Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Fog

I have a long-term memory disorder.  I was hit by a car when I was 12 years old, and at the time, I was diagnosed with nothing more than a concussion.  Frankly, it was a stone-cold miracle that I could have done so much damage to a white Mercedes with my head and not died.  It is, indeed, one fiercely heavy, thick-boned skull, I grant that.

Unfortunately, that concussion affected that part of my brain that deals directly with long-term memories.  As a result, I can retain information about people so long as those people stay in my life or I'm reminded of them in context.  You can't show me a photo of someone I haven't spoken to in years and expect me to know that person.

It's pretty sad, actually.  I get the sense that I've lost a lot of my own history, that important memories of people, places, and events keep slipping away.  It's going to make for one hell of an old-age ennui.

Right now, however, I'm feeling the worst of it.  I've returned to work at a company that I'd left about 12 years ago.  There are people here that remember me from that time.  They greet me in the halls and ask me if I remember them.  I don't.  It's not their fault, and it's not really mine, it's just frustrating, embarrassing, and totally awful.

So -- if you are one of those people, please don't take my blank-eyed stare as an opinion of your worth in my life.  It's just a broken group of brain cells.  Them's the breaks.  No hard feelings, huh?


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review!

Forts: Liars and ThievesForts: Liars and Thieves by Steven Novak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So you thought the good guys won, did you? Really good fantasy franchises, from Star Wars to Tolkien's Middle Earth, never let you rest on your laurels that way, smug in the triumph of good over evil. The good guys have to bleed for it, and some of the heroes have to become sacrifices to the cause.

Am I comparing Novak's saga to those well-respected monsters of fantasy? You bet.

The Jarvis boys are back, along with former-bully-turned-ally Donald Rondage and sweetheart of the saving-the-world set, Staci Alexander. The most reluctant of reluctant heroes, Owen Little, finds he has to drag himself into the story, but not until he finds a way to bring the Jarvis sire along with him. Some of these kids have been waiting a long time to return to Fillagrou. Some (Owen especially) hoped to never return. They're all older. And they're about to find that getting rid of the prince means that they now have to deal directly with the king.

This is not a friendly, warm-and-fuzzy fantasy story. This outing in Fillagrou tests resolves, pushes patience past its limits, and sees the poignant end of a dear friend. You'll be deeply unsettled by the way this ends, I promise you that, and you'll be salivating, grunting, and groaning, and cursing Novak for not having released book 3 already.

Soon, my friends, soon. For right now, read Liars & Thieves. Do yourself that favor. And get ready for awesome.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review!

Fathers & Sons (Forts, #1)Fathers & Sons by Steven Novak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Meet the Jarvis brothers. As if losing their mother to cancer at an early age wasn't a horrifying-enough thing to endure, they now have to put up with bullies, confusing friendships and alliances, and one of the worst family betrayals anyone can think of.

Then things get bad.

The Jarvis brothers, along with one of the afore-mentioned bullies and another school pseudo-friend, are pulled out of the world that's familiar and are taken to a new place, a completely alien and strange world called Fillagrou. There they learn they're the objects of an ancient prophecy, that they're supposed to save the world. That's a lot of responsibility to put on a kid. It's really no wonder that these kids balk at first, especially when confronted with the very obvious truth that there's nothing special about any of them.

Or is there?

If you like magic, fantasy, coming-of-age stories, adventures, or underdog stories, you'll love this book. And really, who doesn't like at least one of those things?

But wait, there's more!

I bet you thought this review would sit back on its laurels, content with delivering just another rote reason to buy this book. Everything I've said so far is true -- but it's not the total story of what makes this book special. Yes, there are really kick-@$$ characters and situations. There are surprising tests of courage and resolve. There's even quite a bit of torture, blood and guts, and graphic warfare.

What you don't expect are those singing moments of poetry, of beauty, and the life lessons woven behind every chapter. Novak isn't just trying to tell you a fantastic adventure story. Novak is trying to teach you something about himself, and, by extension, something about you. There's a hero in each of us. Will you stand up and answer the call?

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Book Review!

FreedomFreedom by Jonathan Franzen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Human beings are broken, strange creatures, and it seems to me nobody knows that quite like Jonathan Franzen does. At the beginning of the book, we're introduced to the Berglunds, a typical middle-class family living in a revitalized part of urban St. Paul, Minnesota. The Berglunds come off as a striving, rather annoying bunch of liberal ninnies at first, and even their nosy neighbors can tell there's something not-quite-right in the way they operate. The neighbors watch with glee as things turn against these yuppies and their processes start to fall apart. We then are given a view into the strained, strange mind of Patty Berglund, the wife and stay-home mom of the family. She tells her history, including a high school rape, a college friendship, and how she met her husband Walter and his dearest friend Richard, a musician for whom she develops a monstrously unhealthy fascination. Patty is obsessive, and the outcomes of her obsessions are the themes of the book: loss, regret, sacrifice, humiliation -- and yet, after all that, the enduring sweetness of long love.

Franzen pulls no punches. He does not apologize for the flaws of his characters; rather, he leans on those flaws, exploits them, and all to force you to stand slack-jawed in wonder over how magnificent it is to be human, to feel, and to come home again.

As a writer, I strive to make my human beings as thoroughly human as this.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Writing Life

This post will also appear in Cathleen Holst's blog, "Celebrating Sister Writers."

Chasing the Muse
By MJ Heiser

Yes, I know.  Cathleen asked me to write about my writing life.  The whole story about my writing life, however, can be easily dramatized to resemble a chase scene.  Did you ever see the movie Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio?  That’s what it’s like.  Writing is the life-long pursuit of pleasure, of mastery, and of that silver-winged mischief-maker known as The Muse.

It started easily enough.  I was a precocious reader.  I started reading at the age of three, because I’d spent my infancy watching my dad sit in his recliner and flip pages of Western novels.  He was content in those times, at peace, and the methodology of that entranced a girl who had not yet been potty-trained.  I wanted to find that peace and contentment, so I started really paying attention to the Muppets on Sesame Street as they tried to show me what each letter sounded like, and how the letters ganged up to make words, and how the words ganged up to make sentences, and how the sentences lined up neatly to form great big horking books.  I started practicing this new ability to translate weird squiggly characters into internalized movies, and found it intoxicating, thrilling that I could pull it off.  Compared to the mastery of reading and the desire to someday write, the subsequent discovery of the ability to control my bowels was a bit of a let-down.

You mean this was an option?

Since then, however . . .well, since then I’ve discovered that writing is not an endeavor to take lightly.  I get a bit riled whenever I hear someone say off-the-cuff that they plan on writing a book someday.  You don’t do that.  You write books all your life, and hope that someday, one of them sprouts wings and flies.  You struggle with apathy and insecurity every day.  You read constantly, and every book you read either inspires you with new things to try or depresses you because the author pulled off something you’d never even considered possible.  –And let’s not even discuss the uncertainty of walking to the writing space and wondering if your damned Muse – that brilliant, beautiful, inspiring, maddening, and mesmerizing creature – will even show up.  When she’s there, it’s a loud and wild brain party.  When she’s not, it’s a wrestling match with creative frustration.


Do you see where I’m going with this?

This is my life.  I don’t know if I managed to make it sound wonderful.  I know my fellow writers nodded their heads a few times in understanding, and like me, they know just how wonderful the whole thing is.