Friday, October 23, 2015

An Interview With Punk Writers

I've recently started working with a group of talented punk writers at Punk Writers. As part of a recent writing project I've written a piece for the upcoming collection "Merely This and Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk." It's a series of stories and poems originally written by Poe, reimagined in various punk genres. As part of that project, I've just done an interview for the PunkWriters website. You can find it here. Enjoy! And if you're a fan of punk genres (steampunk, cyberpunk, splatterpunk, etc.) be sure to keep an ear out not just for "Merely This and Nothing More" but also "Once More Unto the Breach; Shakespeare Goes Punk Vol. II." 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Review: "Storm Front" by Jim Butcher, Dresden Files Book #1

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files are an ongoing series that has achieved a cult status. I've long been suspicious of the urban fantasy genre, since it's a rare thing indeed to find an author who can successfully meld modern living with the legends and power of the world of Faerie. Friends and fellows in the book world have long been suggesting I read Jim Butcher to disprove my stereotype of urban fantasy as too awkwardly meshed or romance-heavy.

I'd say that "Storm Front" is like reading a film noir, much like I described "Shovel Ready" by Adam Sternbergh. But these are two very different novels, not just because of the magical element in Jim Butcher's work; "Storm Front" is classic Bogart where "Shovel Ready" is "Sin City" in the future. Butcher has a much classier, ironic and self-deprecating voice that I immediately adored, and when the plot or certain characters started to disenchant me I stuck with it because of the writing's voice.

Harry Dresden is a modern-day wizard. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. And he thinks it too. It's ridiculous that here in present-day Chicago, he's marketing himself as a practicing wizard. Part of that ridiculousness is that business isn't so hot. But every now and then his associate at the Chicago Police Department brings him in on peculiar cases, and that's how "Storm Front" begins. What follows is an intricately woven tale of murder, mystery and magic with a quirky but lovable good guy who always winds up in the bad situations, an evildoer who is one of those love-to-hate-'em bad guys, and a brief introduction to Harry's dark past and the way that magic interacts with the modern world.

The balance that Butcher strikes between modern-day settings and is well-done in this first volume, focusing on humans who go looking for trouble rather than magical beings that cause havoc. I found this setup much more reasonable than the sort of thing that was played out in "Jackaby" by Raymond William Ritter. The danger that he faces is real, and the snarky, "of course this would happen to me" sort of humor that Dresden adopts as he tracks down a necromancer, avoids the mob and stays out of jail is downright fun to read.

What got to me were some of the social implications that came from the narrative style that's part of that feel of classic film noir. Some of the character tropes were just too spot-on, to the point where I cringed at the implied sexism that went with them. Dresden is the classic down-and-out hero, who retains his manners and a sense of chivalry despite his poor financial circumstances; Murphy is the tough broad with a heart of gold; Susan is the smart, sexy but lacking in self-preservation love interest. I had to keep reminding myself not to get up in arms about how all the women needed rescuing (and only Dresden could do it) and how formulaic relationships, if not the plot, were. And as much as I liked Harry's character, I don't feel like I should have to keep reminding myself that a book isn't sexist. Because if I have to do that, then maybe I'm wrong.

I have so much respect for Jim Butcher as a writer who's founded one of the most iconic fantasy characters of the modern day, and "Storm Front" did help disprove my assumptions about urban fantasy. But because I felt so uncomfortable reading the stereotypical female characters in this first book, I'm not planning on reading any farther into the series. All of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher can be found at your favorite local, independent bookstore. If you're a long-time Dresden fan, make sure to check there regularly for the next release in the ongoing series!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Purpose of Note-Taking

Image result for taking notes

When I was in high school, and  even during my undergrad years, notes served one primary function: to highlight the main points of a lecture or other class material. This helped me to understand what the big takeaway points were in a class, and also helped me to study by pointing to the major points of content with big, florescent green stars and arrows.

I've just completed my first week of classes as a graduate student, and I'm already feeling the pressure of the sheer volume of literature that I have to read for my classes. An English student, I knew that I was in for a lot of reading. That's kind of the point after all. But in an academic atmosphere where I'm reading around a hundred pages of literary theory every couple of days, I've found that note-taking has taken on a new significance and purpose. Now, instead of taking notes solely to highlight the main points of an article or lecture, I'm taking them to remember what I heard and where I heard it.

These sources are important especially in light of the fact that I may need to use them for research material in the near (or distant) future, and being able to glance through an obscenely large file folder of printed articles is much easier when I've scribbled the main points near the title of each one. It also helps to connect material to different classes, underscoring its relevance in literature as a whole regarding the ideas laid out there. Being able to look at an essay by Thomas De Quincey and connect his ideas of absence as meaning with the use of space, textual and artistic, in a graphic novel is something that will be useful to me for the rest of my career. But accessing that information to make those connections is much easier when I can glance through a few pages pull the ones that say something like "meaning in absence" and "the blank space creates meaning."

Note-taking is a real art, to be certain. You have to know yourself as much as the material you're studying, what you want to get out of it and how best to organize it for your future reference, in order to get the most out of it. I'm still regaining my footing as I return to the world of academia, but note-taking is one of the skills that I'm ever so grateful to have retained from my former school years. If you're out of practice, these tips on how to take stellar academic notes from Dartmouth College should help you hone or rediscover your talents.