Archive for fiction

Book Beginnings – Anna Karenina

Posted in Book Beginnings with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2012 by Mj Rains

So I’ve been reading away on my new Kindle in the new year (at least I’m getting something done!) and am still reading the first tomb of a book I downloaded, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. At well over a thousand pages this one may take me a while. Reading other books in between I guess isn’t helping my progress. If you haven’t read this classic nothing is wrong with you my dear. It simply isn’t for everyone. I confess I started it and set it down years ago, thinking it was boring, but it feels fresh to me today, and perfection in a literary find.

This book beginning will be a short one; it’s actually the first line. And it’s one that everyone, even if they are not a classic literature fan, or a Tolstoy fan, can relate to I am sure. Perhaps you have heard it quoted before.

The Beginning of Anna Karenina:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

There are a number of movies versions in the past:

Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina, 1948

And I can’t believe, the same year, 1948, Vivian Leigh was Anna Karenina? This stunning gown was so well described in the book; it seems the costume designers nailed it here.

Sophie Marceau as Anna Karenina in 1997.

Some inspired book covers and art…

Anna Karenina by Clifford Bailey

mixed media by Ludmila Kalmaeva

Anna Karenina by Reno Photo


Book Beginnings – Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Posted in Book Beginnings with tags , , , , , , , on December 16, 2011 by Mj Rains

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming.   And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air.  How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; the kiss of a wave;  chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rocks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?” – was that it? – “I prefer men to cauliflowers” – was that it?  He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace – Peter Walsh.  He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull; it was his sayings on remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished – how strange it was! – a few sayings like this about cabbages.

This is perhaps the dullest book to read.
Who’s afraid of Virgina Woolf? I am, I am! I fear I may want to kill myself too before this book ends.



Book Beginnings – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posted in Book Beginnings, Film with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2011 by Mj Rains

Once Again





In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticising any one,” he told me, “just remember that all people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.  The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.  Most of the confidences were unsought – frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon;  for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions.  Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.  I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested,, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit.  Conduct may be found on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.  When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever;  I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who give his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction – Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.  If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if her were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.  This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament” – it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.  No – Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

I know this was a rather long book beginning to feature, but I wanted Gatsby mentioned, and most of this narrative is used in the beginning of the classic 1974 movie version of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern (who I once met) and Sam Waterston.

Here again, is another movie that lives up to the original literary achievement. (Don’t even mention that version that was put out about 15 years ago or so…whatever, it cannot compare to this one).  A new movie of The Great Gatsby is in production right now set to star Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Carry Mulligan as Daisy.  I do have hope for this one, and can’t wait to see it. In the meantime, Rob and Mia are the icons of this book of literature, which is by the way, one of the best reads ever! Download it on that Kindle when you can!

note: There are spelling “errors” in the excerpt above that are part of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original text which I’ve kept in with accuracy. Originally published in 1925 by Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Writer’s Depression – And Why I Can’t Finish a Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2011 by Mj Rains

I believe that I’m in some sort of systemic, overly-analytic, cataclysmic, slightly narcissistic writer’s depression…I don’t know why I cannot finish a novel-length story. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. I have two poorly written, in deep need of revision, 50,000 word or so novels sitting in my computer and in print, but for the past year or so I just can’t get a novel going…or keep it going. The ideas are there, the characters, well, they pop up and seem intriguing enough, but my well goes dry about half way through. True for revision work on those two first drafts too.

For a while I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I’m getting an idea now. My inner writer’s guide, Angelina (the opposite of my inner writing critic, Demonella) is telling me that I’m in a writer’s funk of sorts, a simple unambitious rut in which I have to hit reverse, then hit the gas and go forward again and bounce myself of it. Like what you’d do with a stuck car. And this can only be done one way – by writing, by practicing writing, writing down everything – story related or not – and doing it every day. It can only be cured this way, doing the deed, no matter it we feel like doing it or not.

