So many books, so little time

One of the maddening ironies of writing books is that it leaves so little time for reading others’. My bedside is piled with books, but it’s duty reading: books for book research, books for reviews. The ones I pine for are off on a shelf downstairs — Mary Roach

Since I was little, I have loved and enjoyed reading. Reading was never a chore especially when what you were reading was something interesting. Reading only became a chore when you had to read something for school or university and all you could see were words strung together to make a sentence but still couldn’t parse the meaning.

It was also during that time, you figured out what you liked and didn’t like to read. There have been a handful of books I couldn’t finish because they would literally put me to sleep or I would forced myself to read it but nothing stuck in my head.

I remember taking three university literature courses — 20th Century American literature, British literature and Canadian literature. Of the three, I enjoyed American literature the most. British literature was my most befuddling course. Maybe it had something to do with the professor’s delivery of the course materials. Maybe my brain wasn’t wired for the classics at the time. I still don’t think my brain is wired for the British classics. I loved Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (I read that book in junior high) but it isn’t enough to get a solid foothold on understanding and dissecting British literature.

And while I loved my 20th Century American literature course, the one book I couldn’t get into was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog the high degree of distaste I have for that book. Couldn’t get past page 11. That was it. Threw the book away. Still passed the course, though.

So, to cleanse the sour taste of being unable to read something that is considered a classic, I would go off and read something more grounded and slightly feral. That meant reading Michel Foucault and erotica. Not together. You know what I mean. Yes, I know… odd combination. That’s how I roll.

But I was pretty picky about the erotica, too. You get that way after you read enough of them. As in any genre, not all writers are the same. You click with some writers. And the ones you don’t click with… well… you don’t have to like everyone. You just have to like a few. Some stories I favoured more than others because of their ability to hook me into the scene (notice how I didn’t say ‘story’?That’s because I don’t remember any storylines) or there was some sort of shared sensibility I had with author that shone through the writing.

Post-university, I found myself not making enough time to read, just for the share pleasure of reading. I read newspapers and magazines… easily consumable copy that didn’t require more than maybe 20 minutes out of the day. But a 150-page, 200-page or 300-page book? Nah, didn’t make much time for those despite the fact I still had a habit of walking into a bookstore and buying novels that caught my eye, thinking I would read them ‘soon’. I know… pretty funny, eh?

I’m not ashamed to say that some of those books have never had their pages experience late-night maulings from me. I still have them. Not sure when I’m going to maul them. But they’re there when I want them.

However, I’m afraid they have a bit of a wait still because I have some (what I really mean is, a lot of) books that I need to read in the name of research for my writing project. Then there are two separate piles of ‘research’ books for two separate story ideas I’d like to explore after the current writing project. THEN, there is another pile I want to read just for the shear pleasure of reading. That pile is located at my bedside. You don’t want to know where my research piles are located.

It’s all organized chaos. Although something tells me I need to do some culling of the herd. I guess that means some books may never be mauled by me. But they’ll get a chance to be mauled by someone else. And that is always a good thing for a book.

So now, I have piles of books waiting to be ravished and I have a writing project that demands my attention. Throw in life and you’ve got an interesting juggling act. I suppose this is where I apply my time management skills but I think that more for the office than for life. I manage my time but it’s not rigid. Everything is fluid. For some people, that sounds like a horrible idea. For me, I don’t think so. I prioritize. Prioritizing works with fluidity. Rigid adherence to a schedule… not so much.

Can’t really complain, though. I’m surrounded by things that want my attention, and they are things I want to give my attention to. I’ll work my way through the piles of books and still have time for my writing projects. It’s not quite bliss.

But it’s damn close.

Tugging at my bindings

When I get an idea for a book, something appeals to me, it’s usually a character. I’ll see a picture of a female marshal in front of the courthouse in Miami and she’s got a shotgun on her hip and it goes up on an angle. And she’s good-looking. And I say, ‘I’ve got to use her’ — Elmore Leonard

When it comes to starting a new writing project, it always revolves around, not one, but two characters born out of an interesting idea. That is how it was with my first book. That is how it is with the modest pile of story ideas currently sitting in my figurative keepsake box, waiting for me to revisit them or explore them beyond the one sentence description.

