Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday Stuff

Just hanging around on a Saturday night. Let's see what is interesting.

Reader Book Review for Jennifer Hillier's "Creep"
I believe I have the best set of readers out there. Many long time readers have been with me since the beginning (Watchtower, 4 years!). Reader Gawains is another long term contributor here in the comments section. I sent Gawains a copy of Jennifer Hillier's novel "Creep" a while back. He was kind enough to send me a review of the book (that I passed on to Jennifer) but I figured I would put in on the blog to highlight Gawains effort and a well written review of a book I really liked. Here is Gawains:

"Okay, let’s see. We’ve got sex addiction, serial murder, dead co-eds all over the place, a kill room, dismembered bodies in the basement, one in Puget Sound, anxiety, paranoia, lust, rage, stalking, obsession, disguises, rohypnal, kidnapping, bondage, sensory deprivation, adult diapers, psychological manipulation,, a professor with a serious problem, a fiancĂ© with performance issues, a graduate student with hidden secrets, a girlfriend who is totally depraved, a private detective who doesn’t see the big picture until it almost kills him, a last minute rescue (by a Texan with a Remington 700 no less—and for those of you who don’t know, in the original Dracula, what kills the evil vampire is not a cross or a stake, but a Texan with a Bowie knife), and another killer left on the prowl. Sounds like a mosaic of modern America.

When I was a kid, my mother and sister had this thing for serial killer books, true crime novels. They would read them, and every morning at breakfast they would talk about their nightmares. Hell of a way to start the day, you know. So, finally, I started reading them. Helter Skelter, Bundy, Gacey (to this day I am afraid of clowns), the Hill Side Stranglers (that one scared me the most), I read them all. It caused me many sleepless nights, so I am well versed on this particular pathology.

As an English professor, I didn’t really teach “English.” Yeah, sure, I gave the obligatory lessons on grammar, syntax, punctuation and spelling, when I noticed recurring mistakes my students were making. What I actually taught was The Scientific Method. I never taught creative writing, although I did teach some classes on literature, which is to say literary criticism and interpretation. The same pattern applies. The key to writing an effective novel is to create interesting and believable characters, put them in situations, and see what happens. Of course, the author has an idea in mind, but it’s all about how the story unfolds. My mother read this book in one morning. She couldn’t put it down, even blew off work to finish reading it. (If you had any idea how rare that is, you don’t know her; she’s a workaholic.) But she doesn’t read the same way I do. She reads the story. I look more at how the writer structures, organizes and develops the story.

What Ms. Hillier has done in this book is off the map. Her characters are twisted, the situation bizarre, and the outcome unpredictable. I found this book engaging, though I rarely read in this genre, which is the psychological thriller, but I found it interesting. There are many plot twists, unexpected developments due to misdirection. And at the end, nothing left but fear."


Odds and Ends
Random stuff for Saturday night.

-Centralia Pennsylvania has an underground coal fire that will burn for, well, forever.

-My friend David Batista knows way too much about the game Gears of War 3.

-Do you know who Xenia is? You do now.

-Enjoy this one in a million paper airplane shot!

Have a good night.


GawainsGhost said...

You ought to be an editor.

Me, I don't work well with editors. I write what I write, and to hell with what anyone else thinks about it. My master's thesis, on Blake, was over 250 pages, with illustrations. The professor said it was the most original work on Blake he'd read in 40 years, but he wanted me to change this and that. I told him, no. I write what I write.

I can't imagine going through what Ms. Hillier had to go through to get her book published. I couldn't do it, which is why I've never submitted anything for formal publication.

One quibble though. I didn't just teach the Scientific Method, I also taught the Academic Format and the Dramatic Plot, which are all parallel. It's all about the structure, organization and development of thought, regardless of the subject matter.

Creative writing, suspense, murder mysteries, and the like, such as Ms. Hillier has written, are an entirely different genre. One that she is very adept at.

I sent Creep to my friend Kathi in West Virginia. She's another serial killer addict like my mother. I also sent her the link to your blog, so maybe she'll log on and make a comment. We'll see.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Thank you so much for the review, Gawains! You put so much thought into it. Can't tell you how much I appreciate it, and I'm glad my story entertained you.

Thanks to you also, GYSC. For reading my book, having a contest, posting this review, and for your friendship. :)

EconomicDisconnect said...

Gawains, sorry to edit it at all, but the email would not copy into the blog without massive typing fixes, not sure why. Thanks again man for the wondeful work. You know you have a guest blog post here anytime you want to write about something, you are a great writer.

No problem!

GawainsGhost said...

Ms. Hillier, I think you have a bright future as a novelist. The way you structured, organized and developed the plot was engaging to say the least. The reader never knows what's going to happen next, and that is the mark of good fiction.

I wrote and rewrote my review, but I kept changing it because I didn't want to give too much away. Creep is a book that can only be read with the element of surprise lurking on every page. I found it to be a satisfying, if somewhat terrifying, read.

Good luck on your next endeavor, which I am confident will be equally terrifying. Just don't let the bed bugs bite, you know.

