Classics Club Project Reading List 2018-2023

Read 50 or more classics in the span of five years
Blog about your chosen titles and share your reflections with the Classics Club community.

I consider this a “living list.” It’s only existed for…two or three days?… and it’s already been through one major round of “revision.” I’m psyched for this project, though, and I’m looking forward to exploring these titles (and maybe adding a few more along the way.)


Start Date: July 1st, 2018
End Date: July 1st 2023

Reading List:
1. A Study in Scarlett
2. The Picture of Dorian Grey
3. The Turn of the Screw
4. The Monk
5. The Castle of Otronto
6. Northanger Abbey
7. Persuasion
8. Cranford
9. The Souls of Black Folk
10. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
11. The Fellowship of the Ring
12. The Two Towers
13. The Return of the King
14. Sense and Sensibility
15. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
16. And then There Were None
17. A Man without a Country
18. Invisible Man
19. Brave New World
20. Lady Chatterley’s Lover
21. Cyrano De Bergerac
22. Picknick at Hanging Rock
23. Common Sense
24. The Federalist Papers
25. The Count of Monte Cristo
26. Sappho’s Poetry
27. The Canterbury Tales
28. Mere Christianity
29. A Room of One’s Own
30. My Brilliant Career
31. The Prince
32. Short Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman
33. Howl
34. For the Term of His Natural Life
35. Poems of Phyllis Wheatly
36. The Haunting of Hillhouse
37. Selected Letters of Madame de Sevigne
38. The Book of the City of Ladies
39. The Confessions of Lady Nijo
40. Tess of the D’urbervilles
41. Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz: Selected Works
42. Cherie (by “Colette”)
43. Madam Bovary
44. Diary of a Madman
45. Translations
46. The Bostonians
47. Dracula
48. Irish Fairy and Folk Tales
49. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas
50. Bleak House
51. Grimm’s Fairytales
52. The Meditations (Marcus Arellius)
53. Their Eyes were Watching God
54. The Federalist Papers
55. Moby Dick
56. Poetry of Ann Bradstreet
57. Vanity Fair
58. A Long Fatal Love Chase
59. Pamela, Or, Virtue Rewarded
60. A Veneration of the Rights of Women
61. The Sign of Four
62. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth
63. Twelve Years a Slave
64. A Hundred Years of Solitude
65. The Arts of Leadership and War (Cyrus the Great)
66. Midnight’s Children
67. The Sea Wolf
68. The History of England (Lord Macaulay)
69. The Remains of the Day
70. The Ballad of Mulan
71. I Capture the Castle
72. The Joy Luck Club
73. The House of the Seven Gables
74. The Weight of Glory
75. The Awakening




Classics Club Project Reading List 2018-2023

Read 50 or more classics in the span of five years
Blog about your chosen titles and share your reflections with the Classics Club community.
I consider this a “living list.” It’s only existed for…two or three days?… and it’s already been through one major round of “revision.” I’m psyched for this project, though, and I’m looking forward to exploring these titles (and adding a few more along the way.)
Start Date: July 1st, 2018
End Date: July 1st 2023
Reading List:
• A Study in Scarlett
• The Picture of Dorian Grey
• The Turn of the Screw
• The Monk
• The Castle of Otronto
• Northanger Abbey
• Persuasion
• Cranford
• The Souls of Black Folk
• Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
• The Fellowship of the Ring
• The Two Towers
• The Return of the King
• Sense and Sensibility
• The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
• And then There Were None
• A Man without a Country
• Invisible Man
• Brave New World
• Lady Chatterley’s Lover
• Cyrano De Bergerac
• Picknick at Hanging Rock
• Common Sense
• The Federalist Papers
• The Count of Monte Cristo
• Sappho’s Poetry
• The Canterbury Tales
• Mere Christianity
• A Room of One’s Own
• My Brilliant Career
• The Prince
• Short Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman
• Howl
• For the Term of His Natural Life
• Poems of Phyllis Wheatly
• The Haunting of Hillhouse
• Selected Letters of Madame de Sevigne
• The Book of the City of Ladies
• The Confessions of Lady Nijo
• Tess of the D’urbervilles
• Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz: Selected Works
• Cherie (by “Colette”)
• Madam Bovary
• Diary of a Madman
• Translations
• The Bostonians
• Dracula
• Irish Fairy and Folk Tales
• Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas
• Bleak House
• Grimm’s Fairytales
• The Meditations (Marcus Arellius)
• Their Eyes were Watching God
• The Federalist Papers
• Moby Dick
• Poetry of Ann Bradstreet
• Vanity Fair
• A Long Fatal Love Chase
• Pamela, Or, Virtue Rewarded
• A Veneration of the Rights of Women