And clearly, that is how it is with my current writing project. Two characters who barreled their way into my imagination, disrupting the development of another story idea, forcing me to temporarily set aside that story idea for these two bundles of energy who have made it their mission to never allow me to ignore them for any extended period of time.

Apparently, they’re done being quiet and allowing me to go about my business during this extended time period that I am in. My two boys don’t come up to me and tell me point blank that they need playtime with me. This time, they sneak up on me ninja-style, which is pretty hilarious given how loud and energetic they are. Even when they’re quiet, the air ripples around them.

To be honest, it’s my own bloody fault. I’m starting to tug at the bindings that have me bound to the commitments I have outside from my boys. Then I started thinking about a particular plot point that popped into my head as I was driving yesterday afternoon. I’m seriously considering adding this plot point to my boys’ story. It would also expand a third character’s role in the story and would make the dynamic more than interesting between the three characters. This has the potential to play out in new, exciting and thrilling ways for everyone involved.

Of course, as soon as this plot point popped up, one of the boys fired off a grenade launcher and the other ran around banging two trash can lids together, both yelling “Hell ya!!!!!!” Yes, I know that’s a lot of exclamation marks. That’s how bloody excited they are.

They’re incorrigible.

That means the new plot point goes in. When your characters whole-heartedly want (it’s actually more like, demand) you to add this twist into the story, you can’t say ‘no.’ I do like the twist. It might offend some people’s sensibilities but I really couldn’t give a fuck about that, right now.

As for the reaction of the third character whose role has become much more intriguing (and possibly a little more frightening), she’s pretty pleased. She doesn’t jump around like those two hotheads. She’s ready to sink her teeth into what I’ve come up with for her.

I’m happy to be developing her beyond being a prop. I’ve always wanted her to be more than that and it has niggled at me since she came to life. I’ve always believed she was meant to do more, be more than whatever archetypal conventions could cast upon her. I needed her to deviate, even if it’s just a little. And this twist is what she has been waiting for. The glint in her eyes when she realizes I have more in store for her, tells me this is the right thing to do.

Now when I think of her, Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman comes to mind. But the version of the song that plays in my head is performed by Halestorm. It’s a great cover, by the way.

After my non-writing commitments have been met, it’s back to my characters. I’m still tugging at my bindings. But I know my boys will cut me loose.

Probably sooner than I expect.

Can’t make this sh*t up, folks

I’m sure everyone has heard the sayings ‘you can’t make up shit like this’, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’ or some other phrase that shares the same sentiment.

Well, this week I am presenting a ‘you can’t make up shit like this’ story for your entertainment.

It started out innocently enough. Flew out to Toronto last Friday to catch the Game of Thrones live concert experience, featuring the show’s music composer, Ramin Djawadi. The show was held Saturday at Air Canada Centre. Great show, by the way. I went to see the concert because first and foremost, I love Djawadi’s compositions. The Game of Thrones angle? An afterthought, for me. Should he ever decide to do this again, perhaps after the series ends, I will see him again. Maybe by then, I’ll have watched the entire series. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

I’ve admitted before that I have not seen one episode of Game of Thrones. It still holds true. I still haven’t gotten around to seeing the series. There are too many quality TV programs and great films to watch. There’s too much reading I need to do. Then, there’s life that keeps moving along whether or not you want it to. It’s a heck of a juggling act.

The show weaved the music with some of the show’s most talked-about scenes and spotlighted some of their most compelling and enigmatic characters. I gotta say I’m definitely intrigued by the show. My soft spot for dragons has been strengthened and I may have developed a bit of bloodlust while experiencing the show. There were some powerful moments during the concert — potent enough for me to get a little teary-eyed at least three times. That is the power of marrying images and music together.

