Swann’s way, the Yale anniversary edition


Proust, yeah that Proust who writes books with paragraph long sentences about nothing. Many think him the example of dull indulgent literary fiction; others sing odes that somehow fail to rouse the most passionate of readers to try his books, and there are those for whom Proust is another author to namedrop in front of the pulp fiction reading masses.  When NetGalley offered a new edition of Swann’s Way (Volume one of the seven volume In Search of Lost Time, also know as Remembrance of Things Past) published by Yale University Press,  I decided I might as well see all about Proust for myself.

Yes, it is a long read, and yes, it veers towards the ponderous and the tedious, but it is not uninteresting. Even though the reading does demand a certain patience and concentration, I found myself drawn in. His observations of childhood were engrossing, more so because of his precise explorations of its exaggerated fears and the outsized anxieties. The attention to detail can overwhelm, but they do weave magical tapestry of  feeling and depth.  His explorations of characters, e.g. the narrator’s aunts and grandmother, captured humans in their most ordinary and their most captivating moments.  

An important theme of the volume is memory and its fickleness, its uncertain divagations, its distressing lack of assurances. A lot of passages were  long and impressionistic, dreamscapes so dense with images and vague feelings that I had to read a few times to comprehend the breathtaking immensity of it. Take the book cover image of a Madeleine, for instance:  the narrator’s simple act of tasting a Madeleine unleashes a torrent of feelings and flitting images that last for more than two pages.  After a while, you sense that the point of reading Swann’s way is not to consume wholesale, but to savor in piecemeal fashion–this is not a text you can read quickly like the latest pulp fiction novel.

As I understand it, this edition is a revision of the 1923 Scott Montcrief’s translation, revisions done by the editor and Proust scholar,William Carter. His annotations on French culture and French historical references were helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of the text.  And the prose style was modern and readable enough for my standards. If you have been wary about trying Proust, you can do no better than trying a copy of this edition.

Kicking the Sky by Anthony Sa


I recently joined NetGalley, where you can sign up to read books in exchange for reviews. I picked up  Kicking the Sky, by Anthony Sa, a coming of age tale set in the Portuguese immigrant community in 1970’s Toronto.  The story takes places after the disappearance of twelve-year-old Emanuel Jaques aka The Shoeshine Boy. The twelve-year-old narrator, Antonio Rubelo, and his friends, Manny and Ricky, make a pact to be brothers and see each other through good and bad.  They need all help they can muster in a neighborhood full of hustlers, prostitutes, and massage parlors.

Events take a dark turn when Emanuel is found raped and murdered.   Antonio finds himself, hurt, vulnerable and full of questions, but the adults in his life are too busy, too hard-pressed to guide him as they too are struggling to survive in their rundown neighborhood. The confused circumstances set stage for Antonio and his friends to come under the influence of James, whom I would describe as a one of the shadiest characters I have had the pleasure to read.

The mystery of James runs through the heart of the book.  Is he a good man rundown on his luck, or is he another pervert like Emanuel’s murderers? Antonio himself does not know what to think. And his feelings are complicated by the fact of his own awkward sexual attraction to the twenty-one-year old James. Antonio is a engaging character in his own right. He tries to do right by his friends. He tries to be the man his father wants him to be. It is heartbreaking to see his innocence tainted by the harsh world he forced to confront.

Another central theme is the Portuguese immigrant experience.  His parents try to keep alive their native culture in the face of a hegemonic culture that seeks to reduce their identity to nothing more than cheap workers.  The various aspects of Portuguese culture were a delight to read especially since I know nothing of Portugal.

Setting aside the lurid episodes of child abuse, physical and sexual, homophobia, racism, the awkwardness and confusion of prepubescent sexuality, the book does a good job of balancing the dark with hope.  There were a few exciting boys-will-be-boys episodes. The prose, however, was not to my liking because I found it too ‘simple’. Child narrators do bore me easily; however the issues in the book were far from simple, so the depth of the story easily overcame my distaste for his prose style.

