S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst – A Book Review

This is a book unlike anything else I have ever read.

There are two stories within this work.

One is surrealistic and focuses upon a freedom fighter known only as “S.”  He has amnesia, travels upon a mysterious ship full of anomalous sailors, and, through a series of events, battles an evil capitalist while yearning for a woman he does not know, but loves nonetheless.

The other story takes place within the margins of the first, and it is the written exchange in the form of annotations between a university student and an exiled graduate student.  The core of their dialogue occurs through written notes and centers upon the author of the above story, but, as fate would have it, their own lives seem in danger as a result of their investigation and this brings them together.  In order to understand their story, you must realize that they have different handwriting, identify their particular style, and comprehend that different colors of ink represent different time periods in their lives.  Because they apparently read and reread the book several times, you may see a note from them that was actually written near the end of their story.  Yes, it takes some getting used to.

The beautiful thing about this book, besides the notes in the margins, is that there are several artifacts within that correlate to the researchers’ conversations and research.  My favorite, for examples, is a map one of them drew upon a napkin.  There are also postcards, photographs, handwritten notes, even copies of newspaper articles.  In fact, the book itself is made to look like an old library book, complete with water stains and a checkout history.

The only negative thing I have to say is that I didn’t completely understand the stories of the book, which seems to necessitate another read on my part.  I chose to read each page and the margin notes all at once, and perhaps this was a misstep.  My reread will actually result in a third read, because I plan to read the story all the way through, and then go back and read the notes in the margins separately.  This should help distinguish the two tales from each other.  I jumped from one to the other on a page-by-page basis, and I believe this may have weakened my understanding of both.

That being said, S. is an important book because it challenges our notion of what constitutes a book.  In this digital age, print books must do more than they ever have before, and S. certainly seems to utilize a winning strategy.  By including multimedia artifacts that pertain to the book, the story becomes extremely interactive for the reader, making it all the more real.  Of course, the artifacts must seem genuine, which S. accomplishes, but I have to wonder if the average publisher could take on such an expensive venture.

In the end, I greatly enjoyed S., but I think I’ll enjoy it even more upon subsequent rereads.  There’s nothing wrong with revisiting a book, there’s no shame in needing to get closer to a book in order to fully understand it. There’s certainly nothing adverse about art demanding a little more, especially when it gives a little more.


The Big Picture

I’m at a stage in my life now when I don’t get any one thing done at any one time.  I have to “chunk” everything – especially my writing.  Because of my “finish it bit by bit” approach, it can sometimes take weeks to finish even a relatively short story.  Amidst my family, my professional obligations, my Master’s work, and anything else that happens to arise, I’ve got a lot going on almost always.  To start a story, then find that I can’t get back to it until a day or two later, can prove disastrous when it comes to “flow.”

To combat this, I do something very important that I believe all writers of any genre should do – I outline.  I hear you groaning, but outlining is an instrumental tool in the prewriting stage for a variety of reasons.  It helps you flesh out characters, establish pacing and/or beats, and allows the opportunity to figure out what works and what doesn’t before you’ve even touched a keyboard (unless you outline on a keyboard, of course).  Most importantly, it gives you a view of the big picture.  Sometimes I’ve known the exact way a story ends thanks to my outline, and sometimes I’ve only known a vague idea of how the story ends thanks to my outline, but I’ve always had some idea of the ending, and that’s essential. 

Knowing the ending before a writer starts actually writing the story provides a far better experience for both the writer and the reader.  It saves the writer a lot of time, and it can’t help but result in a tighter, more deliberate story for the reader to digest.

We’ve all read those books where it seemed as though the story didn’t have any idea where it headed.  That’s fine in some cases, especially if it’s a pure character study or experimental, but I believe every moment of a story or novel should work towards a conclusion.  It may work in a small way, but it must serve a purpose.  Just as life sometimes grants us great happiness or terrible tragedy, we can always trace a chain of events leading to either upon reflection.  A story should be no different.  A path, even if chaotic, should be discernible to a reader after finishing the story.

How should you outline?  Who cares, just do it!  Use the tedious style we teach in school or do it on restaurant napkins, wipe boards, post-it notes, whatever!  I prefer notebooks, personally.  I also believe in sketching characters and settings, so the notebook affords me that opportunity as well, but that’s a topic for another time.

