Two years ago, Tumblr introduced Welcome to Night Vale into my life. Up until that point, I understood podcasts as something only Kevin Smith did to stroke his ego and remain relevant. But Cecil Gershwin Palmer’s (portrayed by Cecil Baldwin) voice captured me. His cadence—such a lovely cadence—walks its fingers up my spine one vertebrae at a time.
Night Vale introduced me to The Thrilling Adventure Hour with their crossover episode. After devouring everything they had to offer (I caught up in a matter of days with both before mid-year 2015), I started both podcasts from episode one. I added subscriptions, mostly story based. At the moment, I’m subscribed to 200+ podcasts and am over a year behind on all of them.
NPR’s Snap Judgement and Risk! led me to Shannon Cason’s Homemade Stories. Last week, I added Sabrina Jalees’ My Sexy Podcast because another podcast featured her. It’s come to the point, I’m unsure what podcast begat what podcast in my subscription list and what podcast started off as a random selection based on its description alone.
But it’s podcasts like Shannon Cason’s that led me to one conclusion: somewhere along the way, I lost voice. I spent more time burying a message in my words that I lost touch of why I started writing in the first place. If E.L. James can birth a piece of shit trilogy to the world without any literary merit, why couldn’t I? Better written and edited, of course. When did my focus switch from telling a story to trying to send a larger message?
This isn’t an argument against that type of story. And I would like to write something with more literary merit than E. L. James (she didn’t set the bar high in that aspect), but the message should take the passenger seat to the story.
Enlighten while entertaining.
What better way to improve my writing than by reading more? Every year, I set a goal on Good Reads. 50 books a year has been set to a 100 this year. The bulk of 2016’s reading is dedicated to Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, and Speculative Fiction. The first book of the year went J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I won’t review that book (or maybe I will, who knows). What follows are short reviews for two other books I read this month.
The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack
In her debut novel, Gwendolyn Womack mashes Quantum Leap and Limitless into a single aspect—what if there was a drug that could help you remember your past lives? To save you the three hundred pages, let me answer that question: a few interesting things convoluted with a whole lot of nothing. There were times I just wanted to put the book down, but I held on to this false sense of hope that things would get better. And when it did, she dashed through the parts, leaving me craving more.
Plot drives this book so that the characters Bryan and Linz (and subsequently all their past lives) fall flat from the page. The author relied on too many tropes and planted an obvious red herring earlier on into the story (I knew who Linz’s father the moment he was introduced). Womack holds your hand through the story, offering up so much but giving the reader little.
I will give her this, her ability to draw me in at the end to see this book through is a feat very few writers can do once I’ve disregarded them. I do look forward to what she offers readers in the future, but wish she’d omit the needless interactions with pizza delivery guys.
Stories for Nighttime and Some for Day by Ben Loory
Who needs acid when you have writers of the literary weird like Ben Loory? In his collection of flash fiction tales, Loory explores the world through the eyes of trees, land-loving octopi, Martian teenagers, and televisions. So why did it take me this long to read I purchased a year ago? Because each story is its own daydream or nightmare transcribed beautifully. And that takes the patience I’m not often gifted with. Nonetheless, is worthy of a space on your shelf.