If you do not mind a dark, gritty read, I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

The Girl Who Played Go

In my explorations of go and literature, I decided to read the Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa translated from Chinese to English by Adriana Hunter. The book is a mishmash, part historical, part coming of age, part women’s fiction, all with the flavor of Go. The historical backdrop of Japanese invasion of Manchuria was fascinating.  I’m largely ignorant of that era, so that definitely held my interest.   The book features first person narratives of a Chinese teenage girl and a Japanese soldier.  They don’t meet till the halfway through the book to play a go game. Like a go game, the two characters circle each other, play move for move, alternate the viewpoints until the cataclysmic conclusion.

On the prose side, the writing is immersive, poetic and lyrical, certainly measured and restrained.  But it wasn’t as impressive as I hoped from reading all the rave reviews, perhaps because there wasn’t any particular imagery that made my mind sing.

Go isn’t notable for female players, and in that sense, the viewpoint of a female go player is unique and inherently curious.  However this is also a teenage viewpoint, Chinese Style, and so the adolescent angst , love fumblings, and the hackneyed criticisms of women’s lives in 1930’s China, I found wanting.  Her first love trepidations  curiously felt sterile and uninvolving and rather painful in its awkwardness.

On the other side, the male voice was just as poetic as the girl’s voice, and that felt false.  In between fighting, the soldier spent his days, visiting prostitutes, thinking of visiting prostitutes and then offer a few tired bits on  Japanese imperialism and Chinese inferiority.  But ultimately, his character was lacking gravitas and courage so much so that when the book vroomed to the shocking conclusion, I was distinctly underwhelmed.

I hoped for more go musings, more go ideas, more go something, but the sentimental peregrinations colored everything with such dullness. Characters were too wrapped up in themselves that none of them tried to go  beyond themselves and try to do something heroic.  Chaos and tragedies were rumbling around them, and yet they were all so small-minded.

On a positive note, the book is easy to read.  I’d give it a go, if you’re especially interested in the 1930’s China from a female perspective.

 

 

Nano madness

I don’t think I ever taken part in Nanowrimo before. Never been tempted to. The idea of pumping out first drafts doesn’t tempt me.  My laptop is filled with first drafts that need editing, and I’m in no hurry to add to the stack. The first draft is like playing with a shiny new toy,”ooh I have write about Steve boinking Paul to get to Cynthia,” but second draft is just work. I have to worry about nuance, description, tone, voice, subtext, adverbs …. I can’t pump my way through that, and I have to stop and think about it every 2 seconds. At some point I just want to give up and go play with another shiny new toy.

On that note, I have to go back to editing.

Hard Characters

The first iteration of Luke’s character in Love and Go
was something of a sarcastic, couldn’t-care-less character mucking about in a garden of hurt. Fun guy really. If you’re interested in reading an unedited version of Love and Go with hardass Luke, ask me. It’s probably a better rendition but there was issues with motivation and the like. And I thought I was getting too comfortable writing the same sort of characters, and then I read The Defense by Nabokov which portrayed a disturbed chess player.

And so I came up with a fucked-up Luke. I hope not fucked in a way that’s off-putting, but fucked up in an interesting way.He’s mess of things. He’s gentle, naive. He aims to please. But at the same time, he’s apathetic and can be very unyielding. It’s a challenge keeping his actions monotone and maintaining a constant tension about him.

Can’t say I’ve succeeded because readers so far complain about his lack of emotion. Unfortunately becoming more emotional isn’t part of his character arc. In some sense he’s the impact character. He doesn’t change, which drives Hao completely crazy towards the end, triggering devastating events. But Luke does have an arc, that of finding personal salvation. It’s Hao’s challenge to get over himself, ignore Luke’s strange manners, and help Luke save himself before it’s too late. Whether Hao succeeds or not is still an open question.

