Rare B Sides: The Invention of Morel

[This post is part of a series on literary works that deserve a wider audience.]

This is the first in a new series of posts I’ve been thinking about starting for a long time: Rare B sides. The whole point of these posts will be to share literary works that I think deserve a wider audience. They will usually—but not always—be works of fiction.

Think of it as the literary equivalent of listening to those rare B sides of your favorite musicians that are so hard to find.

First up is a B side that is not particularly rare, but does deserve a much wider audience: The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.


I’ve only recently been sucked into the world of Argentine and Latin American literature. The gateway for me, as it is no doubt for many others, was Jose Luis Borges. I still love his stuff, especially his poetry. And I’m very, very sparing with my love of poets.

I’ve been slowly branching out from Borges and one of the first things I discovered was The Invention of Morel. There are three compelling things about the work: the mood it casts, the slowly rising dramatic tension and the novelty of its central idea.

The mood (or tone?) is right there from the very first sentence.

Hoy, en esta isla ha occurido un milagro. [Today, on this island, a miracle occurred…]

The mystery deepens quickly and the mood builds in the next few sentences.

…Summer came early. I moved my bed out by the swimming pool, but then, because it was impossible to sleep, I stayed in the water a long time. The heat was so intense that after I had been out of the pool for only two or three minutes I was already bathed in perspiration again. As day was breaking, I awoke to the sound of a phonograph…

Beyond the marsh where the narrator lives there is a chapel, a museum and a swimming pool. The feel of the novel is deftly captured by this clip of a movie based on the book:

9 minutes, no words.

Soon, the narrator discovers other people on the island, including a “gypsy” woman who wears a scarf.

As I watched her, I could hear the ocean with its sounds of movement and fatigue close at hand, as if it had moved to my side.

As he unwinds the mystery of the island and its inhabitants, we’re sucked into his world by trying to guess the exact nature of the place. That brings in the plot, the slowly building tension. Will the narrator discover the true nature of the island and what will his reaction be? It kept me reading and reading until almost the very end.

Finally, there is the novelty of the idea. But what can I say about that without giving it all away? Even after it is revealed, it’s interesting to see how the narrator decides to react.

On a recent trip down to Buenos Aires, I knew I had to secure my own Spanish edition of the book. At the amazing, museum-like Ateneo, I found a beautiful copy with a beautiful cover.

It has a chronology, hand-written notes by the author and photos. Why is it that foreign editions are more desirable objects than American books? I plan to read it some day, but have to improve my Spanish first.

That’s about all for now, have to RUN. I hope that setup gets you interested in the book. It’s a great, atmospheric read that deserves more readers.

,DJ


What would Rare B Sides be without an actual rare B side? Here’s a great one from the Verve, So Sister.

“I wrote your name in dust…”

Finally, My Blogs United

Just united my Goodreads and WordPress blogs as promised long, long ago. So, what does this mean?

First, going forward the sole place I will be adding new posts is my WordPress blog here at

https://dariusjones.wordpress.com/ 

The WordPress RSS should, hopefully, push out to my Goodreads page and blog.

For those with more interest, I started my blog on Goodreads on July 20, 2012. So, now if you trawl through the archives you will be able to find posts from July 20, 2012 through Aug. 7, 2012. Don’t get too excited: there are only six of these posts from the Goodreads blog. They are mostly of historical interest for me, but there are some gems:

  • A good post on Steinbeck I called “The Book in the Mirror.” It was really the first in “The Craft” series of articles on fiction writing.

Steinbeck_Typewriter

It’s good to see the evolution in the blog from bolded text to graphic elements, embedded videos, block quotes and crisper writing. It’s largely been a learning-by-doing process. So, if you’re a writer worried about blogging, just jump in and learn what works. My only (minor) regret is that I didn’t start doing it earlier. 

Thanks for following and reading the blog. There’s lot more good content and news to come.

Late Night at the Claxton

Life is burning fast, friends. I had an interesting night out, in a writer’s way, last weekend (before St. Patty’s) and I wanted to share.

I was invited to a friend’s birthday party at a rooftop bar (we’ll call it the Claxton)downtown. So, I went. Grabbed a wine (Pinot Grigio) and started mingling. Soon, the conversation turned to my writing (which a few close friends know about). My friend, I*, started asking some questions and congratulated me on getting out the book and the sales figures. Then the questions turned, as they usually do, to the craft of writing. It’s usually just curiosity, but often people are thinking about writing themselves, I think. I’m not really sure what the motivation was in this case. Anyway, the questions went something like this:

I: So, how do you find the time? To write? I mean when I come home from work, I’m exhausted.

DJ: [almost shouting, because it’s a packed bar] I am too. I never write on the weekdays.

I [questioning look]: So…?

DJ: I write on Sunday. If you tried to call me on Sunday afternoon, you’ll never reach me. The phone is off. I’m not watching TV or hanging out with friends. I’m usually sitting at a café, writing. The key is dedicated time. With enough Sundays like that, pretty soon you have a story or even a novel. That’s all it is. Dedicated time. 

We kept talking and then her friend C* showed up and I* introduced us. Somehow, I became Darius, the guy “who wrote a book.” Suddenly and strangely, the conversation stopped, screeched to a halt.

C: [to me] Are you serious?

DJ: [almost shouting] Yeah, I wrote a novel and posted it on the Kindle.

C: A fiction novel?

DJ: Yeah. I’ve sold, like, maybe 200 books.

C: [eyes still bigger, in disbelief] Really?

DJ: Yeah.

