Between Books

I finished the fourth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series a few nights ago. I have the fifth installment waiting for me on my bookshelf. Why haven’t I picked it up yet?

There are a few reasons.

  1. Martin’s books are long, which means that it will be a while until I am able to pick a new book.
  2. If I finish the fifth book in the series, I’ll have to wait for the sixth book to be released anyway, so why rush? After all, it took Martin a few years longer than anticipated to release book five.
  3. There are at least three other new books that I have sitting on my book shelf that I also want to read.
  4. I keep thinking about the advice that C. S. Lewis gave on reading books: “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”  Maybe I should pick up a book that I’ve read before.
  5. Being between books is akin to having all possibilities open before me, and I don’t know if I want to give that up.

Those are my reasons. Well, except for the last one. That one should probably be interpreted in that I have trouble deciding between two or three good options. But that just seemed too honest to say outright.

So I turn to you, Reader.

What I Am Learning from George R. R. Martin

I know I’ve mentioned George R. R. Martin before, so I won’t go into much detail.

I’m currently in the middle of A Feast of Crows, fourth in the series A Song of Ice and Fire. Each book in the series averages at least 1000 pages, so how is it that a person of very short attention span (I write flash fiction for goodness sake) can stay interested in such a long series?

Here’s how: The world that Martin creates is enormous. There are more characters than you can shake a sword at. But the best part, the part that I am learning, is Martin’s use of perspective. By offering a fresh point-of-view with each chapter, we readers are shown depth that could not be provided by a single first-person account. Even the omniscient third-person perspective would grow tiresome for a story of this width and depth as we would tire of the narrator before the story was finished.

And as the series has progressed, I see how Martin is stretching his writing muscles by offering chapters from lesser-known characters to show new aspects of the tale that he has established thus far.

*DISCLAIMER*
Now, before you hear me going on about A Song of Ice and Fire and decide to rush out and buy up the series yourself, you should know that this series would hardly be welcome in Sunday School. There is violence, sex, language, and sorcery. Pretty much all of the things that would preclude this series from getting the Dove seal of approval. And if you think you can avoid some of that by watching the HBO series A Game of Thrones, don’t kid yourself. I’ve heard that HBO has done a nice job of adapting the story to film and much of the original material has been left in.

So, for anyone who is still interested in the story, and perhaps getting a glimpse of some of the characters (without reading the books, of course), here’s another option.

Thank you Annie Cardi for sharing that video with us.

Likeability and Transformation

I recently finished the third book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (just over 1,000 pages long) and was looking forward to reading the next in the series, but my wife had just finished reading The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens and couldn’t wait to discuss it with me, so I put Martin on hold. The Fire Chronicle is the follow-up to The Emerald Atlas and is just as exciting and well-written. I read when I was able (my wife read it aloud to me while I was unable) and within a couple of days, the book was done (so our discussion could begin).

9781441261021I’m looking forward to getting back to A Song of Ice and Fire, but since I’m already on a break (and the next installment is another 1,000 pages or so), I decided to try an author that I’ve never read before. The author is Patrick W. Carr, and I’m reading A Cast of Stones, the first in The Staff & The Sword series from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group (which owns Baker Book House (where I work)). I got the book free as one of my perks for working at the bookstore, and I really want it to be good, both because it will help the company who pays me and because it lends credibility to the genre in which I hope to publish.

Reading a new author is a lot like going on a blind date. You have no idea if you are going to be compatible or not, whether you will enjoy their stories, their voice, or how detail-oriented they might be. But if you love reading and are willing to put yourself out there every now and again, you might just find someone who you really like.

Of course, sometimes it takes a bit of time to get to know them. That’s how I feel right now. If reading were speed-dating, Patrick’s book and I would not be leaving together. The first chapter didn’t thrill me. I’m going to finish the book since I want to give it a real chance, but I want to focus on why we got off on the wrong foot.

In the first chapter, the main character is introduced by being thrown out of a bar. He is drunk before 10am. He a jealous man with internal problems. And that is fine. But he doesn’t start as a likeable guy. He seems more sad than anything. And as in dating, if your first impression of your blind date is that they are sad, jealous, and haunted by some horrible baggage, you probably looking for an excuse to leave early. But what do you do if the plot of your novel requires the reader to see the character before their redemptive transformation?