M/M Halloween Themed Books Giveaway

Halloween is around corner. Now’s a great time as ever to share books about vampires and men who love their undead beaus.  So I’m giving away five copies of my book The Cross and the Black for free.  In addition to my books, you get to sample a collection of  halloween themed works featuring lgbt characters.  For more details check out a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Disturbed Fate by Kia Zi Shiru Disturbed Connections by Kia Zi Shiru Pacifier 6; The Shadows Within by G. Wakeling Birth Rite by X. Aratare The Bodyguard (Book1 of The Artifact) by X. Aratare Bisexual Werewolf Dominance by Jen Harker Gay Vampire Cumslut by Jen Harker Sunday's Child by Lex Valentine Pricolici by Alicia Nordwell Supernature: Paranormal Stories From The Wittegen Press Giveaway Games by Sophie Duncan and Natasha Duncan-Drake The Need In Me by Sophie Duncan An Amusement (The Vampire's Concubine #1) by Sophie Duncan The End of The Journey (The Hidden War #1) by Sophie Duncan Forgotten Soul (The Soul Reader #1) by Tasha D-Drake Forbidden Soul (The Soul Reader #2) by Tasha D-Drake Fortunate Soul (The Soul Reader #3) by Tasha D-Drake Chip Off the Old Block? by Tasha D-Drake The Trade by Tasha D-Drake Out of the Frying Pan by Tasha D-Drake Face of the Dead by Tasha D-Drake My Fair Vampire by S. L. Danielson and Julie Lynn Hayes The Cross and the Black 1 by Luwa Wande The Cross and the Black 2 by Luwa Wande

False endings

One of my favorite authors is Alan Hollinghurst, who won the booker prize for The Line of Beauty. His prose is what captivates me the most, lush and lyrical and beautiful.

I was working my way through booker prize winners when I first came across The Line of Beauty. I didn’t know what the plot was about when I opened it. I thought the first couple pages were boring. Just when I was going to put the book down, the MC puts out a gay personal ad in the paper. And bam I was hooked. Yeah … I’m shallow like that.

But the subject of this blog post is false epiphanies, which brings up his debut fiction released back in the 80’s, The Swimming Pool Library. I just finished it a few days ago. The prose is exquisite as always.

Well it is literary, there isn’t much of a story. It just follows a rich guy in 80’s london before the AIDS scare. He spends his days having random sex with strangers in parks, porno theatres, bathrooms etc. He keeps paramours with boys younger and poorer than him. When he isn’t fucking, he goes to a exclusive swimming pool frequented by gay men and fantasizes about the next piece of ass. The one meaningful functional relationship in his life is the one he has with his best friend. He’s lazy, conceited, shallow and extremely self-unaware. But he isn’t malicious or wicked or a hard ass. He just doesn’t care to lead a more meaningful life.

In between his fucking adventures, he is reading up on the diaries of a gay lord, for whom he’s considering writing a biography. The diaries dates back to the 1920’s when the lord worked in the Sudan. The old lord is another old dunderhead who is also just as sex-obsessed over his boy servants as the MC. While you can excuse the MC because he’s young and desirable, the lord however is old and pitiable and just pathetic. You can already string the consequences. If the MC doesn’t change his ways, he’ll end up like the old lord.

A few things happen in the book that cause him consternation, the most significant of which is his best friend being caught in some trouble. And in the last couple pages, the MC thinks about changing for the better. He actually thinks about it, dreams about leading a more meaningful life. Then he tries to secure the help the friend needs. The ploy fails, not because of his fault though. But the setback is enough for him to go stomping back to the swimming pool and drooling over a nice piece of ass. And the book ends.

Now will MC follow up on the ploy? Who knows. But I have faith he will or the friend will really be screwed. But will the MC change his freewheeling ways? Probably not. Basically, Hollinghurst employs a false epiphany technique. Bring the MC feel change, but when the MC actually tries to act it, it fails for some reason or another. Chekhov is a matter of this technique in his short stories. A false epiphany is extremely realistic. Think about the times in your life, you wanted to do something, but you didn’t follow through.

And you know, Hollinghurst’s MC changing and discovering the power of love and sacrifice would have been trite and silly. It wouldn’t have made much real sense. But then again, the story doesn’t leave me satisfied, depressed really.

The physicist and the Serial Killer.

Here’s a silly poem for you, ma peeps!