So, let me be clear (as I’m writing this and watching a lame local Santa Parade on TV) that Angelina and Demonella are well known to all us writers, even if they are nameless, and they are very much present every time we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Every single time.  Like now, as I write this blog, Demonella is telling me “No one is interesting in why you can’t finish a novel, this little article’s a waste of a nice Saturday morning, and people are just going to think you’re nuts and hit “like” because they feel sorry for you. Or not “like” you at all.” At the same time, Angelina (she’s so beautiful) is telling me that there are a bunch of you out there in this blog-world we love, friends who visit often, and new ones who will stop in, who will find this interesting, who understand completely, and who will be glad to read about someone else going through the same thing…and besides doesn’t it feel really cool to unleash your writing mind dilemma, aka. writer’s depression on your blog? Oh, and you’re not crazy, people won’t think that, they’ll find me and Demonella humorous and clever and they will laugh and think you’re a brilliant witty writer. (Angelina’s the best huh?)

That said (thanks for staying with me if you’re still reading this!) : Why can’t I finish a novel?  Or, why, if I have one or two finished, can’t I re-write one for publication?

I don’t believe it’s doubt, or lack of ambition. I want to write, feel like I need to write. I’ve analyzed why I quit half-way through, why my enthusiasm at the start, the writing frenzy, 2,000 words or more a day, me telling myself “You got a best seller here, baby!”…why it all just fizzles out…sometimes in the course of a few days, sometimes so abruptly as waking up in the morning. Writer’s depression in action.

Part of it I’m finding may be the writing process itself. I tend to write a detailed synopsis, outline, tie-in details, over define theme (as all my numerous writing books and magazines which I love to read and read and read tell me to do, which may also be a writer’s depression side-effect, doing more reading about how to write than actually writing), to the point that I know my story so well that it no longer surprises me, it no longer intrigues me, and the writing shows it. So, I leave it. Shelf it. Again.

I think that novel writing may be too long a process for me. The novel of any suitable length is a daunting experience to write. It is a test of a writer’s dedication to his story and I tremendously admire the ones that do it, and do it well. Some do it and suck, but, at least they do it. But that brings me to another problem of sorts, to November Novel Writing Month, which I support, but yet I wonder. It’s premise is to just get you to write, to make it a habit, to set a goal of so many words a day, to write anything, doesn’t matter, as long as you write and end up with 50,000 words of…Of crap?….But, I don’t want to write crap, which is why I dropped my NaMoWriMo excursion this year after a week.  It wasn’t working. Writer’s depression in action again?

So, what is this writer to do?

My juvenile need for quicker satisfaction (perhaps it’s not writer’s depression but writer’s ADD!) has led me to believe that I may not be cut out now, at this moment, to be a writer of novels. It has led me to the relevant and prodigious literary achievements of the beloved short story form. I love and have written over 40 short stories, short short ones, medium shorts, and 10,000 word longer short stories. Here’s a story form I think I can get into more, write one in less than a week, pat myself on the back, have tea with Angelina and give Demonella a swift kick in the ass, and get to my goal without that half-way ship abandonment.  There’s a sense of relief I feel, knowing I almost see the end of the story, that I’ll be there soon with literary grace and with time to spare. If this is writer’s ADD, oh well, it just may be what I have.

Okay, Demonella is telling screaming at me : You need a novel to get published, stupid! Short stories won’t do it.  I guess I can’t argue much with that. I’ve read plenty of times you need a novel under your belt before you can publish a book of short stories, but for now, for me, to conquer this writer’s depression and my writer’s ADD, it seems the right answer. Who know, maybe work in this writer’s process will lead me back to the novel enthusiasm again.

Fellow writers out there: What do you do to beat your own writer’s depression? Anyone sympathize with my dilemma? How do you handle your own Demonella and his or her trash talk?

Thanks for reading.

Click images above for artists’ links.

Book Beginnings: A Movable Feast

Posted in Book Beginnings with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2011 by Mj Rains

by Ernest Hemingway

A Good Cafe on the Place St.-Michel

Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain agianst the big green autobus at the terminal and the Cafe des Amateaurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside. It was a sad, evilly run cafe where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of dirty bodies and the sour smell of drunkenness.  The men and women who frequented the Amateurs stayed drunk all of the time, or all of the time they could afford it, mostly on wine which they bought by the half-liter or liter. Many strangely named aperitifs were advertised, but few people could afford them except as a foundation to build their wine drunks on. The women drundards were called poivrottes which meant female rummies.


And so ends the opening paragraph of A Movable Feast, one of my favorite books.
If you know the people in the cover picture let me know. I recognize Hemingway, of course, and I believe that is Ezra Pound on the left, and I always thought the others were Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but the woman doesn’t look like Zelda. She looks too womanly to be Gertrude Stein. ? Let me know.

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