Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

So, to get me back into reading and writing I looked online for a challenge. I came across an oh-so-popular challenge by The Book Riot. She has some interesting categories, the challenge being to read one from each category in 2015. The link is here, if you're interested:

As I was reading through the categories it struck me that I've already read books from so many of them. Out of 24 I could name books from 17 of them, without repeating authors. I mean, Agatha Christie alone could be several of them, so I made it a point to not use the same author twice. Sometimes the same book fit more than one category, sometimes the nature of the categories lend themselves to this. (LGBT and Indie Presses, for instance.) I think it's a very well-rounded list that took some thought and I appreciate the time and effort that she put into it.

For the challenge I'll start with the ones I haven't already read from and go from there. If it's a category I haven't read by now, then it's probably one that I'm not interested in. But then I suppose that's the point – to reach outside of our interests and try new things.

These are the categories, and the books that I've already read in them.

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25The Mysterious Affair at StylesAgatha Christie
A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65News of a KidnappingGabriel Garcia Marquez
A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people)For the Relief of Unbearable UrgesNathan Englander
A book published by an indie pressRolling the R'sR. Zamora Linmark
A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQBecoming a ManPaul Monette
A book by a person whose gender is different from your ownThe Face of a StrangerAnne Perry
A book that takes place in AsiaRed AzaleaAnchee Min
A book by an author from AfricaThe Power of OneBryce Courtenay
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans,Aboriginals, etc.)The Bean TreesBarbara Kingsolver
A microhistory
A YA novelThe Prince of MistCarlos Ruiz Zafón
A sci-fi novelFahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury
A romance novel
A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decadeHow Late It Was, How LateJames Kelman
A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)WickedGregory Maguire
An audiobookDeath of an Expert WitnessP.D. James
A collection of poetry
A book that someone else has recommended to youPatron Saint of LiarsAnn Patchett
A book that was originally published in another languageThe History of the Siege of LisbonJosé Saramago
A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind (Hi, have you metPanels?)
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)Any of the 413,417,491,274 mysteries I've read
A book published before 1850
A book published this year
A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Print Fired

Last week as we were picking up clay at Armadillo Clay & Supplies and we stumbled upon an exhibit next door called Print Fired. We came across Mary Fischer, whose work is there and who was keeping shop for the morning. She told us about an exhibit that would be happening next week (yesterday) at Flatbed Press called Flatbed Contemporary Print Fair 2015. It was an exhibit specifically for printers, with artists from across the country who use variety methods.

So, this week instead of hitting our regular thrift stores on Saturday morning, we made our way to Flatbed Press. There we saw Debbie Little Wilson. She's a printer friend of ours and she's fabulous in so many ways. And I'm in love with her chickens. We saw a couple of demonstrations and saw some incredible printing. I even got to make a print of a frog. 

Today, we went to a demonstration put on by none other than the same Mary Fischer. She prints, but on clay, which is what the whole Print Fired exhibit is about. She has traveled to Hungary and learned a method of printing from a photograph onto clay, which was the theme of her demonstration today, assisted by the fabulous Debbie Little Wilson. 

I have had printers explain to me how they do what they do and they always get to a point at which what they're saying translates in my mind to "Something magic happens" because I just can't get it. I listen, and I understand and then they cross a line and my puzzled mind stops. It just can't. This weekend, though, I was able to get it. I have an uncomfortable, sneaky suspicion that I witnessed a different process than that which has always eluded me. The part that puzzles me is when they explain that oil and water don't mix. I know this, but that doesn't explain how you take a flat surface and put oil and water onto it, then place it onto a piece of paper and come out with a beautiful print with neither oil stains or watermarks. But, I am proud to say that I understand solarplates and how to print with them. I haven't done it, but I've witnessed it and I understood. At no point did my poor little mind look bewildered and have to insert "something magic happens" into the part that it couldn't grasp.

Below is an album of the pictures I took at the demonstration. The images are not very good because the light wasn't great and I wasn't close, but I think it's interesting enough to overlook that.

Slide Show
Click to see Album

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Writing Characters

So writing. I don't make my living at it. I don't pursue making a living at it, or even promoting myself. But, I do enjoy writing. I've been thinking about – and working on – fiction. It seems that it should be easier. I don't have to write what actually happens; anything that I want to happen can happen. Narrowing the field from infinity to the scope of a novel or short story is a little more difficult than it seems it ought to be.

There's also the issue of making it interesting. If it doesn't hold a person's attention then there's really no point in writing fiction. From my years of reading I would say that the key to this is really in the characters themselves. A writer can make errors in time, accidentally have contradictions or other problems that editing should have caught, but if the characters are real and engaging, then the work will still hold my attention. The character himself can be a bore, but as long as he's handled by a competent writer then he can still be interesting.

This is where my problem lies. I want my characters to be happy, but then they end up being flat. I find myself making my characters react to situations the way I would like to react, and that's not particularly believable, nor is it particularly interesting. It borders on preachy if I'm not careful.

A character should have a past, even if that past isn't discussed in the work. But, I'm too kind to mine. I don't want to subject them to a childhood spent fending for themselves because their parents were crack addicts who didn't have enough strength to put their children before their addictions. I don't want her to have been lured by a high school hottie into a small room just to have him cajole her into letting him touch her, and then force himself on her for his own pleasure, only to discard her once he'd relieved himself. Or for him to have sat at a lunch table in Jr. High, focussing on his cold sandwich while other students ridiculed him, laughing among themselves at who could say the most hurtful thing, standing behind him with their mouth close to his ear almost shouting, "Why are you here? Nobody wants you here, just go somewhere else. Can't you see that nobody wants you here?" All the while he can only look at his cold sandwich and eat it at fast as he could, his face burning with shame. Knowing from experience that looking around the cafeteria for an ally would be pointless, knowing that even the teachers would not intercede.

The things that make a person interesting and real are not just lovely experiences and coddled childhoods. Experience makes a person who they are, and experience isn't always pleasant. A well-adjusted, perfectly mannered man who respects everybody around him and handles adversity with a calm, pleasant demeanor before washing his hands, drying them neatly on a towel, which he hangs on the rack where it belongs, followed by a cup of tea in an immaculate house among delightful friends is not exactly riveting. People have faults and faults come from and cause unpleasant experiences. For a person who has spent the better part of his adult life being kind to others, creating characters who have suffered is not easy. But, if the goal is to write fiction, then the requirement is to have characters who have lived in the world. My biggest challenge so far.