Having just come off the heels of George R. R. Martin and John Stephens, two authors who write incredibly likeable characters, I have some thoughts.

Likeability has little to do with good vs. evil

Martin handles this with ease. When first introduced, most of his characters are either starkly good or bad, but they are all intriguing. We like the good characters because they are innocent, upright, and inspiring. And we like the bad characters because they are mysterious, mischievous, and ultimately relatable. Often, we are curious where they went bad, because very few are wholly evil, just a bit twisted.

Transformation requires a shift in the reader’s perspective, not necessarily a shift in the character’s actions.

In The Fire Chronicle, Stephens re-introduces a character from the first in the series, but in a completely new light. We are given insight into the motivations of the character, rather than a change in any of the character’s actions. As readers, we better understand the “why” without changing the “who”.

Consider a different starting point.

If I’m not going to like the “before”, do you really want to lead with that? An unlikeable main character doesn’t make a good hook and the only people who are going to continue are either optimistic or stubborn. Maybe you should ask yourself if you can reveal your likeable character’s unlikeable past in another way. Perhaps a flashback, or a tale around a campfire, or anything other than a bad first impression.

These are only three ideas. If you have others, I’d love to hear them below. Now, off to give my own characters and stories the gimlet eye to make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes.

Story Vs. Characters

In 1996, I saw a movie that changed my life. The movie was Independence Day, featuring Bill Pullman and Will Smith.

The part that changed my life was this: Stories revolve around the characters who live to tell them.

I remember thinking, as I left the theater, how incredible it was that with a body count as high as the movie had, none of the important characters were killed. If a character died, it was intentional, sacrificial. With lasers and bullets flying everywhere, you might have thought that SOMEONE would have been killed unintentionally, but no.

Stories are told by the living. Why would the script writer tell the story of a man who accidently died in a car accident? That would make for one sad movie.

I operated by this understanding for years. Every time someone would point out how implausible it was that all of the characters got through a war or something like that, I would think, why would the author follow the ones who died?

But then I started reading George R. R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and all of my preconceived notions died like so many of Martin’s characters. I don’t mean to spoil the series for anyone, but if you’ve heard anything about it, you know not to get too attached to any of the characters. No one is safe from the author’s pen stroke of death.

As a man who is usually more fascinated by the characters than the story itself, this troubles me. How can I escape into a world of fantasy when it is as cruel as the real world?

Now, I know that authors use terrible events in the lives of their characters to prove their mettle and to draw readers in, but there is usually an unspoken rule that things will work out well in the end. And if the character happens to die, it will be a noble death, one that gives closure to the storyline.

But if the story is more important than the characters, then anything goes.

Which is more important to you? Story or characters? Do you ever feel cheated by the author’s choices to kill certain characters? Or would you feel cheated if things worked out TOO well for everyone?

The Commercialization of Christmas Gets a Bad Wrap. | My Christmas List

ChristbaumkugelChristmastime is here. Happiness and cheer.

Christmas movies are playing wherever you look, and the general gist of these yuletide blockbusters is that the only thing that matters for Christmas is family time and love. Of course, many millions of dollars are spent to produce these blockbusters and the theaters are hoping that your version of family time is to spend time in their seats watching movies. And for the movies shown on television, advertisers are spending a lot of money to convince you to buy expensive and largely unnecessary gifts.

It is as though we are willingly suspending our disbelief in debt to get through the holidays. We convince ourselves that things aren’t as important as family and love, and then we express our love for family by buying things for them.

I could go on to tell you about how bad this all is, about how Christmas has become nothing more than a season for retailers to trick you into keeping them afloat. I could tell you that, but it probably isn’t needed. I’m sure that there is a good Christmas movie that could say it a lot better than I could anyway.

And besides, I work at one of those retailers for whom Christmas is an important season financially. Of course, my place of business sells wholesome things like Christian books, Bibles, and family board games, so I don’t have to feel too bad for working there or trying to sell things during the holidays.

