Stay Crazy: A New POV on Mental Illness

Well, I’d like to start this review by saying, I ACTUALLY FINISHED THIS BOOK!!

Honestly, this is a bit of an accomplishment for me considering the last book I actually finished was Easy Go back in the beginning of July (and before that? a guide to freelancing back in May!!). I guess that doesn’t seem like a long time but I think I’ve started about a book a week since then and haven’t made it through a single one of em. I suppose that’s another post altogether.

StayCrazyCoverAnyway . . . Stay Crazy. Erica Satifka’s debut novel is really something different. Narrated from the point of view of a Schizophrenic protagonist, there is a lot that we could expect from just the premise alone. We’re used to reading Gothic tales of large houses and doppelgangers which we use as metaphors to explore the psyche and glean inferences of what it might be like to have such an affliction. Those stories never leave us feeling anything good towards whatever condition they’re attempting to expound upon. Stay Crazy is much more practical . . . and much more modern.

We don’t have castles or crypts but instead a big-box discount store. We don’t have nameless horrors (although we kind of do), but we do have a detective calling the shots from another dimension (basically aliens). And we also have a snarky college dropout who knows that a frozen dinner couldn’t really be talking to her, but that doesn’t matter as she can still hear what it’s saying and it sounds pretty important.

What I liked about the book is that the take feels so genuine. Satifka isn’t trying to reach some fundamental of mental illness that we have to tease out or extrapolate. She’s writing about one condition that she has clearly done her homework on, and has built a character and story around. And once things start moving, it becomes a nail-biter pretty quickly.

My only problem with the story is that we don’t have any other points of view. We are in a constant state of: “Is this really happening?” or “Ok but what’s really going on?”. I suppose the answer to that question isn’t super important and actually, it was probably a shrewd move on the author’s part not to give us closure as I expect people living with a mental illness of this type never get a definitive answer either.

My last criticism of the story relates to what I said above. There are a few scenes that I could’t really place in the overall narrative other than just general craziness which would perhaps be a symptom (side effect?) of the character’s struggle with mental illness. I suppose these sequences helped get across the point of “this is what it’s like” but I never did figure out if they served some other purpose as well.

In all, this is definitely a book I would talk to my friends about (and have already done so) if for nothing more than it seems unique. I’ve not yet read a book that attempts to make someone with Schizophrenia the focus point of a novel. And if I have, I’ve not yet read one that does so in a way that doesn’t paint them as some kind of freak or villain, but as someone who struggling towards a better life, and happens to have some extra obstacles thrown in their way.

Until next time . . . Stay Crazy😉

 

Easy Go: A Different Crichton

Easy Go - CoverMichael Crichton’s Easy Go was both a pleasure and a let down to read. The book was originally published under a pseudonym John Lange, and with the title The Last Tomb. I first became aware of “Easy Go” (and John Lange) through a Humble Bundle mystery bundle in which it was included. Though none of the other books in the bundle seemed remotely interesting, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Michael Crichton had a pseudonym . . .

And that I didn’t already know about him!

I mean this was MICHAEL CHRICHTON!!! The author of some of my absolute favorite books! Sphere, Timeline, State of Fear, Next! For god’s sake, he wrote Jurassic Park!! 

JURASSIC F–ing PARK!!

Hell, I even enjoyed Pirate Latitudes although it was a bit of a left turn for Crichton. But this whole time, John Lange has been lurking out there, waiting. And no one bothered to tell me. Le sigh.

Anyway, I looked up the synopsis and Easy Go promised adventure and danger, and romance. Honestly, it all seemed a bit more like one of those old pulpy adventure novels than a true Michael Crichton book. However, Crichton is an amazing author and I figured if anyone could do this right it was him. Plus the story takes place in Egypt and is about digging up a tomb. It’s exactly this setting and premise that I’ve been itching for modern authors to write but alas am unfulfilled.