Once I’d come down from the comedic nostalgia high, I decided that I had to share this with all of the other BSC fans I know. (The rundown of BSC # 38 might just be the funniest thing I’ve read all week). I hope you enjoy this literary nostalgia trip with the fabulous Lady T as much as I did.

San Diego County’s Friendly Neighborhood Haunted House Gets a (Sort-of) Star Turn in Jose Prendes’s The Haunting of Whaley House


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I don’t exactly believe in ghosts, but I am a bit of a sucker for haunted house movies, depressingly formulaic though they often are. I like the sense of atmosphere, the reminder that the heartbeat of the past still pulses in the quiet, forgotten corners of the present, and the subtle warning against opening doors that should remain locked.  The films that look overly typical, I can usually  resist—I never felt a strong pull toward Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, for example—but a haunted house flick with a halfway unique approach usually gets my attention pretty fast. So, when I stumbled upon a 2012 horror film based on a real “haunted” house that I have visited many times, I couldn’t say, “no”. (Although, I did hesitate a bit when I saw that it was made by the often nausea-inducing Asylum film company). I decided to give the film ten minutes to either drive me off or hook me in: if I was invested in the story after ten minutes, then I would at least attempt to tolerate whatever over-the-top gore and tasteless moments that it wanted to throw at me.

The film’s opening features the kind of foul-talking, unlikeable, irritating characters that populate most modern horror films, but thankfully, they are not part of the main cast here. After we were properly introduced to the actual, much more likeable, core players, I was thoroughly hooked in for the ride.

The film centers on the legendary “hauntings” at the Whaley Mansion in Old Town San Diego. I went to college in the San Diego area, and have been through the actual Whaley Mansion many times.  I’m well acquainted with the house, and familiar with the details of its history. I think that’s why I found the fact that the movie wasn’t filmed in the actual house a little bit distracting at first. (I spent the first sequence of the film that takes place inside the house with a broken record in the back of my mind: “that’s not the Whaley House…That’s not the Whaley House…That’s not the Whaley…”).

Once I got comfortable with the “Long Beach for San Diego” filming quirk, though, I was surprised and impressed by the attention to accuracy in regard to the actual history of the house. All of the historical details presented in the film, from the mansion’s use as a court house and general store, to the hanging of “Yankee Jim”, to the circumstances of Violet Whaley’s tragic death, are true to record. The only possible exception to this accuracy rule is the assertion at the beginning of the film that the house was once used as a mortuary. The Whaleys were prominent citizens in the budding city of San Diego, and over time, their house served a variety of public uses, but if it was ever used as a funeral home of any kind, the official history of the place doesn’t highlight it.

This faithfulness to the details of the past only serves to make the more questionable statements about the museum’s modern operations all the more noticeable. Toward the beginning of the film, a long-time docent who claims that she knows how to “handle” the house instructs her younger, less experienced colleague: “never go into the house at night—that’s their time, reserved for them alone.” No one who had been working at the Whaley Museum for as long as she claims to have been there would say this to a colleague, mostly due to the fact that the younger docent in that scenario might be scheduled to lead a tour through the house that same night. The Whaley House has been doing nighttime tours for years. In fact, many of the reports of strange sights/smells/sounds/unexplained orbs in the house have come out of these after-sunset strolls.

Of course, the film needed a statement like that in order to properly set up what was coming later. I don’t really hold that line against it, but it was still a little amusing, just because I happened to know better.

The film also exaggerates the “paranormal activity” aspect of the house quite a bit, even in the first act. I know that people frequently report seeing/hearing/smelling strange things in the house, and I’ve even heard a Whaley House “ghost” story from a friend or two, myself, but I’ve walked the house in the daylight dozens of times, and I can say from experience that those kinds of odd events are not happening several times a minute, twenty-four hours a day. Also, I’ve never seen anyone “have a reaction” to the house and end up “wheeled away to the hospital,” nor have I ever heard of this occurring on a tour that I did not happen to attend. There may have been an incident like this at some point during the house’s tenure as a historical site, but it certainly doesn’t “happen all the time,” at the real Whaley Museum.