New writers love to just start typing and see where the story takes them, and if you have time for that, then have fun.  For me, though, the way life is at the moment, I have to make every second count, so working through an outline with lots of notes and messy arrows and sketches is exactly how I get myself ready to be the most productive when it comes time to actually write.

Just Published – Dr. Nekros: A77 (Volume III, Episode III)

While trapped in Xaphan’s wretched realm, Dr. Nekros has discovered courageous allies willing to revolt against the land’s master.  But nothing could have prepared him for the revelation of their greatest ally, someone not even Xaphan expected to appear – the occupant of A77.

Meanwhile, even as Dr. Nekros fights to rid Xaphan from all of existence, Cashel Vadenburgh fights for his life, Zetta Southerland fights to reclaim her missing child, and Anton Hall fights for his only love.

The saga of Dr. Nekros draws to a close with only three more episodes left.  Catch up today!

Click the image to read Dr. Nekros: A77.



The Slash: The Fastest Read Alive

Revision is a laborious process for me.  I know I’m supposed to love it like I love my broccoli, but by the third or fourth revision of a single work, I’m weary.  So weary.  So, so weary.

However, one good thing about the weariness is that I’m far less sentimental about the work, and that’s when something wonderful races into the revision process—The Slash.

Stephen King once said something to the effect that you need to cut out a lot, a whole lot, of your initial draft by the time you reach the final draft.  Now, I’m just like you.  My first thought is, “Well sure, that’s true for most people, but not me.  My stuff is pretty darn perfect from the moment it leaves my fingertips.  I don’t want to say I’m awesome, but, you know, I’m sort of awesome.”

But by the fourth or fifth revision, I start to realize that I’m not that awesome, that I have things in the work that simply don’t need to be there.  Redundancies, unnatural dialogue, clarifications, unnecessary details—I commit every sin possible.  And, because I’m so darn tired of the whole process, I have no qualms rectifying those sins by slashing them right out.  If they are a problem, I no longer fight to keep them in, I just slash them.  The result?  A much faster, streamlined, fluid piece of writing that equates a better experience for the readership.

We all love our words, gang. We do.  But for most of us, it’s not about the words, it’s about the story.  It’s about maintaining a certain pace.  It’s about keeping characters consistent.  It’s about offering the reader an olive branch by only including those things that are relevant.

Go ahead.  Start slashing away.  You’ll take a sort of manic glee in it.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – A Book Review

Though aimed primarily at young adults, I can attest as a grizzled thirty-seven year old that I adored every single thing about it.

I don’t want to summarize the book for you, plenty of others have already done so, but I can tell you that though this story may not be new in terms of tone or theme, it is absolutely a page-turner.  Rowell delivers two wonderfully developed characters that will, by book’s end, occupy a space in your head and become a part of your existence.  Eleanor and Park will make you angry, they will make you laugh, they will make you giddy with delight, and they will destroy your heart, and you will love them for all of it.  In other words, they are very much like real people.

Beyond the well-rounded characters, Rowell successfully captured the essence of high school love.  She understands the rapture, the awkwardness, the rush, the torment—she understands it all and displays her understanding through Eleanor and Park.  Whether or not you experienced high school love, I know you will find something of yourself in both Eleanor and Park.

Furthermore, I believe by alternating points of view between Eleanor and Park, Rowell found a way to hasten the pace of the story, thus creating tension.  The emotional honesty, the characterization, and the writing execution is truly what makes this book shine.

And there is quite a bit of emotional honesty.  In fact, parts of this book read very autobiographical.  Frankly, I don’t care if Rowell based any of the book on her own life.  I hope not, of course, because Eleanor goes through a lot of very painful things, but I’d be a fool to think children don’t suffer through the things Eleanor does.  If Rowell used her own life as the basis for Eleanor’s, then I say more power to her.  If it all came from her own imagination, then I say her empathy is nearly superhuman and it will serve her well with future books—books I’m certain to read.

Though initially a quirky love story not unlike several other young adult novels, Eleanor & Park rocketed past them and entered a space all its own.  Funny, provoking, enlightening, and heart-breaking, Eleanor and Park invite you into their lives, and you will be both overjoyed and saddened to have visited.

No matter what your age or reading inclinations, I urge you to give this book a chance.