Zero Cool

No Chill Brah

So how was it? A bit of a let down. While the synopsis had made it seem like one of those old pulpy adventure novels, the actual novel confirmed it. Most of the characters in the novel are hardly characters at all. They fill roles, and exist mostly to get the protagonist to the next portion of the plot. And there is no attempt to hide this from the reader at all. One of the characters, upon meeting another character, is like “Oh. You must be the [enter heist role hear] “.

Also, there were some little things throughout the novel that made it really feel dated. I think the most glaring was the way women were depicted in the novel. Almost every woman in the novel except the main love interest was a prostitute. The pretty much constant innuendo between the male and female lead was bordering on exhausting (although there is a line from the female lead which calls this out. After the male lead makes some mildly suggestive quip she says something like “Wow. You’re so corny.” or some such nonsense).

I really threw in the towel when Lisa (the female lead) lights a cigarette for Pierce (male lead) and it’s noticed how capable she is at this task: “like a man”. Good lord. Kill me now.

However, it wasn’t all bad. Crichton seems to have done his research about ancient Egypt (though his depiction of modern Egypt seemed a bit stereotypical). So far as I can tell, all the pyramids were in the right place (I’ll be honest though I didn’t fact check) and a significant number of pharaohs are mentioned. It was this part of it that made the book feel the most like a Crichton novel. The rest of it was . . . disappointing.

In all I enjoyed the adventure as well as the fact that it had something to do with Ancient Egypt. As for the rest, I can see why he chose to write under a pseudonym though it’s a wonder he chose to write that way at all.

Until next time . . .

But Seriously, this is “How to Start a Freelancing Career From Scratch” by Aja Frost

Normally I post don’t on things like this. Normally, blogging is more about escaping work than starting it. But, if there is anything I’ve learned about writing, it’s that if you like it . . .  you should be payed for it.

I’ll admit that a lot of the reason I haven’t been posting very often recently is because I thought I had come to an important realization:

pablo (4)

This image is brought to you by Pablo. A little trick I learned from reading Aja Frost.

But of course . . .

I was wrong.

Aja Frost is getting paid to write. And she’s going to help the rest of us get paid too.

I’ve found myself reading articles from Aja through a variety of publications. First I read her articles on The Muse which I’d subscribed to for general professional advice and job postings. As I’d started doing more work online, the library bought a VR head set, and my journalism degree was starting to wind to a close, I was seeing connections between VR, journalism and web design in the heretofore unknown topic of User Experience (UX). Her article “What VR can teach us about UX” really tied it all together in a way I would never have realized on my own.

Of course I started following her newsletter. And when it was announced that she had released her first ebook! I had to check it out.

AjaBook1And so, I began reading “How to Start a Feelance Writing Career From Scratch“. I’ll admit that I gave freelancing a shot.  But I never quite figured out how to do it well enough to go full time and earn a reasonable living. It seems that every hurtle I came across and never surmounted, Aja has surpassed.

The beauty of this book is in its detail, and its specificity (and it’s only 62 pages!). For instance, there is a section of the book that talks about setting up a professional email account. It explicitly talks about the peril of trying to use your work email or school email professionally. Perhaps to someone just starting out, this seems like something that isn’t a terribly big deal (although it is probably one of the easiest things in the book to accomplish).

It is a big deal! I once contacted a prospective client through a “work” email address. My employer found out about it and seized control of the email account, then preceded to harass the client. I was able to get paid for the job I completed but I’ve never felt comfortable reaching out to that client for future work. I also don’t work for that employer anymore.

I will say that one of my strengths is writing emails. I’m always professional but also can “read the room” and often know when a more colloquial tone is appropriate. What I’ve never been able to do is write a contract. I’m not a lawyer and I always assumed that I needed to be one to reach an agreement with prospective clients. Aja takes the mysticism out of this and provides you with templates and examples. She’s done this a million times and knows what is what. Listen to her!