But I don’t really hold any of that against the film, either. If they didn’t amp up those elements, they wouldn’t have a movie, and, as a haunted house movie, this thing shines. Well-executed surprises and genuine shocks are made even weightier by the refreshing lack of jump scares. The core characters are genuinely likeable, and their friendships are so believable that it’s easy to invest in their emotions, from their excitement to see the dark side of the house, to their confused terror when that dark side starts to actually manifest itself. The tension builds with subtly and a good sense of pacing, drawing the viewer in with a comfortable blend of both familiar “haunted house story” conventions and unusual twists and turns.   (I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that I spent a good deal of the film’s runtime talking back to the screen).

Just in case you are unfamiliar with The Asylum’s catalogue, I should mention that this film has its share of blood, and a little bit of blue talk, but its bloody and raunchy elements are actually very scaled-back, compared to its modern horror peers. Speaking of unpleasantly common elements in modern horror, the pointless nudity in this film is also very minimal, relegated to a single, brief scene. (I’m pretty sure that horror directors have a nudity requirement clause written into their contracts. Thankfully, Prendes seems to have negotiated his quota down to less than 1 per cent of the film’s total run-time). If you’re interested in the film, but would rather miss this shot, just look away while the blond woman in the pink sweater is on screen. This will allow you to miss one of the bloodier moments in the film, too, if you prefer.

Since we’re on the subject of trends and tropes in modern horror, let’s take a moment to talk about the score. Some horror films have a bad habit of pumping up the music over the actor’s dialogue, or relying too heavily on the score to “tell” the audience what we should be feeling. I tend to notice this misuse of “movie music”, both because it annoys me, and because I love how truly artful and effective film scores can be when handled well.

The music in The Haunting of Whaley House is very well executed. (I assume that a lot of the credit for this goes to the man listed in the credits as “Adam ‘the man with the magic keyboard’ Lima”). Never bombastic or in-your-face, the score foregoes an intrusive orchestra in favor of a simple, restrained melody on a single piano as the musical centerpiece of the film. This choice sets the intended mood beautifully, even allowing the volume and pace of the simple tune to build in intensity where appropriate without ever becoming distracting or intrusive.

The audience isn’t generally meant to notice the score of a film, but music can be a powerful accent to cinematic storytelling, inviting us in and offering us an understated emotional touchstone on which to rest.  The creative minds behind The Haunting of Whaley House wield this important tool with subtlety  and wit, right down to the wryly appropriate, 80’s-flavored number that plays over the credits.

I will admit that I was not expecting much when I decided to try an Asylum-made haunted house film, but this slightly cynical horror fan has found a new Halloween tradition in The Haunting of Whaley House.

I’m always up for suggestions: what’s your favorite haunted house/hotel/apartment/hospital movie?


The Most Needlessly Political Time of the Year, or, “In Defense of ‘A Christmas Carol”’


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The month of December can be a very politically charged time in the United States, mainly due to the culture-war tinted phenomenon commonly known as, “The War on Christmas.” Right wing spokespeople like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity ostensibly represent all Christians as they challenge and chastise godless Americans for such heinous crimes as saying, “Happy Holidays,” instead of, “Merry Christmas”, or putting a photo of the family dog on their Christmas cards instead of a Bible verse. I wish I was exaggerating here, but Bill O’Reilly actually did this to the Obamas on his show this year. This is the conversation we’re having, Bill O’Reilly? You’re going to hate on a picture of a puppy on a Christmas card? Someone’s been taking good notes in Cartoon Villain School.

As an evangelical Christian who believes that effectively sharing the truth of Christ is the most loving thing that we can do for the other human beings, I find the War on Christmas a bit irritating. And by, “The War on Christmas,” I don’t mean folks who say, “Happy Holidays,” or put puppies on Christmas cards.  The part of the, “War on Christmas,” that wearies me is the supposed culture warriors that take it up every year.