Here lies Zebedee Yamilla,
a particle physicist of intrepid renown.
Her cosmic love for Attaboy Jack,
reviled collector of nipples and noses,
proved her end in this cold, cold ground.
Valiantly she sought to prove his innocence,
insanity by reason of neutrino-compactified neurons she said.
But the many-bodied sneers of the physicist legate derided,
and the hours amongst water-cerenkov detectors scintillated no light.
Alas her spirit became renormalized in despair.
Nothing revealed of wily neutrinos or dimpled neurons,
Just her love spiraling the infinite world lines of sorrow.
Then on that fuligin day of his sentencing,
she cried, his freedom or her death by starvation!
Now here she lies, our dear Zebedee Yamilla.

I had in mind  for while now a short story  that would be a series of letters between a lovestruck female genius and a menacing serial killer on death row.  Not quite gotten round to writing it because the voices of the characters aren’t clear to me yet.  At first the serial killer I had in mind was  rash and crude, and so obviously a sexist creep.  But that’s too easy.  Quite a few serial killers on death row are charming, and if not all of them have rabid female admirers.

Night Stalker Ramirez married a journalist in prison, divorced years later, and at the time of his death in 2013, was engaged to a woman half his age.  Depressing really, but the world works in mysterious ways.  Anyway the poem is just a prelude to the short story.

Google Play here we go!

Good news! Google has revamped its publishing site for self-pubbers.   The previous platform was a clusterfuck of yuck, damningly incredible for a company as big and innovative as Google.  Glad that’s behind us.

However, there’s still some hesitation about uploading to Google.  For one, I hear Google has a very unkind discounting policy.  Basically, they can choose to discount your novel, whenever and however.  You hear horror stories of books being discounted to 33 cents on Google.  Which might not be so bad because nothing sells there, but then Amazon price matches the discount, and suddenly you find your novel being trundled away for pennies on the biggest site of all.

For someone like me who doesn’t sell much anyway, I’m not so worried about Google’s rogue discounting techniques.  I’m still trying to find readers for my weird brand of fiction.  Nevertheless I’m not that excited about the Google platform.

As we all know the name of the game is book discovery.  If readers can’t find or get readily what they are looking for, they’ll look somewhere else. Sadly, it’s not easy finding books on Google Play.   Romances are easier, but every other genre gets the boot.

If I wanted to find fantasy books, I need to go to Fiction and Literature and then look at fantasy.  Even then it doesn’t list the different subgenres. Instead I get a general listing of the best selling fantasy. No new arrivals or the fancy lists you get on Amazon.  I have to wonder if this lack of functionality is because I’m  checking from a India-based location.  Anyway you readers will be sure to tell me.

https://play.google.com/store/books/category/subj_Fiction.Fantasy/collection/featured

Also the platform doesn’t let you the author pick keywords for easy searching. It seems you need to make sure the description or the subtitle hits those keywords you need.  On the other hand, it seems you get an unlimited number of categories to slot your books, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

As much as it’s nice that you can do text searches on google books, I’m not sure that’s such a great deal for fiction.  Text search is perfect for finding the right non-fiction for research purposes.  But I have never used text searches to find fiction books. Well, perhaps you do.

At the end of the day, I’ll still upload to Google. I could always use more pennies.

Love and Go

So I wrote a story featuring a gay love story centered around the game of go, Love and Go, read the first act here http://www.wattpad.com/story/8148106-love-and-go

As far as I know, there are two mainstream novels that features go.  There’s Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata.  the author won the nobel prize in literature incidentally.  I highly recommend that book.
There is another mainstream novel about go, The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa.  I have not read it myself.  If you have, please tell me what you think about it.

As for my book,  it just seemed that friendship and perhaps love is a very natural thing to happen  over a game of go.  I can’t claim brilliant insights into the game or some of the deeper themes that you would find say in Master of Go.  My ambitions were a lot more modest.  What you’ll find instead is just a drama about emotionally troubled characters who happen to like to play a bit of go. But I do hope it’s engaging or the very least entertaining.  I suppose, I’ll learn soon enough.

But I enjoyed writing this very much.  It turns out when my mind has a symbol, or an object to work with, then ideas flows much more easily.  It was fun integrating go into the emotional life of the protagonists. Lateral thinking can lead you to strange corridors.

I thought several times of making the main relationship straight for a wider appeal. In the end I decided, the story was conceived organically with gay characters, and so I’ll just keep that way.  When this is finished, I’ll have to think of another story has go and a straight main relationship.