So here’s my thought. Let’s set aside the platitudes of Christmas, recognize the advertising for what it is, and go for a happy medium where we know that things are not the goal of Christmas, but we have peace about buying them anyway. Let’s allow ourselves that peace. In the frantic rushing about from home to home in the grand search for perfect family time, we could do without buyer’s guilt.

The next time you hear about a family who doesn’t buy gifts for loved ones because they are too pious, or the next time some misguided soul tries to talk you into a homemade Christmas, just smile and say, “No thank you. I’ll be buying gifts for my family and friends this year, and I am not going to feel at all bad about it.”

Just, don’t go overboard or anything. I don’t think deeper debt will achieve the kind of peace that we are talking about here.

All of that to say this: Here are the things that I want for Christmas this year.

Books

CDs

Lego Sets (Any of these would be fine)

Gift Cards

Clothes

  • Humorous T-shirts (Size L usually)

Other

That’s a pretty good list. I may add to it if I see something else that looks good. Mostly, this list is for people like close family members, but if you want to buy something for me, that’s cool too. Maybe you could have it delivered to my work and I’ll get it there (that way I don’t reveal my actual address on the interweb). Ship any gifts to Josh Mosey c/o Baker Book House, 2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. Unless it is a mean or deadly gift. Don’t bother to mail those to me.

Merry Christmas!

8 Questions | Meet Author Ben Avery

It was lunchtime, and since our bookstore is in a state of massive renovation, the book buyers were having a sales meeting in the break room where the rest of us eat lunch. I was attempting to ignore the ordering discussions by reading the second in the George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings, when the sales rep, Larry, asked me a question.

“What are you reading?”

“It’s a George R. R. Martin book,” I said. “The one right after A Game of Thrones, which HBO just made into a series.”

“I know that series,” he said. “Did you know that my son Ben wrote the Marvel comic book adaptation for Martin’s Hedge Knight series?”

“Really? I didn’t think Martin was big on other writers touching his characters.”

“He’s not,” said Larry. “But he liked what my son did. In fact, he said that if Marvel ever wants to adapt any of his other things, my son is the only one he’ll trust to do the job.”

“Wow,” said I. “Do you think Ben would be willing to do an interview with me for my blog?”

“You should ask him.”

So I did.

Capt. Ben Avery, of the Starship Awesome.

The interview:

1. How did you get into writing?

I’ve always been writing and telling stories, since I was old enough to string sentences together. And I was always making comics, although I got impatient with how much time it took to draw them. Professionally, after I graduated college, I just started writing comics with some friends and made some contacts with artists, and that led to me getting to do a try out for a writing gig, which turned into my first professional writing: George R. R. Martin’s The Hedge Knight.

2. You did the comic book adaptation for George R. R. Martin’s Hedge Knight series. Martin is well-known for not wanting anyone else touching his works or characters. How did you come to work on his books through Marvel Comics?

Well, it wasn’t originally published by Marvel. Originally, a studio got the license from Mr. Martin, and they shopped it around to publishers, with Image taking it up at first. Then, after some weirdness with Image, it was moved to Devil’s Due, and after some weirdness THERE, Marvel picked it up.

Now, how did that original studio get the license? They promised to be true to his original story. And that’s how I got the job, too. I worked hard to make my sample script as close to his story as possible. In fact, the first six pages of The Hedge Knight is almost exactly what my sample script was. Mr. Martin appreciated how hard I worked to stay true to the original. The way I see it, on a job like that, my job is to be invisible. My job is to give something to the artist that allows them to shine, and to spotlight the original. After all, it’s George R.R. Martin’s The Hedge Knight, not Ben Avery’s.

3. How does your writing change when adapting someone else’s work as opposed to working on an original series?

If I am working on something not original with me, either a true life story, history, someone’s fictional story, or the Bible, my goal is to keep the integrity of their story within a new medium. That does mean some changes have to be made, but I will do my best to make sure changes in the format or length do not change the heart of the story.

So my job is to choose what comes out to shorten it. Or what needs to be added because comics are a visual medium. Transitions in one medium have to be done differently.

