Book review of  Harlem Shuffle  by Colson Whitehead September 20, 2023   Harlem Shuffle starts in 1959 and follows five years in the life of Carney, a man who, like New York City itself, operates half above and half below the water line of respectability. Carney’s legit side is that of a small business owner selling furniture to the local clientele. His criminal side comes from his father’s influence, and from his cousin Freddy, who’s a soft magnet for trouble, but who is family, after all. Carney operates in these two parallel worlds and takes the dichotomy more or less for granted. It’s a rational, inevitable series of choices for Whitehead’s average-man protagonist, even as we watch him indulge in some revenge. This, then, is the Shuffle: Casey moves down into the depths then up for air again, never quite good enough for his wife’s family nor the Harlem aristocracy, yet never quite bad enough for the hustlers and tough guys who keep barging into his life. All the characters circle a

Book Review - A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

Book review of  A Brightness Long Ago  by Guy Gavriel Kay   When is historical fiction an historical fantasy instead? When there are two moons in the sky––that’s all you need. And every name––from the god ‘Jad’ to city of ‘Sarantium’––has taken a quarter shift to the left, but still, you know where you are. This is what Guy Gavriel Kay does, and he does it so well. I suspect there are writers who try to render 1500s Venice in a realistic way, but Kay does it better than most, and without calling it Venice. The freedom of writing near-historical fiction is that you can be absolved of all mistakes by the history police, while at the same time letting your characters participate in the story a bit after they’ve died, too. This works because the stakes are high, the setting is real, and the people are very human in troubled times. The troubled time in question takes place a couple of decades before  Children of Earth and Sky , and the connections are hinted at but the story doesn’t depend

Book Review: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Book review of  The Lincoln Highway , by Amor Towles   If you want to study how to make memorable characters, take a read of  The Lincoln Highway . The three main characters are all young men recently out of juvie prison, each one absolutely distinct. Duchess is particularly delicious to read and, probably because he’s the most complex, his voice is in first person. Its fascinating as we are brought along through his peculiar rationale, half fooling the world and half fooling himself. Emmet is the two-by-four Nebraska hand who, with single-minded loyalty and a limited imagination, seems like he’ll be the driver of the novel but, turns out, it ain’t him. Wooly, the differently-minded blueblood innocent, is the most unique of all; just inhabiting his mind and following its logic seems so natural that it’s as much of a surprise to the reader as it is to him when the world crashes in. The plot was great, the settings well-staged, the details of 1954 America believable at least to someone l

Book Review: Zorrie, by Laird Hunt

  Book review of  Zorrie , by Laird Hunt   Character studies must be very difficult to write, especially if almost nothing happens by way of plot—so it’s testimony to author Laird Hunt that ‘ Zorrie ' is such an excellent read. Zorrie’s an upper Midwest farm girl, orphaned, growing up in the 1930’s. She becomes a ‘ghost girl,’ painting luminous material on to clock faces––a blithe, historical use of radium that casts a shadow of tragedy over the story. Zorrie has no superpowers—she’s average in most every way—but we get taken deep into her thoughtfulness, demonstrating that a ‘simple’ life is never that simple. Life mostly happens to Zorrie, and even her few attempts at striking out in later life lead her right back to where she started. It’s beautiful, touching, and sad. The prose, in tone, strikes me like a summer morning on a Midwest farm: too ordinary to comment on, too stunning for words. The language is spot on, not only the Indiana dialogue, but the internal voice, a matter-

Book Review - The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

Book Review:  The Name of the Wind , by Patrick Rothfuss     One of the things I look for is great world-building. Whatever the genre, it’s important, but none more so (nor more enjoyable) than in fantasy.   Patrick Rothfuss’  The Name of the Wind  delivers a comprehensive, fully-built world that seems believable and sufficiently tactile. The magic, as it’s revealed, shows a thoughtful balance of alchemy, willpower, resources and study, so that it resembles the ‘real world’ arc of discovery. While much of this world relies on a familiar, vaguely English 18 th  century backdrop, the fantastical elements of magic, beasts, and powerful figures are hugely enjoyable.   The story follows Kvothe, delivered mostly in first person, as a boy and as a teen, encountering indifference, friendship, love and power structures; some of the struggles are predictable, others delightfully surprising. Readers should be aware that, at 722 pages, this novel only gets his story partly told––and as much as I e

Character Names Part 2

Blog #4 Creating Character Names As mentioned before, one of the things I enjoy most in writing is giving my characters names. For what it’s worth, here are some of my own guidelines: Free associate : I envision my character’s appearance and personality, then see what pops out of the ol’ subconscious. Often, I’ll be writing a scene and wait until the character makes his/her entrance before I first reach for a name––and it’s amazing how often something just emerges. It’s also when I’ll often come up with half a dozen names at once; write them all down; then drop them in the text one by one. Often the first one sticks. Evolve the name : Let’s say you’ve always liked the name Rebecca (love that name) and you have a female heroine for which it seems to be perfect. Well, in fantasy, you can’t generally use ‘real’ names because they have too much association with ‘reality.’ So: evolve it. This is best done out loud. Rebecka, Rebbeka, Recca, Reaba, Berecca, Brecca, etc. When you hit the right

Character Names part 1

I love coming up with character names. Before sharing my own thoughts on name creation, I’d like to share two of my favorite sources from literature and screen. In classic literature, it’s top hats off to Charles Dickens as my favorite author of character assignation by name. Is there any question that the slimy, falsely humble character in  David Copperfield  is perfectly named as  Uriah Heep ? What about  Mr. Bumble , the officious beadle of  Oliver Twist ? Or my personal favorite, to be found in  Great Expectations , the ever-stinting  Mr. Pumblechook ? Bad guys are actually easier to name, but certain ‘good guy’ names are also expertly done, such as the eponymous  Oliver Twist . Arguably the greatest good/bad character name combination in literature is found in  A Christmas Carol , with the axis of the defenseless innocent  Tiny Tim  and the grasping villain of  Ebeneezer Scrooge . Just saying these names out loud is a pleasure! In the movie world, it’s a tip of the helmet to  Star