Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fifteen Books

This is a more detailed response to a friend's question on Facebook. She was asking for a list of fifteen books that will always stay with you. I liked this question (primarily because I love books and reading), and wanted to go into the reasons why I chose the books that I did. So, here they are...

Tunnels in the Sky - Robert Heinlein
This was the first science fiction book I read, after a friend in Junior High School explained to me what science fiction was. Part of my routine back then was to read in bed for a little bit before falling asleep. With this book, however, I stayed up all night, finishing it just before it was time to get up and get ready for school. The first thing I did when I got to school was go to the library, return 'Tunnels,' and find the beginning of the science fiction. I started with "Nightfall and Other Stories," by Isaac Asimov and by the end of the year had reached "Damnation Alley," by Robert Zelazny.

The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
The four book boxed set was a Christmas gift from an older cousin of mine when I was thirteen. Didn't know what to make of it ("What's a... Hobbit?"). Finally started reading it during summer vacation. Ended up reading the whole set more twice more before summer over. After that, I was scouring libraries and book stores for books that had maps in them of places that had never been.

Dungeons & Dragons, Basic Set, 1st Edition - Gay Gygax
Found this in a toy store with my best friend from Jr. High School. We took it home, read the rules and started to play. Two years later, I had a detailed map of an entire continent that that I had created, with lists of people that existed only in my mind and those of my circle of friends I played with. It's a pity that they never found all of the secret places I had created for them to find.

All three of these books were read in the same year. It was like a one-two-three combination. Before them, I was telling my parents, relatives and teachers that I wanted to become a doctor. After reading them, I could only think of creating my own imaginary people and places and telling stories about them.

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
Like Billy Pilgrim, I often find myself feeling "unstuck with time." This book gave me an understanding of a feeling before I was old enough to have it. I later went on to read most of Vonnegut's books. These days I wonder if my life isn't being controlled by the Ramjac Corporation.

Dune - Frank Herbert
In my opinion the single greatest science fiction novel ever. It touches on Environmentalism and Ecology, Religion and the nature of Heroism. It also touches on how having a cause can change a person, something particularly relevant today.

A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
The scene when the solider is slowly dying on the ambulance is particularly staggering. I've reread that page alone at least a dozen times.

Of Arms and Men - Robert L. O'Connell
An anthropological look at military history. It treats countries and cultures as creatures either trying to dominate one another (like male deer in a herd) or preying upon each other (like a cougar following the deer). It shows how the selection of weapons and military training of a country is as much an expression of how they think of themselves as a people, and by reflection how they regard their enemy, as an practical decision to further their cause. Eye opening.

Sefer Yetzirah
One of the oldest and most highly regarded books from the Jewish mystical tradition called the Kabbalah (that's the real Kabbalah, not the Hollywoodised version promoted by a certain famous singer). The concept that there is a ideal version of Me in the future who is trying to reach back and change me in order to be still infects my brain.

Art of War - Sun Tsu
It's when I forget the principles in this book is when I find myself in trouble at work. Time to read it yet another time.

Acting Power - Robert Cohen
A cybernetic and synergistic approach to acting. It takes the principles of the Stanislavski Method and frames it in a simple yet powerful approach where you define your character by defining the characters and obstacles you are playing with. I would recommend it to anyone who claims to be a serious actor.

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen - H. Beam Piper
A Pennsylvania State Policeman is sent to an alternate dimension where the Aryan tribes of Central Asia migrated East through Asia to North America instead of West into Europe. Another book I read multiple times. It left me with the feeling that anyone can be great if they can find the world they belong in. It also inspired me to memorize the formula for making gunpowder... Just in case.

Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein
One of the books I read during my march through Lorbeer Jr. High School's Library's science fiction collection. I bought a copy for my own library at home and read it multiple times since then. I would recommend avoiding the movie that stole its name and concepts and read this instead.

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
There is a fine line between genius and a quixotic figure jousting at your particular windmill. This novel will help you see that line.

Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
Much darker and more intrigue oriented than the movie adaptations that have been made. A review of the book when it was first published coined the term "cloak and dagger." My dream is to write my own screenplay adaptation that is closer to the feel of the novel.

The 300 - Frank Miller
Reading this graphic novel taught me how to write comic books. I wasn't as successful in getting my scripts published as I wanted to be, but I would have had no success if I hadn't read this glorious piece of visual storytelling. It also taught me that comic books and manga have their own power and are more than mere sources for the Hollywood movie machine.

Honorable Mention - Genki: An Integrated Approach to Japanese
It occurred to me while thinking up this list that, whenever someone is asked about their favorite books they never mention textbooks they used in school. Writing a good text book as as much an art as writing a good novel, perhaps even more so. This two volume set fanned my desire to learn another language and gave me the tools to progress.

That's it. Please let me know what you think and what your fifteen books would be.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Story Generator

Hello, Out There...!

With that nod to Mr. Saroyan, I'm coming back to my blog, hopefully to stay this time.

For various reason that will probably come out in subsequent posts, the focus of my writing has shifted. I'm currently working on a series of short stories sent in a future timeline I've created that I call "The Tauian Adventure." It focuses on Humanity's history after we are contacted by an alien race that comes to be known as 'The Tau.' They arrive in orbit on April 1, 2023 (Four-One-Two-Three). They help us keep from destroying ourselves and then, after a few years, they leave without an explanation, taking hundreds of thousands of people with them. More about this ongoing project in future posts.


This is a method of generating ideas for stories that I got years ago and decided to share. It was from one of the gazillion books on writing that I've purchased over the years. If I can remember which one, I'll post the title.

It works like this... Take three things that happen to you on any given day. They don't have to be related. In fact, it's often better if the events are completely unrelated. Write a paragraph describing each event. For example, three things that happened to me were: Being stopped at a red light in downtown L.A. while the police barricaded the street ahead of me, having someone not show up for an appointed meeting, meeting someone begging for money with a story about having to pay for their hospital treatment.

Once you've written about the events, write down something you believe in. The depth or strength of the belief is not as important as the fact it is something you really do feel or think. "People should be kind to each other," or "Aliens are sending signals to my brain," can both work as long as they are honest beliefs.

Once you have these four paragraphs down, make this realization: All of the stuff you've written about is related. Intimately related. In my example above, the person not showing up for the appointment, the police blocking the road, and the person begging for money to pay a doctor, all of these events are part of the same story. The belief you wrote down, let's say, "people always fulfill their responsibilities," is the theme that ties these events together.

I've found this method to be remarkable in giving me situations and characters that reeked of story telling potential. And you don't necessarily have to limit yourself to events of a single day. Something that happened to you as a child, linked with something from last year, linked to something you maybe want to happen tomorrow can all work.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.