It’s not always easy, but it’s fun.

4. What do you want people to know about you aside from your writing?

This is a tough question. I mean, it’s not like I’m a private person. I just can’t think of something I particularly want people to know. I guess I could use this to say I also podcast . . . I host a podcast about sci-fi, fantasy, and Christianity. The podcast is called Strangers and Aliens and it’s a lot of fun talking about the spiritual themes found in the tv shows, comics, and movies we enjoy.

5. Any advice for other writers?

Get a good editor. Find a person or people who you trust to be honest with you and also know grammar and story. Set them loose on what you’ve written.

This person should not be your mother, unless she’s able to separate you the child room you the writer. This person should not be your spouse, or your best friend, or your grandmother unless they are able to really look at the work and forget your relationship.

This is especially important if you are self-publishing or going through some sort of digital publishing service with no editorial oversight. The digital age makes it possible for everyone to do anything, it seems, but unfortunately, that means that far too many people feel like they are masters of everything, too. But I would say that even a master editor, when they take on the role of writer, needs someone who can edit their writing.

6. If you could have an afternoon with a character from one of your works, who would you choose? Why?

The Timeflyz, from my all ages graphic novel series. First, I like them. I’d enjoy hanging out with them — of all my characters, these are the characters who surprise me the mist with their actions and reactions to my plots. Second, I’d love for them to tell me about some of the people they have met in their travels through time. And maybe I could convince them to take me along with them for a short trip . . .

7. What is your writing space like?

It’s a mess. A serious, serious mess. Sadly. Eventually, we’re going to get the money to move my office downstairs and shuffle around all our bedrooms. When we do that, I give the new office three weeks before it’s a mess. A serious, serious mess.

I do, however, often leave the house to work in places like our local grocery store’s cafe and Starbucks or something like that. I often need the change of scenery, but also I need to have people around me . . . Just not people I am responsible for.

8. What book is on your nightstand at the moment?

I’m reading The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead right now. There are other books on my nightstand, but this is the one I am actually reading. I’ve been a big fan of Lawhead since his earliest writings, when he was doing sci-fi instead of fantasy, and followed him through his fantasy books, but in the last decade or so I haven’t read any of his new books. I’m playing catch up now. Also right there is Eion Colfer’s And Another Thing, the sixth book in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to read it. It’s just not the same, a non-Douglas Adams chronicle of Arthur Dent and Zaphod and Marvin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you’d like to know more about Ben Avery, check out his website (http://benavery.com). Thanks for reading!

Winter is Coming. Also, a Book Discussion.

Tomorrow night is the scheduled book discussion of A Game of Thrones. The details are here if you want to come. And for anyone who is coming, I wanted to offer a last-minute cram session for the discussion, along with some things to consider in advance of meeting.

If you didn’t bother reading the book, there are some good in-depth synopses here and here. These are also good if you read the book a while ago and just need to brush up on the basics.

These are some of the questions we’ll discuss:

  • What were your thoughts on the different viewpoints in the novel? Was there a point of view that you felt was missing?
  • What instances of symbolism did you find? How did your interpretation of those symbols skew your reading of the book?
  • Who was the main character? Was there a hero?
  • Compare and contrast life on the wall with life in the kingdoms and on the plains.
  • What is the next book that we should read as a book club?

I’ll post again next week with how the discussion went and announce what the next book will be.

Birthday Gift Report 2012

I had a wonderful 30th birthday.

I took the day off to spend with my family. We got to sleep in (and with a one-month old, this was a miracle in itself). We went out to a wonderful lunch at On The Border. I had my best day ever on my blog (104, just saying). And I got a pile of wonderful gifts, courtesy of my wife and my extended family.

Let me offer a disclaimer to the rest of this post. The best part of my birthday was being able to spend it with family. The gifts are all wonderful, but mean less than a toot to me in comparison to that. I just don’t want anyone thinking that I’m being braggy about my new stuff or that my priorities are messed up.

Okay, now you can look at my awesome gifts.

Here’s the rundown.