I will readily admit that people who voice concerns about the over-secularization of Christmas sometimes have a valid point. Every now and then, there are genuine cultural attacks on the faith-based meaning behind Christmas, and I agree that Christians have a right to be just as unhappy about that as any other faith group would be in the same circumstance. For instance, if a group of Atheists put up an, “Anti-Nativity,” with a troll doll standing in for the Baby Jesus and a cut-out of Anna Nicole Smith as the Virgin Mary, for the sole purpose of being jerks and mocking the meaning that Christmas has for Christians, then yeah, that’s crossing the line, and I would be upset right along with everyone else.

But most of the time, people cry, “War on Christmas!” for much smaller, downright inoffensive offenses. Either the term itself, or some form of the sentiment behind it, is hurled at little gestures in which the “perpetrators” meant no harm, and were not intending to be disrespectful to Christians or our beliefs in any way. But, because the gesture was in some way related to Christmas, and did not include a direct, explicit reference to Christ or His birth, the War on Christmas folks interpret it as a direct attack on Christians, and even on Christ Himself.

This approach to the secular side of Christmas amps up the issue so far past, “legitimate concern” that it crashes into the depths of, “oversensitively,” at a skin-peeling 1,000 knots, making us Christians look like cultural tyrants that must have our faith explicitly mentioned in absolutely every aspect of any cultural production related to, “our,” holiday, lest the rest of society face our very loud and impassioned displeasure.

It’s this vaguely tyrannical sense of offense over the small, dare I say harmless, things—the, “Happy Holidays” signs in store windows;  the Rudolph displays in the mall; the President’s dog on a Christmas card—that makes me tired every time I turn on the news during the month of December. I am convinced that this Christmas Tsar mentality of insisting that whatever anyone else does reflect OUR BELIEFS at all times does far more harm to our ultimate mission—i.e. sharing the love  and message of Christ with others—than any, “Happy Holidays,” banner or Santa Clause display ever could.

The most interesting example of the Christmas Tsar mentality that I have ever seen occurred this summer. I was in a discussion group in which one member expressed displeasure at the fact that A Christmas Carol did not include a direct reference to the Nativity. That’s right: one of the most beloved, harmless, well-intentioned Christmas classics of the last 200 years, and he was legitimately unsettled by the fact that it lacked an explicit reference to the birth of Christ. And I thought hating on a puppy on a Christmas card required the most unabashed nerve that I had ever seen.

In all seriousness, though, this baffling display of the War on Christmas mentality continues to fascinate me over six months later, not only because it is, in my opinion, rather over-the-top, but because it is legitimately unfounded. I would argue that this Victorian  morality tale has significantly more direct connection to Christ than the pine tree that, I’m sure, sits in that gentleman’s living room every Christmas.

Dickens keeps the Christ in his Christmas Carol with subtly, artistry and grace, weaving Him into the story’s messages, as opposed to adding a scene in which the ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge back to Bethlehem and spells out the intended point of the story, just to make sure that we all get the idea.

Anyone who grew up in the West knows the plot of A Christmas Carol backwards and forwards, so rather than recounting the events of the narrative, let’s go straight to themes. The story is saturated with three overarching ideas:  valuing your fellow man, compassion for the poor, and privileging love and generosity over profit.  It’s a simple, powerful story about the imperative necessity of prioritizing the welfare of human beings above the need to, “get ahead.” Those who don’t see what any of that has to do with Jesus need to read their New Testaments a lot more closely.

I would argue that A Christmas Carol isn’t even specifically about Christmas. Dickens could have set a story involving those messages at any time of year, but he chose the period in which we celebrate the birth of the Man who both embodied and taught all of those ideas to His followers. I would not be surprised if Dickens used a Christmas setting as a subtle way to remind his readers that the values that the text espoused were not, in fact, his, but Christ’s, using the choice of season to point to Jesus, not to squeeze Him out of the holiday.  In one small way, the gentleman at that meeting was right:  A Christmas Carol does not include a strong Nativity reference, but it doesn’t have a Nativity because it doesn’t need one. A Christmas Carol isn’t about the birth of Christ; it’s about the teachings of Christ.

Even if you believe that every bit of media related to Christmas should contain at least one direct Christ reference, then A Christmas Carol is still the least of your worries. At least one direct, if subtle, reference to the person of Christ occurs when Bob Cratchit mentions that his crippled son wanted everyone in church to see him walking with his crutch “because it might be pleasant for them to remember, upon Christmas day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see” (94).

