C. G. McGinn


Ramblings about Books and Writing

The State of Nature: The "Glass-Half-Empty" Kind

On Reading:

If Thomas Hobbes has taught us anything, it's that people are assholes and left to their own devices will lie, cheat and kill you if it would work out to their benefit. I'm paraphrasing. He was a real uplifting guy.

I'm reading two books, given to me as gifts, by Chris Samson, that take two popular story concepts, throwing them into Hobbes' State of Nature. I don't know if Samson recommended these books for this reason, or if I'm just in a rainy-day mood, but the parallel is definitely there.

The first book was, Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson, which takes the popular superhero genre, and asks the question: What if all superheros were self-serving bastards who kill without thought or remorse and do nothing but feed their own wants and needs? Steelheart is the first YA book that I've read since the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. It's written in the first-person from the eyes of one who has suffered great loss at the hands of, Steelheart; and extremely powerful super human known as an 'Epic'. He's basically Superman under the influence of Red Kryptonite, in a world where this is no other kind of Kryptonite to fall back on. The story establishes a pecking order between humans and epics. Steelheart is at the top of the order, ruling over a city that was once Chicago. Humanity has become a subservient class to the epics. The story makes it clear that there are no good epics.

 I enjoyed the book. I got somewhat bored halfway through, however the ending made up for any lull in the middle. Great payoff.

The 2nd book takes the whole magic school for wizards and fantastical lands of magic tales, and gives it a raw and gritty edge. The book is, The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. This first book in a 3-part series seems to parody/pay tribute to The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, while taking a number of relentless jabs at the Harry Potter series. Here's a text I sent to Samson after getting about an hour or so in: 


Despite how "dark" and "edgy" the Harry Potter books might appear, even in the later half of the series, they're essentially modern day fairy tales with the same kind of whimsical disregard to issues people face in the real world. What Grossman tries to do (and succeeds), is take the school of magic trope, and melds it with the life of a typical college kid; from sex, infighting within their respective clique, recreational drug use, and binge drinking. Oh, and there's magic too. The story goes out of its way not to candy-coat anything in an otherwise 'family friendly' sub-genre.

The very end of the book was anything but satisfying. Some of this can be forgiven as it's the 1st book in the series, but I felt the author was reaching for some sort of surprise ending that was supposed to leave the reader both guessing and wanting more. Instead it felt somewhat try-hard and artificial. But I cannot judge The Magicians too harshly as I was entertained throughout the book, and despite the bad ending, I was left wanting more, glad to see 2 more books in my future.

On Writing:

The App Store had this game as their App of the Week, called Deemo that I picked up for the iPad. It's sorta like Rockband, with the only instrument being a piano. You tap the notes as they fall from top of the screen to bottom. It's a way for an instrumental illiterate like me to feel like hot-shit playing a piano. The game samples from real composers, so through it I discovered V.K. a Taiwanese pianist.

I've been listening to his music during writing sessions and it's both calming, and inspiring. I generally listen to something while I write. Most of the 1st Draft of this story was written to My Chemical Romance, primarily Black Parade and Danger Days. The 1st Draft was written with a lot of raw emotion, which was murder for my beta readers, but helped me get the story -broken as it was- out there. Now that I'm in the revision stage, I have a lot more that I need to think about, so losing the vocals but still having music to focus me, helps in this process.