum this week.

Long story short, I sat in front of the laptop for hours and at the end of three or four hours the screen in front of me was still blank. I had been typing on and off during that long writing stint, but I would always spam the backspace key when the thinking ran out. I must have broken Robert Heinlein’s rule about finishing what I started at least a half a dozen times. A shame, I know.

Then one of those great inspiring moments happened. One of the characters in the book I’m reading was telling a little bit of her former love life to the main character and a sentence appeared in my head. Naturally, since Word was already pulled up, I wrote it down. A setting was immediately in my head, so I rolled with what was coming to me. After over a thousand words playing with what I had, jumping from scene to scene to scene to scene, I stopped so I could rest up for my shift.

Somehow right at the beginning I knew that I had a character with a grand story to tell, and that there was no way in hell I could squeeze it all into a short story.

I have a novel in the making, boys and girls.

Ashamed and annoyed at myself for my chronic quitting and giving up over the years and with floods of stories in my head (all of them novels, crazily enough) I knew that a simple 500 or 1000 words was not going to cut it anymore. Those might have been great goals once upon a time, but I’m nearing 30 and have absolutely nothing literary to show for it (besides my micro fiction piece that I sold when I was 23) so I knew right away this morning when I woke up that I had to kick it into overdrive and seriously make sure writing got done every day.

I began reading and rereading articles from published writers who expounded on how they are able to write ridiculous numbers of words every da, a couple of them claiming to be able to write 10,000 in one or two settings. With a full-time job and a baby on the way it was obviously that that was not a realistic goal to set for myself, but then Stephen King stopped by my brain.

Why not 2,000?

Several of my favorite authors, including the other John S (Scalzi), have chosen 2000 as their goal line for the day. It is half of the bare minimum that the iconic Isaac Asimov wrote on a daily basis, but then again the man was so devoted to his work that it overtook almost everything else in his life. I am not one of those people.

Looking back at the little bit I have accomplished the past couple of weeks, I remember it not taking me too terribly long to get those thousand word short stories written, and that includes figuring out how to squeeze a full story into a flash fiction confinement. Now that I’m writing the rough draft of a novel, I need not worry about any of that. I just need to tell my story and leave the editing for later on down the road. I’m going to time myself in the morning to see how long it takes me to write my first thousand words, and I will tune myself again tomorrow night when I get home and see how I do. There are no time limits; I want so badly to finally write something long that I’m willing to sacrifice my video game time to see that it gets done.

Oh by the way, before I decided on this goal I managed to crank out 3600 words today. So anything is possible…

Love, Be It Reality

I am one of a rare breed of right-leaners that still pays attention to and respects Ellen Degeneres. Despite being an uber liberal and anti-Trump, she’s done some really amazing things for a lot of people. Even in this dark age of hate and discrimination, she continues to brighten people’s lives.

So when Vanity Fair decides to publish an article ripping her a new one because she chose to sit next to former President George W. Bush at a Cowboys game, it angered me. Laura Bradley, the article’s author, went out of her way to continuously scold Ellen for sitting with her friend. According to her, the message of unconditional love and acceptance–two things that the LGBTQ community CONTINUES to fight for all over the world, is out of jive with reality.

At least, of course, when it comes to Republicans.

Well, if love, acceptance, tolerance, and being a decent fucking human being is “out of jive with reality” then that is a reality that really needs to fucking change and NOW. We have lowered ourselves so mi h the past few years and I don’t know about you all but I’m tired of witnessing the rock bottom of humanity.

Grow the fuck up, Bradley. We are all different people. We are always changing. Opinions change and view points continue to evolve. Belonging to one party or group doesn’t make you any more or less of a person. Even Oscar Schindler, a REAL Nazi (as opposed to the school kid insult we throw at people nowadays) used all his money and put his life on the line to rescue as many Jews as he could.

The times, they are changing. People are changing to. But we have to do our part to change the right way and not get worse. Somethings, though, always remain the same and love is one of those. Loving one another for who they are is not and never will be out of jive or out of touch with reality. And if you think it is, then I would seriously take a step back and take a look at yourself.

Then fix your damn self!