According to some interpretations, the story includes not only a direct Christ reference, but also an actual Christ figure, in the person of, “The Ghost of Christmas Present.”  Throughout the story, each spirit contributes to Scrooge’s redemption of character by showing him things that they feel he needs to see, but the Ghost of Christmas Present is the only one who offers Scrooge, not only images of others, but his own spiritual person, as a part of the learning and redemption process. He alone of the three ghosts urges Scrooge to, “come in, and know me better man,” making him the only spirit who points directly to himself as a part of Scrooge’s transformation process. His admonishment implies that a more intimate understanding of the Ghost of Christmas Present will change Scrooge for the better.

Christmas Present is also the only one of the spirits that directly confronts Scrooge about his callousness and lack of compassion toward the poor, leading to some conviction on Scrooge’s part. Technically speaking, you could argue that this briefly places Christmas Present in the, “Holy Spirit” role, although Jesus did convict the Woman at the Well by pointing out what He knew about her sins. I feel compelled to point out that He was much gentler with her than Christmas Present is with Scrooge, however.

Another, less global aspect of Christmas Present’s character may lend support to this interpretation. When Scrooge asks the spirit about his family, Christmas Present laughs and replies that he has “over 1800” brothers and sisters. This detail seems out of place until you consider that Christ is described in scripture as, “the first born over all Creation”(Colossians 1:15), and those who have embraced His sacrifice as payment for their sins as “co-hires” with Him under the same Father (Romans 8:15-17).  The statement in A Christmas Carol is brief and never expounded upon, but one could argue that it’s a reference to Christ’s position as the “first born among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

Whether or not you accept this interpretation of Christmas Present’s character, the story still passes the, “at least one direct Jesus reference,” test that seems to be a requirement for War on Christmas soldiers. More importantly, the story itself preaches many of the same things that Christ did; it just does it with the slightest bit of subtly. Dickens offers us two plus two and lets us come up with four. It’s worth noting that this approach to relating a message, and, indeed, to telling a story, mirrors Christ just as much as the novel’s messages do. Jesus preferred to teach via parables that required the listeners to glean the intended truths for themselves, rather than have everything spelled out for them. If Christ appreciated subtle storytelling that required the audience to be thoughtfully engaged in order to glean the intended message, then why shouldn’t we?

Of course, there is a chance that these kinds of arguments would not satisfy the War on Christmas crowd very well. That’s there prerogative, but on a wider note, I would request that they consider the following: if we are really serious about keeping secularists from, “taking the Christ out of Christmas,” then we might consider moving our faith-based celebration of the holiday to either October or April. According to some Theologians, one of these two months likely contains  Christ’s actual, literal birth date, as opposed to the pagan festival day that the church co-opted centuries ago as the date on which we would celebrate His birth. If we’re serious about winning the war, then maybe we should go all the way, and celebrate in a different section of the calendar from secularists like that Charles Dickens fellow, with his morality story about valuing love over greed, caring for the poor, and remembering “Who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.” After all, where’s the Christ in that?

Drowning the Muse: The Problem with the Creative Mystique


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I’m an artist. Specifically, I’m a writer, but I love all of the arts.

I don’t usually use the, “A” word to describe myself, even though it’s technically accurate. An “artist” is just someone who devotes a lot of time and effort to something creative, and pursues their chosen art seriously. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea, and yet I always have a misshapen sense of shame when I use the word, as though I am confessing to a crime that I did not commit.

I have no idea who started it, or how the virus spread, but somewhere along the line, the word, “artist,” took on an alternate cultural meaning that is roughly equivalent to, “special snowflake.” This alternative implication is so well-known that the erratic behavior of the, “temperamental art-eest” is a part of the popular consciousness. Generally, this running joke consists of the “art-eest’s” assumption that it’s ok to do clownish things and treat people like trash because, “creating,” makes them oh-so-much better than mere mortals.

For my part, I do not believe that creating things makes me some kind of demigod among men, and neither do any of the other artists that I know. Even so, I have this vague sense that that the word has a bit of a social stain on it: not an all-encompassing guilt, but just enough of a tint to make me wonder if the people around us mentally slap a, “douchebag,” sign on our backs whenever we use it.

