Tag Archives: Ray Bradbury

5 Books: Society’s Mirror

The Green Mirror, by Guy Rose PD|80 via Wikimedia Commons

The Green Mirror, by Guy Rose PD|80 via Wikimedia Commons

Most authors do not sit down and say “I am going to write a novel and this will be the message.” However, as we progress in writing a given work, certain social themes that are important to us at that moment will emerge.

Most of the time social themes will emerge as a natural outgrowth of the creative process. That particular story may have begun as a a “what if” moment, which, during the process of writing, becomes a powerful story.

We don’t sit down to write with a particular moral or political agenda in mind, but our own values will come out in who the characters we create are, how they perceive their world, and in the society we create as the backdrop for them.

Some of the most gripping works of modern literature occurred when an author was particularly moved by a situation presented by the society in which he lived:

Fahrenheit_451_1st_ed_coverFahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury published in 1953, the year I was born. It is regarded as one of his best works. The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and any that are found are confiscated and burned. The title refers to the temperature that Bradbury believed was the ignition point of paper.

Besides having an incredible cast of characters set in compelling situations, the novel discusses and exposes the role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury stated that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 because of his concerns at the time (during the McCarthy era) about the threat of book burning in the United States.

Fahrenheit 451 remains a classic, because the societal pressures and fringe threats that inspired Bradbury to write this novel still exist, perhaps even more so than during the McCarthy era.

Germinal_first_edition_coverGerminal  (1885) is the thirteenth novel in Émile Zola‘s twenty-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart. (From Wikipedia:) Often considered Zola’s masterpiece and one of the most significant novels in the French tradition, this novel is an uncompromisingly harsh and realistic story of a coal miners’ strike in northern France in the 1860s. It has been published and translated in over one hundred countries and has additionally inspired five film adaptations and two television productions.

Germinal is a brutal depiction of the poverty and wretchedness of a mining community in northern France under the second empire. At the center of the novel is Etienne Lantier, a handsome 21 year-old mechanic, intelligent but with little education and a dangerous predisposition to murderous, alcoholic rage. Germinal tells the parallel story of Etienne’s refusal to accept what he appears destined to become, and of the miners’ difficult decision to strike in order to fight for a better standard of life.

milagro beanfield warThe Milagro Beanfield War, 1974, is the first book in John Nichols New Mexico Trilogy. The book opens when Joe Mondragon, a feisty hustler with a talent for trouble, slammed his battered pickup to a stop, tugged on his gumboots, and marched into the arid patch of ground. Carefully (and also illegally), he tapped into the main irrigation channel. And so began-though few knew it at the time-the Milagro beanfield war.

But like everything else in the dirt-poor town of Milagro, it would be a patchwork war, fought more by tactical retreats than by battlefield victories. Gradually, the small farmers and sheep-men begin to rally to Joe’s beanfield as the symbol of their lost rights and their lost lands. And downstate in the capital, the Anglo water barons and power brokers huddle in urgent conference, intent on destroying that symbol before it destroys their multi-million-dollar land-development schemes. The tale of Milagro’s rising is wildly comic and lovingly tender, a vivid portrayal of a town that, half-stumbling and partly prodded, gropes its way toward its own stubborn salvation.

ProdigalSummerProdigal Summer (2000) is the fifth novel by American author, Barbara Kingsolver. It is a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself. It weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. Over the course of one humid summer, this novel’s intriguing protagonists face disparate predicaments but find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place.

The narrative follows Deanna, a solitary woman working as a park ranger, Lusa, a widowed farmwife at odds with her late husband’s tight-knit family, and Garnett, an old man who dreams of restoring the lineage of the extinct American Chestnut tree.

Kingsolver’s extensive education in biology is on display in this book, laden with ecological concepts and biological facts. Her writing also exhibits her knowledge of rural Virginia, where she grew up.

The_Idiot_(book_cover)The Idiotfirst published serially in The Russian Messenger between 1868 and 1869. is a novel written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. (From Wikipedia:) The 26-year-old Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin returns to Russia after spending several years at a Swiss sanatorium. Scorned by the society of Saint Petersburg for his trusting nature and naiveté, he finds himself at the center of a struggle between a beautiful kept woman and a virtuous and pretty young girl, both of whom win his affection. Unfortunately, Myshkin’s very goodness precipitates disaster, leaving the impression that, in a world obsessed with money, power, and sexual conquest, a sanatorium may be the only place for a saint.

Elizabeth Dalton wrote that in The Idiot, more than in any other of Dostoevsky’s works, we are shown the actual experience itself of one mind wrestling with the various tensions of life – rather than simply dwelling on intellectual speculation, as we see in Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground.