The audience — maybe 99.9% were hardcore fans — was into the whole experience. Cheers, screams, unsolicited advice for the poor bastard who dies in the next clip, could be heard quite heartily throughout the arena. It was pretty funny. Even the dude selling popcorn got into it before the show started. He spoke as if he were from the fictional world of Westeros. Gotta use what’s at your disposal to sell popcorn, right?

I snagged a couple of t-shirts at one of the merchandise tables. Fingers crossed that they don’t shrink after being washed. But I’m pretty careful with my clothes so I think they’ll be okay.

So, the evening was a visual feast and I left feeling good about the whole live concert experience. Up to that point, nothing about the evening was ever in contention to own the phrase ‘you can’t make up shit like this.’

So, let me tell you my first ever ‘you can’t make up shit like this’ story. I’m kind of channelling Ben Mendelsohn because that man has a great delivery and has the best burst-out-laugh ever.

It started with me arriving back to the hotel (which shall remain unnamed) after the concert. It was after 11 pm on a Saturday night. I had skipped a full dinner because I was having tummy troubles. I did manage to eat a protein bar before the concert started.

Of course, by the time I got back in the hotel room, I decided I needed something to eat. Hey, there’s a Tim Horton’s not far from the hotel. So, I wandered back out, grabbed a chicken salad croissant sandwich and headed back to the hotel. The lobby was full of guests just arriving from God-knows-where. Mainly families with small children. Most of them had made their way up to their appointed rooms and the last family just took the last elevator by the time I got back into the lobby.

So, I waited for the next elevator which arrived about 10 seconds later. To be honest, I like having the elevator to myself. More room in an enclosed space. The next time the elevator doors slid open was at the second floor. I wasn’t paying attention and almost bumped into a guy entering the elevator. Didn’t bump into him because I realized it wasn’t my floor. Stopped myself just in time and backed up a couple of steps. We acknowledged each other. He was shirtless. Okay, I thought, he just came from the fitness centre. Peripherally, I noticed he was barefoot. Seen that before. The carpets were pretty clean so his feet probably weren’t all that dirty. Short trip from the second floor to whatever floor his room was located.

He walked into the elevator and I realized the guy was naked as a newborn baby. Seeing a bare-naked ass less than three feet away from you in an elevator is one of those things you don’t count on finding. Well, I found it. The guy had a towel draped over his forearm which concealed the family jewels. I had assumed he was wearing shorts. Silly me. The dude had a nice ass, though. I’ll admit it. He had a shaved head, trimmed facial hair, no discernible tattoos that I were visible to me. He was fit.

I’m impressed that he was pretty casual about his nakedness. Good thing he didn’t take the elevator with the family in it. That would have been awkward. I opted to not gawk at him because that would be plain rude. Kept my eyes on the elevator doors, looked at the croissant sandwich I was holding with my left hand and kept my right hand in my coat pocket.

Keeping it casual after 11 pm on a Saturday night in an elevator.

His floor was above mine if you were wondering which floor he was staying on. Or… maybe he was visiting someone on the floor above and his room is actually on the second floor. So many ways this could go. The imagination will run rampant if you let it.

I’m positive there wasn’t a sauna listed as a hotel feature for guests. There is a fitness centre and a boardroom located on the second floor. I’m just a little baffled as to why he would be going about his business in his birthday suit.

Was I offended by his casual nakedness? Nope. My mother would have been if she was there. Not me. I’m just surprised that I get to tell a story like this because it actually happened to me. This is hilarious. You hear strange stories from friends and acquaintances, and depending how strange the story is, you either wished it had happened to you or wished it would never ever happen to you.

I’m thinking I’m the only one out of my friends who has shared an elevator with a naked man. And I am now part of the ‘strange, but true’ club. If I ever need to break the ice at a party, I’ll just pull this ditty out of my pocket and share.

Call me strange but I consider sharing an elevator with a naked man one of life’s interesting highlights.