The fastest way to tell a douchebag of the, “I-Call-Myself ‘Art-eest’ –Because-I- Think-It-Makes-Me-Better Than-You,” variety from someone who just happens to spend their time and effort on something creative, is how often, and in what context, the specimen in question talks about their, “Muse.” In my experience, people that loudly bemoan the fact that their unfaithful Muse has left them (and thus, that they are powerless to create until such time as she may return) are generally of the Douchebag variety. In fact, I would take that one step further and claim that people who un-ironically mention The Muse too often probably aren’t genuine artists at all. Please, put those tomatoes down and let me explain. Once I’ve said my piece, you may pelt away if you like.

People who ramble on and on about the all-encompassing power of The Muse to control creative output seem to be under the impression that the act of making art is tantamount to magic. They apparently believe that you just sit back, let, “The Muse,” guide you, and suddenly there’s a book or an album or a film where there was once only white space. I think I speak for a lot of creative people when I say that there is very little that I wouldn’t give to just sit down and create in the way that proponents of The Muse think that we do. My soul and the most vital of vital organs would be about it. Anything else I’d be willing to negotiate, up to and including my first born.

As baffling as this Magic assumption is to me, I can kind of understand where it comes from. From the outside, creating things must look a bit like an occult trick: Stephen King sits at his computer, and suddenly he has a new book out; Taylor Swift mentions on a talk show that she’s working on a new album, and a week later, there it is on the shelves at the local Target. Creating things looks like magic to people who have never experienced the process from the inside, because they only see the end of the road. They do not sit next to that artist during all of those months and years of research, idea development, drafting, revising and revising again (in the case of writers). They do not see all of the  cuts and changes and fine tuning that occur between early concept and final product. At most, the Douchebag Art-eest sees the beginning of the process (artist X mentions that they have an idea) and the end (the finished product), completely missing the period of development, change, and good old fashioned work that happens in between. As a result, he or she thinks, “wow, all it takes is a little Muse Dust and an announcement of a new project, and these Artists get all of that attention and respect? I can do what they do.”

The Art-eest’s misconception of what it takes to create something makes sense precisely because he or she has never experienced an actual creative process in the way that a serious artist does. I’ll use writing as an example, not because it’s better than other arts, but because it’s the one I happen to have hands-on experience with: generally speaking, serious writers do copious research into the professional conventions of their industry. Then, when they have an idea that they like enough to put the effort into it, they plan it, draft it, revise it, and then revise it again, and again, and again, until they finally have the piece the way that they want it.

When I say, “they revise it,” I don’t mean that they change a word here and a phrase there until it sounds right. I mean that they make major, piece-demolishing choices: add and delete entire plot threads, re-write chapters, alter or swap out major plot points. The revision process on a novel is normally so extensive that, according to both my experience and my research into the experiences of other writers, it’s not uncommon for Draft Two of a project to be almost a completely different book from Draft One.

Making those kinds of significant, global changes to the entire manuscript a minimum of two separate times is considered a fairly standard part of the process for writing one novel. Popular young adult fiction author John Green has stated that, due to the global nature of revision, he routinely writes, “three books in order to write one.” That’s why the road from having the idea to getting a book on the shelves can take years, even for established authors with publishers and fan bases. From what I have seen, all creativity, from music to acting to filmmaking to sculpture, requires similarly copious amounts of time, effort, and trial-and-error in order to master it. A serious artist is aware of the less glamorous side of his or her chosen art, because A. he or she has researched their industry and B. he or she has actually created and revised things a few times before.

The Douchebag Art-eest, on the other hand, is unlikely to be aware of the less glamorous realities of the creative process, because she does not actually engage in that process in a real way. She just calls herself a creator (musician, writer, actress, etc.) because she thinks it makes her cool. Going back to the writing example for a moment: if one’s only experience with writing something involves dashing out a school paper on the night before it’s due and running a quick spell check, then it wouldn’t be surprising if that student (and psudo-fiction writer) assumes that writing a publishable book involves similarly minimal effort. If that kind of slap-dash approach is the only “creative process” that a Douchebag Art-eest has ever experienced, why wouldn’t they assume that people in the arts are magicians pouring forth brilliance from a mysterious, ethereal haze?