C: [turns to I, for confirmation.]

I: [just nods.]

It was an awesome moment. It was the first time I’ve “come out” as a writer to a stranger [friends, you are exempt and have all been very supportive] that the response wasn’t:

a) derisive.

b) humorous.

c) skeptical.

d) sarcastic.

Ah, the little victories in life. It was really great to see the wheels spinning and have someone realize that anybody can write a novel and see it out there in the world. Even people you meet at a bar. I think the “200 sales” really surprised her too. 

I* promised to send C* the link to my Amazon Author Page and the conversation turned to other things. After chatting with a few more people, I took a break and went outside on the rooftop overlooking the city. There were a couple of smokers out there and it was cold enough to see your breathe when you exhaled. I could see the rooftop of the gay bar across the street and the lights heading toward downtown. I went off by myself and just looked out over the city. And I thought:

“What do you want? What do you want from writing? Fans? Money? Awards? Is that it?

Don’t you already have what you really want? Creative freedom? Time and health to write? The ability to get what you wrote out there, unadultered, to the public? Isn’t that, in a sense, victory enough?”

I ran my hand through my hair, took a deep breath and walked back into the Claxton.

Later that night, I decided that I’ve “made it.” Not as a successful writer, but as a writer that is satisfied with what he’s done and proud of the stuff he’s put out there. It’s a small step forward, but maybe the most important. It’s just really good to be there right now.

Until next time, keep reading, keep writing,

Darius.  

Historical Novella Almost Done

Hey everybody.

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve been working on a historical novella and it’s almost done.

I just finished it today and wanted to get this out. I still want to put it through a good copyedit and proof, however. So please, have patience.

The novella is set in the ancient Middle East and is based on a Biblical theme. It’s historical fiction with the emphasis on “historical.” That is, I tried to keep it historically accurate. That means no vampires, werewolves or magic. Sorry, fantasy fiction fans.

I will release more details (a title, blurb, etc.) here once I get a finished, well-groomed manuscript in hand. I will also shop it around to publishers, so it may be some time before it sees daylight. Again, be patient. This writing thing takes time.

This song was playing in the café the moment I finished my last edits.

Begins with a pop.

See you around,

Darius.

The Craft: Writer’s Mind, Warrior’s Mind

[This is part of a continuing series on writing fiction.]


A writer, like all craftsmen, is constantly looking to elevate his game. There are a lot of things you learn just by writing and editing your pieces. But sometimes you learn something from a wholly different field and bring it back to enrich your writing. In fact, I’ve learned something about writing from playing video games.

A while back I picked up a copy of Rome Total War. I quickly became addicted and lured in a few of my friends too. It’s an amazingly frustrating game at times. Especially when you start playing online and get crushed.

So, in desperation I searched and found some battle tutorials on YouTube. One guy immediately stood out, Prince of Macedon.

Cool under fire: The Prince of Macedon’s Greatest Victory?

I watched more and more of his vids to hone my RTW game and one day stumbled upon a quote of his about perseverance, encouraging a new player to play online every day. [Note: I haven’t been able to find the quote, but will post it here when I do.]

It may sound cheesy, but that really struck me. There was something about it: how all you needed to do was play each day, record the battle and play it back, analyzing where you went wrong so that next time you wouldn’t make the same mistake.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that little piece of advice. It kept coming up out of my subconscious and I didn’t know why. Suddenly, I figured it out. For me, it was really about writing, so I scribbled this down in my journal.

…writing is not a passive art, but an active profession. It is not for weak, lilting intellectuals, but warriors. It requires the warrior’s sturdiness, his resolve and valor. He is tried in the crucible of experience, of doubt and uncertainty. He does not dwell in the dreams of intellectuals or the certainties of academia, but in the murk and dangers of real life. And like any good commander, he learns and gets better from sometimes painful experience. He is able to learn what techniques, strategies and tricks to use by experimenting, by changing approaches, and most importantly, by failing. He is engaged in a venture with an uncertain outcome and will hear from his critics even when he succeeds admirably…

It [writing] is for a warrior in the game of life: unstinting, courageous, undaunted by failure. A man that wants to move forward through adversity to the glorious uplands in the distance. That is what a writer is.

Since then, I’ve really tried to live up to those words. I realize that not everything I’ve written has been a success. I recognize that even my best writing has gaps, issues, clichés, lazy writing. But I give myself a break and realize that even the best general loses some battles. After all, even Caesar lost horribly at Gregovia (a playable battle in RTW, by the way).

In the end it’s all trial-and-error in writing just like it is in RTW. Some stories come out well, some don’t. Some writing days you kick ass. Some writing days you’re lethargic, uninspired and nothing comes out right. But in the end, the more you write, the better you’ll get. Just like a general in those RTW battles.

So, what became of Alexander of Macedon? Well, after a brief hospital stay in January he’s back online playing games and kicking ass, just like he should be.

And like the rest of us RTW fanatics, he’s waiting for the October release of Rome Total War II. I hope it will be the greatest war game ever, just like its creators envision.

RTW II: from good to great?

I’ll be there too. I’ve already told my girlfriend that for an as-yet-to-be determined weekend in October I will be MIA.

I hope to see some of you readers and writers out there too. Look for DariusWrit or something like that (I’ll let you know here). I may even take a writing break that weekend. Who knows? But even if I take a break that week, I won’t give up writing. Not now. I’ll just come back chastened, wiser, ready to take the battle to the blank page once again and determined to come out a victor this time. Isn’t that what all warriors do?