The way the story builds as the plot unfolds, with mutltiple subplots and misdirections, is really quite masterful.

I haven't heard back from my friend Kathi, but she just got the book yesterday. If she's anything like my mother, which I am sure she is--this is a girl who's taken courses on crime scene investigation--she'll read it in one sitting. And she'll be surprised by the ending, as I was.

There really isn't anything else you can ask from a novelist than that. A page turner, never knowing what will happen next.

It's like Dumas. The Three Muskateers, the Four Muskateers, the Man in the Iron Mask, the Count of Monte Christo, those are great works of literature. Did you know he was black?

Yep, he was a Haitian. But he knew the French better than the French knew themsevles. Just as Hawthorne knew the Puritans better than they knew themselves, and Wilde knew the Victorians better than they knew themselves. And Twain knew the Americans better than they knew themselves, and Faulkner knew Southerners better than they knew themselves. The list goes on.

Chaucer, the Gawain Poet, both knew the English better than they knew themselves. And Fitzgerald, please, he knew early 20th century America better than anybody.

In fiction, what matters is character and plot. Interesting characters and an uncertain plot, that's what makes for good fiction.

What Ms. Hillier has accomplished in this book is to create believable characters in an unbelievable plot. It makes for an interesting read.

EconomicDisconnect said...

Best comment ever Gawains!

David Batista said...

Wow, awesome review Gawains! I couldn't put the book down, either. I will read anything Jen Hillier writes from now on!

Oh, and thanks for the link-up, GYSC. You da man now, dawg! [/seanconnery]

GawainsGhost said...

Yes, well, I'll tell you something else. When Whitman published Leaves of Grass, a poem that he revised several times over the years, everyone assumed it contained homosexual references. I'm going from memory here, but there's that line where he says "my tounge pierces your chest." In fact, Wilde was so taken by it that he sailed to America, thinking they could have an affair together. But Whitman told him that he misunderstood the poem.

Actually, Whitman died a virgin. He never had sex with anyone his entire life, if you can believe that. He modeled his poem around the life cycle of grass, which he saw as a metaphor for America.

Grass is an interesting plant. A relatively new genus, it only appeared after the last ice age, then spread across the globe. This is why I believe that humans also appeared after the last ice age--all grains are grasses, thus there could not have been agriculture before grasses evolved. The humans followed the grasses. Whitman was on to something.

When you look at a lawn, you're not looking at a plant but really a colony of thousands of individual plants interwoven together. It's called running grass, because it consists of an above ground stem that runs along interspersed with nodes that have roots and leaves and flowers.

The male flower produces pollen, which when dispersed lands on the female flower. The pollen grain then cracks open and a liquid stream flows down the female plant to the ovary for fertilization. That's what Whitman was referring to.

It's a great metaphor, a colony of grass, a colony of Americans, and one of the most brilliant poems ever written.

Oh, and I'll tell you another thing. The real Shakespeare, he was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Of this there is no doubt. The clown that everyone assumes was Shakespeare is actually Guillermo Shagsper, his distant cousin whom he used as a foil because at the time aristocrats were forbidden from publishing until twenty years after their death.

But you would be hard pressed to find an English professor who would admit it. I mean, if you spent years and thousands of dollars, studying, reading, writing papers, and taking tests, in the end could you admit that everything you learned was wrong?

No. Neither could an economist.

EconomicDisconnect said...

Gawains, you know way too much stuff! Sorry about the Cowboys, wow that was terrible.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Gawains, I am incredibly flattered!

And no, I didn't know Dumas was Haitian. Nor did I know Whitman died a virgin. You know so many interesting things. Do you have a blog? If not, you should.

EconomicDisconnect said...

JH, agree! Gawains has so much to offer. Guest post whenever you want man.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Kathi here, Gawain's friend. Just today finished "Creep". Excellent read. As someone whose hobby is forensics, criminal justice, law, etc ... the book moved at a pace that I did not expect (much faster than I am used to, which is a blessing) and I enjoyed it tremendously (Thanks to Gawain for sending it to me!)

The most disturbing part of the book for me was Tao's emotional enslavement of herself. You can attribute much to Ethan's perceived and/or real threats, but the struggle within Tao between right and wrong while having to deal with genuine fear really struck a chord with me. Her anxiety was palpable and very real, and in some ways smacked of self-destruction. While the story contained many other edge of the seat scenarios, it was her emotional edginess that kept me glued to the pages.

A seriously great read! Thank you Ms. Hillier for identifying a real woman struggling with herself, her past, and her future while keeping us on the edge of our seats!

EconomicDisconnect said...

Wow, thanks Kathi! I will forward that to Jennifer!

Jennifer Hillier said...

Kathi, on the off chance that you read this, I'd just like to thank you for your amazing comments. There is no greater joy to a writer than to discover that your readers really "got" what you were trying to do. I love Sheila Tao, and her flaws and mistakes are what drive the story forward. Not everyone sees that, and I'm so glad you did.

Thanks so much.

And who knew so much discussion about my book would take place here in the comments of an economics blog? Thanks for providing the meeting place, GYSC. You're good people.

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