On Writing by Stephen King – Many writer’s have talked about how influential this book has been on their lives as writers. I look forward to finding out what all the fuss is about.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin – The second in the Song of Ice and Fire series following A Game of Thrones. By the way, the book discussion for A Game of Thrones is happening this Thursday. Drop me a note if you are planning on coming and haven’t told me yet.

While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut – I didn’t even know that this book existed, and Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. While Mortals Sleep is a collection of his previously unpublished short fiction. I’m only about 80 pages in so far, but I have no idea why this was not published until now. I’ll do a full book review later though.

Cuisenart Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Coffee Mill – If you are going to get a coffee grinder, a burr grinder is the way to go. It is the best way to have uniformly ground coffee beans for use in making any kind of coffee.

Black Crema Coffee Press by Bodum – This is an 8-cup french press to go with my coffee grinder. I’ve been spending too much time and money by going out for coffee when I could be staying at home for writing nights. This is the perfect way to fuel my caffeine-driven writing fests.

Meijer Organics Whole Bean Coffee – To use in the grinder and the french press. Pure Arabica beans means a smoother, less acidic cup of joe. Good stuff.

Homestead Cobs-a-Twirl Squirrel Feeder – My wife knows how every year I put a squirrel feeder on my birthday list and every year I don’t get one. Well, I didn’t put it on my list this year, but this is the year that I got it. I have it installed already, but so far, the squirrels seem wary of it. Anyway, I can’t wait to watch them figure out how to get the corn from the feeder. The box says it is fun for squirrels, but I am inclined to believe that the only one getting any fun out of this contraption is me.

Biggby Gift Card – For those nights when I want to go out for my very favorite coffee drink, Biggby’s Frozen Mint Mocha. Oh man, they are good.

On The Border Gift Card (not pictured) – Already used it and took advantage of the fact that I am on the OTB email list and get special deals for my birthday. My wife and I got free queso and a free dessert and the gift card covered the rest of our meal.

I could not have asked for a nicer birthday, nor a nicer set of gifts. I can’t wait to read all of my new books and report to you my thoughts. Thanks again to all of you who wished me a happy birthday on here or on my Facebook page. All of your wishes came true.

Book Club Update | Time & Place

I’ve floated the date of the book discussion of A Game of Thrones out to the group of guys who I know have read the book and we have confirmed August 23rd as the date. The book discussion will start at 7pm.

We’ll be meeting at Graydon’s Crossing. The discussion is free, the food is not. Bring money to eat or drink. Browse the menu by clicking on the picture.

The address is 1223 Plainfield NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505.

The goal of the book discussion is to enrich each others’ understanding of the book and to think about the story, characters, and message critically.

Or we could just talk about the bits we liked and why we liked them.

I’ll leave it open to the people who show up how we do it.

If you think you might be coming, drop me a note in the comments so I can reserve adequate tables at the pub.

I am about to turn 30. | My Birthday List

I’m turning 30 in just over a month.

In my head, I stopped aging at 23. Maybe that’s because I was married just days after 23. Maybe marriage was the mark of being a grown-up, so I just don’t feel substantially different with each passing birthday.

Sure, I have kids now, but I don’t really feel older than when I got married. The fact that I have kids just means that I am a virile 23-year-old.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ll be 30 next month.

Medically speaking, this is a mixed bag. According to a CNN report, people have the greatest cognitive abilities between 30 and 40. But also, our major organs start to break down at 30.

Anyway, aging is better than the alternative. Plus, there are usually presents.

So for those of you who would like to give me something, here’s my list:

Books

CDs

Lego Sets (Any of these would be fine)

Gift Cards

Clothes

  • Humorous T-shirts (Size L usually)

Other

That’s a pretty good list. I may add to it if I see something else that looks good. Mostly, this list is for people like close family members, but if you want to buy something for me, that’s cool too. Maybe you could have it delivered to my work and I’ll get it there (that way I don’t reveal my actual address on the interweb). Ship any gifts to Josh Mosey c/o Baker Book House, 2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. Unless it is a mean or deadly gift. Don’t bother to mail those to me.

Hey, only five more years until I can run for President, right?