Now, I am not staying that there aren’t aspects of the creative process that artists themselves do not completely control.  Whenever you do anything involving powerful emotions and a part of the mind that you do not live in full-time, things are bound to come up that surprise you. Making choices that are right for the project will usually involve allowing changes to the plan, letting things deviate from your original outline, and incorporating new ideas that occur to you mid-stream. That’s part of the joy of the process. Even so, I think that this small piece of the experience—this element of the unexpected, the unplanned, and the uncontrolled– has been ballooned and romanticized in the popular consciousness so much that some folks assume that this small part of the journey is, in fact, the entire map. Let one of those mislead people notice that a form of art might get them attention, or allow them to claim superiority over others, and you have the perfect storm for a Douchebag Art-eest in the making.

The Douchebag Art-eest picks up on something real when he or she notices an element of unplanned inspiration in someone else’s creative process, but I would argue that those unexpected moments have more to do with the subconscious mind than any magical, mysterious quality of the, “Ethereal Creator of Art”. On a personal note, I have had more than one experience of sitting down to write something and, in the course of developing the plot or fleshing out a character, discovered something on the page that I had not set out to put there. I have a theory that this happens because creativity is rooted in the same part of the brain that dreams issue from, i.e., the sub-conscious mind. This would explain why people so often get ideas when they are sleeping. I once heard an author say that she dreams about her characters when she’s working on a book.

Creativity forces you into the imagination, which is a part of the brain that most of us do not live in every day. That proximity to the sub-conscious might be what causes, “unexplained,” elements to just, “appear,” in a given work. A concept, theme, or image may push its way up from a submerged corner of the brain where the artist does not bother to look most of the time, and then show up on the page, screen or canvas more or less by accident. These elements surprise us, not because they issued forth from some mysterious, Olympian orb, but because they worked their way up from a part of us that we had never really noticed before. We finally notice these ignored parts of ourselves reflected back to us in the things that we create, and that thought or insecurity or assumption that’s been in us for a long time looks like something new. That’s one reason why creating things requires some measure of courage: it has a way of revealing parts of the creator that were never meant to be made public. If you want to know what an artist’s core hang-ups, issues and obsessions are, just take good look at the patterns in his or her body of work.

The assumption in the Art-eest attitude that creating things somehow makes one an Immortal among men fails to consider a pretty basic facet of humanity in general: everyone has a little bit of imagination. It’s a human trait. In fact, that little bit of imagination in all of us is what makes the arts possible. If artists were the only ones who had it, there would be no audience for art except its creators. Everyone responds to art in some form: there are very few people in the world who hate all stories or movies or music or painting, even among those whose passions lie in the sciences. There is something about art, in all of its forms, that speaks to the human soul on a very wide scale. The Art-eest fails to realize that, while he may well have some form of creative imagination, this does not, in and of itself, make him unique or rarefied among human beings.

I will concede that creative people generally have more active imaginations than most. I’ll even agree that most creative folks have a better sense of what it takes to move an idea from vision to reality than others do, but, contrary to the Muse worshippers’ belief, this is has nothing to do with a mysterious magic allotted only to the creative. It stems from a simple passion for one’s chosen art that makes one want to learn how to do it themselves. Where most folks are content to enjoy a given art form, someone with, “the bug,” for that art also wants to understand it: they want to take the elements apart and see how they work. They want to take the examples of others and use them to develop a unique approach. The main difference between a budding director and a regular film goer is that desire to “get his hands dirty,” and experience the creative process for himself. Both participants enjoy what they see, but the first guy is more likely to spend his time researching camera angles and filter techniques and lighting, picking up whatever scraps of knowledge that he can possibly get about what goes into making a film. The future director is fascinated by the pieces, because he wants to find new ways to put them together for himself. He knows what it takes to make a film because A. he’s looked into it, deeply, and somewhat obsessively, and B. because he’s probably tried it a few times, himself, likely with varying degrees of success. His understanding of the process comes from experience fueled by passion, not a disembodied voice downloading privileged knowledge from On High into his Artist’s brain.