Finally, one of my favorite things about this book is its list of resources. There are hundreds of tools out there for someone looking to get into the freelancing game, and Aja knows which ones work best. I was happy to see we share some tools like Evernote (although I’m not entirely sure I didn’t start using Evernote because of something Aja wrote earlier on), but there were many I’d never seen at all. I will certainly be investigating.

In all, “How to Start a Freelance Writing Career From Scratch” is a quick read but a long study. I can see reading this once to get the general idea of the process, put coming back to it time and time again as I experiment with the different strategies (and tools!) listed within.  

Who knows? Maybe now that I’ve got Aja’s book at my side, I can give freelancing another shot.

 

 

 

 

Not quite finding Flow

It was very unclear what to expect from this book when I first picked it up. I’ve been hearing about this book off and on for a while now. When it showed up in the ‘further reading’ section of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I thought maybe it was time to actually give it a read.

flow1

1990 cover. Throw back!

I’m not disappointed but I didn’t find this work as life changing as I’d been lead to believe.

I was first surprised by the fact that this book is old. Published in the same year I was born (1990), both this book and I have reached one quarter of a century. And while I am relatively obscure, this book has had 25 years to permeate the culture in which we live.

It has, and I believe that is part of the reason this book was so difficult to get through. When people say Seinfeld isn’t funny, they mean that the things which made Seinfeld novel and groundbreaking as a sitcom, have all been used and perhaps over-used by other shows which came after. Themes and techniques which Seinfeld brought to the scene, have been improved on, or even perfected by other comedies later on. New things have emerged.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience seems to have suffered a bit in the same way. While it was interesting to have certain terms coined (ex. psychic energy, flow etc.), and defined with exacting precision, it seemed to me that the main thesis of this work was no longer novel.

flow2For example, Csikszentmihalyi describes conditions which need to be met in order for Flow to occur. Essentially, we need to find a task which a) matches/pushes our ability, b) brings us closer to some goal we’ve set. He goes on to state that if the activity is too easy, we’ll grow bored and if it is too difficult, we will give up. I wouldn’t call this discovery earth shattering but it also isn’t completely irrelevant either. Useful to consider if seemingly a bit obvious. Much of the wisdom in Flow can be ascribed as such.

I suppose, what we are meant to take away from this work is that we are happy when our abilities are tested, and we succeed. For Csikszentmihalyi, when we’ve found a task that matches/pushes our ability, and brings us closer to something we value, our consciousness expands. We become more complex and in doing so, achieve greater happiness.

What Flow is useful for, is prompting introspection. What activities do you perform (whether at work, or leisure) that generate flow? Which don’t? Can they be made to? How do they bring you closer towards your goals? What are your goals? Why? What activities do you do simply for the sheer enjoyment of doing them?

I won’t lie, thinking about all that is a bit like staring into the abyss. But it’s worth a look. For me, it was very useful to look at my activities and really isolate my motivations. Some activities I started for seemingly external reasons (ie the wrong reasons) but continue because I’ve found that I really do enjoy them.

Hmm. Maybe I learned something from this book after all😉

Until next time . . .

 

 

Nostalgia, Computer Personalities & Detective Fiction: A Review of Adam Christopher’s Made to Kill

RooooBbbbooottttt

RooooBbbbooottttt

Recently I was able to read and (mostly) enjoy an advanced reader copy of Made to Kill by Adam Christopher. In essence, this book is a detective story in which the detective has been replaced by a Robot who is also an assassin (hence Made to Kill). The book seems pretty heavy on the detection and light on the assassin but I’m probably just nitpicking. Now, I say mostly enjoyed because while I was reading this book, I felt like I wasn’t enjoying it, but I kept going, eventually finished and ended up thinking about a lot of things along the way. This is more than I can say about some of the “deep” books I’ve read in the past. Here are my thoughts:

I Spy

The first thing I’ll say is that this book is a veritable I Spy of detective fiction. It seems like most if not all of the elements in this story link back to or reference something in detective fiction. For me, a good deal of the fun of reading this work was seeing all the references, and trying to search out others. I’m sure there are a good many others I didn’t find (please post any I missed in the comments section). Here are the allusions I was able to pick out:

  • The main character Ray appears to be a clear homage to detective novelist Raymond Chandler. I won’t ask for any points for figuring this out. Not too much detection needed, but you know, start with the low hanging fruit.
  • Ray’s creator Thornton. This one caught me by surprise. I read most of the novel before looking Chandler up on wikipedia to see if there were any other obvious allusions. Turns out Thornton is Chandler’s middle name. Learn something new every day.
  • Ray’s control computer / secretary is named Ada. I think this might be a call back to Ada Lovelace, who is credited with writing some of the first analytical algorithms and generally thought of as one of the first, if not the first, computer programmer. Well done there.
  • Rico Spillane is one of the A-list actors Ray comes across in his detection. I believe this is likely a call back to Mickey Spillane, another detective novelist.
  • Finally, and this one is a bit of a stretch. The Daily News is brought up a few times through out the book. Apparently Chandler wrote for a paper titled The Daily Express. I mean, Daily News is probably the name of a thousand papers so it might not have anything to do with Chandler, but maybe it does.

I’m sure there are many more to be found if I’d spent some more time researching / knew more about detective fiction, but that was all I came up with on a first read through. Oooh and if you like a little innuendo in your detective fiction, my personal favorite was a character named Touch Daley. A government agent. lols.

Nostalgia

Raymond Chandler writing? Reading? Solving the case!

Raymond Chandler writing? Reading? Solving the case!

As I’m going along, living my life, consuming more and more culture, I’ve realized we’re in a very nostalgic moment right now. I think Made to Kill is a great example of this. I think the most basic premise here is simply: Robot detective. So why set this story in the 1965? Of course, I’m thinking about Mad Men (note: this book is nothing like Mad Men). In a way, I think the success of Mad Men has garnered a legion of fiction set during the 50’s and into the 60’s which in essence don’t belong there. Consequently the quality of shows like Mad Men also have set the bar super high for any fiction that’s even remotely similar. Made to Kill strikes me as a story best written in a modern or even future setting. While atomic technology, radiation, Gieger Counters, etc. all were prominent fears in the 50’s and 60’s, they’re still things that we need to worry about now, or will have to worry about when it’s more likely that a robot will be investigating it.

But, I think right now, much of our culture is looking back at the elegance and abundance that was the 50’s and 60’s and romanticizing it. Shows like Mad Men are successful because they present that elegance and abundance as a facade, with the harsh reality of that time (racism, sexism, elitism etc.) just underneath. It resonates with us because we still have those issues today. Unfortunately, Made to Kill seems to only provide the romance of the 50’s / 60’s but doesn’t touch any modern concerns. However, if you’d like to just read a story about a robot detective in the hard-boiled mode, then Made to Kill has you covered and does a fantastic job with the form of hard-boiled detective fiction.

Personality of Computers

Ray and Ada aren’t computers they’re people. We’re constantly reminded that while Ray might hear the squeak of Ada’s chair or a pause in her speech while as she draws back on her cigarette, there is no reason for her to do these things. Just as there is no reason for Ray to bother with a trench coat, or even pants for that matter. Lots of little signals, that in the past told readers they were reading a detective story, seem completely erroneous. Almost vestigial considering that our two main leads are computers. I suspect that it could be read as a comment on the future of this type of tech. As we rush towards ever increasing sophistication in our computers, there might be little ‘human’ elements to their ‘personality’ (computernality?) that are random or even programmed so that we as people can better interact with them.  I’m not really sure. Food for thought . . .

Well that’s all for now folks. Please leave comments if you have any. Also, send me some hints about other detective fiction allusions that I missed. Now get detecting!