HouseofthesprirtsThe House of the Spirits (Spanish: La casa de los espíritus, 1982) is the debut novel of Isabel Allende. In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.

The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.

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These stories are powerful because of the characters that were created when that “what if” moment occurred, and because of the societal pressure under which their stories unfold. They are considered among  the greatest works in modern literature, and all of them are gripping, moving works of fiction, heavily laced with the social reality of the authors’ times.

All of these books are considered masterpieces, and each one struck a chord one way or another with me, although I confess, although each made a large impression on me, I have not reread most of them in recent years.

All of these books are available at your local library, or very reasonably priced at Amazon.com.

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NaNoWriMo: The Final Push

edgar allen poe quoteI’ve been talking a lot about NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. My friends are curious and ask if it’s a contest.

The answer is yes, in a way, but no.

It is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have them validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in the sense that it is a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now lets face it–a novel that is only 50,000 words long is not a very long novel. That falls more into the line of a long novella and is only half a novel, in my opinion. But a dedicated author can get the basic structure and story-line of a novel down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

That is not a lot. Most authors, when they are in the zone, double or triple that.

And again, we must face an ugly fact: Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you can write anything that others want to read. Over the next few months there will be many books emerging that will testify to this fundamental truth.

But also, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy writing; that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date. This was about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for the longest time. These people will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing.

neil gaiman quote 2They are the real winners.

These authors will take the time and make the effort to learn writing conventions, they will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle and an incredible end.

They will properly polish and edit their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it.

These are books I will want to read.

It’s not easy. Sometimes what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear. The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and rewrite the damned thing so it’s more readable. They will be successful, for a variety of reasons, all of them revolving around dedication and perseverance.

But when we write something that a reader loves–that is a feeling that can’t be described.

Success as an author these days can’t be measured in cash. It can only be measured in what satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see less of their royalties than indies, but they sell more books. It is a conundrum, and one many new authors will be considering in the new year.

But if you don’t write that book, you aren’t an author, and you won’t have to worry about it. NaNoWriMo will jump-start many discussions about this very issue. At this writing there are 3 days counting today left for many writers to get their 50,000 words and earn that certificate. Some of us have completed our first draft, and some of us still have a ways to go.

Winner-2014-Twitter-ProfileMy book has a beginning, a middle and an end, but will not become a novel for two or more years..  It is, instead, a rough draft sitting in the pile of other rough drafts, waiting to be rewritten when that flash of inspiration takes me over and I am driven to make it real. Huw the Bard began life in NaNoWriMo 2011, under the working title, The Bard’s Tale. He was published in 2014, and his story makes a darned good novel, if I do say so myself. (Shameless, I know.)

But although he was written in 30 days, he was then rewritten over the course of the following year, and edited over the course of the year after that. The life of a book from concept to publishing is a process. Some are quicker at negotiating this process than others, but having once rushed to publish with unhappy results,  I now take a more leisurely path.

 

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NaNoWriMo and the Road to Hell

The road to hell Phillip Roth QuoteOkay–I admit it. I have a bunch of works in progress, in three different worlds. If, as Phillip Roth has been quoted as saying,  “The road to hell is pave with works-in-progress,” then I am strapped into the handbasket and barreling down the highway toward an extremely hot destination.

But it’s not my fault.

I have to write when the mood strikes and sometime the mood strikes for a different manuscript than the one it struck for only the day before.

Doh.

Alarm clock quote ray bradburyAt times I am faced with the dilemma of NaNoWriMo–28,000 words toward the goal and I can’t think of where I want to take it just yet.

As Ray Bradbury said, “I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.” I write what I can when I can, and write the second story in an alternate color, such as green. Fortunately–once I have the ideas down for the other world, a bolt of inspiration strikes me and I am again back on track with the new nano manuscript.

write-henry david thoreau quoteAnd then there is the annoying problem of writing the back story I will never use, but which serves to cement the story in my head as I am creating it. I write that in red. At the end of November, all these things will be easy to cut and sort out by color-code. They are important in the long run–the ideas for the shelved work-in-progress will not be wasted, and the background material for the current work-in-progress is there so that my world and my characters will have substance in my mind when I write them.

ok to write garbage quote c j cherryhThis is my month of writing madly–of dedicating all my time to the craft. My month of chicken-pot-pies and frozen pizza.  This is the month when my daughters do all the work of preparing the upcoming holiday meal and I steal a few brief hours to play with the babies.

And perhaps write a few notes in my notebook as ideas strike me. And the best part is, all this garbage I spew today will have a long journey through the editing process before it hits the pages of an actual book.

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