Now, where does that passion come from? Where do the sparks of ideas that one works so hard to develop really begin? The only answer I have for that is that we are born with them—i.e., that the extra-active imagination and a bent toward a certain type of art, or all of the arts, are a part of one’s make-up from the beginning. But even that doesn’t make creative people a breed apart. Everyone is born with certain bents, interests and abilities. Some kids ask for easels and paints for their birthdays; others ask for microscopes and lab kits. I’d have to say that both of those kids got their passion from the same place. Since I believe in a Creator, I would say that they each got their particular bent as a gift from Him, but whether or not you believe that part, artists are still not rarefied demigods with a special connection to the ethereal. We’re people with passion, and we pursue the thing that has romanced our souls in the same way that anyone else with a passion does, whether it happens to be painting or organic chemistry or teaching children or building a business.

With that in mind, I’m going to double down on that tomato-projectile-inducing statement that I made earlier: anyone who claims to be an artist and goes on about, “The Muse,” all the time, or speaks of themselves as though they are something rarefied and special simply because they create, isn’t a real artist. If they really understood the process from the inside, they would not talk that way. I’m sorry to be harsh, but it’s true. If you think that creating is magic, it’s because you’ve never experienced the copious amounts of plan old hard work required to turn the spark of a daydream into some form of reality. If you think that creating somehow sets you apart from the rest of humanity, then you’re probably just using the title, “artist” (or “actor” or “writer” or “painter”) as a way to make yourself sound special, disregarding the effort and passion of real artists, and generally making anyone who applies that term to themselves look like a self-inflated douchebag. And, as a regular person who just happens to put a lot of effort, time and passion into an art form that I love, that really ticks me off.

Litconic: A Pincushion of Literature

Do you like the sound of your own voice? Have you ever recorded yourself speaking and played it back finding yourself distraught by a foreign voice? I am reminded all too often that my own voice lacks character, an accent, and has little uniqueness. We all enjoy spending our small amount of free time reading poetry, allowing the style, subject matter, and each small intricacy to wash over us in our living rooms, on a bus, or in front of a fire; we lavish over the wonderful silence that exists while we turn the pages in between poems, but this is not the same as hearing those poems read aloud by their author. We are unable to hear each word, each line as the author intended them to be read. It is nearly impossible to duplicate the sound or emotion said poet put in his or her piece.

The highly…

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The Underground Treehouse

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Release Date: October 12, 2012

VelveteenVelveteen Monroe’s life becomes a horror movie the day that Ron Simanski offers her a ride. She soon realizes that death will involve neither “rest” nor “ peace.” Velveteen has a full afterlife as leader of a team of soul collectors, but when events among the living threaten the existence of the City of Souls, it falls to Velvet’s team to avert the intersection—and destruction—of the realms of the living and the dead.

Even faithful horror fans recognize that the genre suffers from an acute case of Trope’s Disease. Time-tested elements within the horror formula (from zombies and serial killers to possessions and exorcisms) are recycled in the same incarnations until horror fans lose faith in the idea of a fresh take on a horror signature. Examining these conventions from a new angle without sacrificing legitimacy is a Sisyphean task, but Daniel…

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The Underground Treehouse


San Diego’s Mysterious Galaxy bookstore manages to strike a welcoming balance between homey and gothic. Dark purple walls and grey, well-stuffed shelves give their inventory—a specialized blend of horror, science fiction, and mystery—the feel of a collection of dusty, forgotten treasures in the attic of a slightly creepy literature professor. (I wish to point out that the shop is very well kept, lest I appear to be disparaging the cleanliness standards of the venerable Mysterious Galaxy staff). A stuffed Yoda doll attached to the wall near the sci-fi section, and a full-sized, plastic gargoyle perched on the corner of a horror shelf, greet you as you progress toward the back of the room. The oddly friendly atmosphere weaved into the shadows gives one the impression that the Gargoyle probably has a name. I imagine that it’s something like, “Fred,” or, “Chuckles.”

The store boasts little open floor space, but the wide…

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Bravo, Alex.
If you all like this, check out California Journal of the Heronie here on wordpress.

California Journal of the Heroine

by Alex Kanuha

When a friend texts me a hyperlink, it’s rarely (actually, never) a Fox News opinion article. Let’s just say there is a reason for that. The latest one? Suzanne Venker. According to Venker, an author who “accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men” that will never get married, the war of the sexes is alive and well and mostly women’s fault. Who initiated the discord between men and women? Feminists, of course. Who knew that calling for equal rights and better treatment of women would actually push men toward “retreating from marriage en masse?”

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