Archive for July, 2012

There’s a lot of crap out there.  People making music, and movies and writing books that…well, they suck, okay?  Musicians who’ve never picked up an instrument, movie makers who’ve never seen the outside of their basement dwelling.  And writers who couldn’t write their name in the dirt with a stick.
Or…but wait.  Back up a minute, Sparky.  These are all forms of art, yes?  Sure they are.  And what precisely is art meant to do in this day and age?

Communicate.

Does perfection at one’s art equate to clear communication?  One could argue that the more proficient one is at one’s craft, the clearer the communication.  Okay, I might be willing to grant that idea.  But then the question becomes: What are we attempting to communicate?  And is communication the end-all, or are we really talking about resonating?

Ah, now we’re cooking with gas, eh?  Many artists are proficient but do not resonate.  Or perhaps they do not resonate with everyone.  Some of us raise a hand in salute, give a nod to excellence, while others yawn and look for the exit.  And then there are the artists who somehow nail the bull’s-eye without the slightest idea how to notch an arrow (sorry, saw Brave recently).

Maybe—just maybe—art is not about the artist.  Certainly not when it comes to communication and, ultimately, resonance.

An example, if I may: Rush may be one of the greatest bands of our time (don’t argue with me, you will lose).  But what makes them great?  Their musicianship?  Of course.  The complexity of the arrangements and unadulterated skill level at which they play?  Yep, and yep.  But (and this may come as a shock) some people like to dance to music.  Uh-oh.  Can’t dance to Rush.  I’ve tried.  Shifting time signatures and delicious syncopations make dancing to Rush virtually impossible.  Suddenly my favorite band no longer resonates, at least not with everyone.  Who can you dance to?  Ummm, Justin Bieber.  Lady Gaga.  Dare I say it, the poster child for absence of musicianship: Techno?  All danceable.  All quite popular and selling records (or MP3 files I suppose).

We can do this with movies as well.  Overheard at the water cooler: “Titanic was a suckfest.”  Really?  Was it?  Why was it a suckfest?  I took a good deal of umbrage with this statement at first, until I saw the interlocutor’s point.  But screw their point, this is my blog.  To my umbrage then: Here’s why I don’t think Titanic stunk on ice (pardon).  Put aside some questionable acting (Leo DiCaprio has become a fave as of late, but not due to his performance here); look away from gratuitous period jokes (think Billy Zane and his dissing of the upstart Picasso’s paintings); let’s avert our gaze for a moment from Kate Winslet’s bare breasts…no, wait, that’s one of the good points (or two, if you feel me).  Aside from all that, what did Titanic achieve?  Cinematic excellence?  Oscar-worthy performances?  A gripping and unpredictable story line?  Nope, none of that.  What then?  Here’s what, since you asked: Titanic took me somewhere I’d never been; somewhere I never could’ve been.  What James Cameron did for me was give me the opportunity to visit a pretty convincing version of a historic vessel, and he placed me on that vessel in a moment in time (the moment) so I could imagine what it was like to see the iceberg looming, to experience something I really never, ever want to experience, which is to say the feeling of the boat going down beneath me.  Titanic is a time machine—I was transported.  It resonated with me.  I do not know enough about the art and craft of movie making to see anything other than the story, to feel the deck pitch and sway beneath me and wonder just how testicle-shriveling cold that water’s going to be when I finally hit.  Resonance, communicated clearly from Cameron’s brain to my ganglion.  Bravo, sir.

I know a little about music—I’ve been performing for more years than I care to think about—so I can speak on the subject with some modicum of intelligence.  I do not, however, know as much about the art of cinema; I only know how it makes me feel, and so I have many guilty pleasures, films and television shows that make me laugh and cry and cringe and whatnot.  Books now…ah, here’s what we paid our nickel to discuss, yes?

I am a writer.  This is what I do, and what I have spent a great many years learning to do well.  What does learning to write well consist of?  First, and maybe most important of all, it consists of reading—millions and millions of words that others wrote before me.  Our libraries and bookstores and Kindle devices are the universities we writers flock to…or should that read: the universities to which we flock?  Never mind.  We read so we know what has been written, and to see how it was done.  Then, and only then, should we write.  Constantly.  We write and throw it out and write some more.  It is the only way to become proficient.  What about writing courses, writing groups, etc.?  Sure, if you’ve got the time.  But if you’re writing and reading as much as you should be….well, you probably won’t have time for such extracurricular activities as writing classes.  Basic English is all you need (if you happen to be writing for an English-speaking audience).  Beyond that , you will learn everything you need to know about good sentence structure, dialogue, and description, from your reading.  But this is not my point.

I’ve been working my way through some horrendously bad fiction as of late.  Trading reviews with other writers, paying it forward, spinning the wheel of Karma.  Bad writing is not easy to read; it can be torture if you happen to know what good writing looks like.  Open anything by Dan Simmons, or Lawrence Block, or Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Peter Straub, David Morrell, Ray Bradbury, Robert B. Parker, Trent Zelazny…sigh, this is making me want to read.  These writers all have The Gift.  That indefinable something that is hard to point to and say: “This is why it’s good.”  Actually, if you can point to it, it’s probably not good writing—good writing is not aware of itself, does not stand up and say, “Look at me, look how clever I am!”  Bad writing on the other hand…well, it has a smell.  And it ain’t good.

So I’m reading these clunky efforts, and judging the crap out of them, and wondering why on earth these folks didn’t stick with Sudoku…and then I become increasingly aware just how many of these writers and books are out there.  Anyone with a word processor and a junior high understanding of computers (and grammar) can publish an eBook.  And if that weren’t enough, people are actually reading the damned things! Some of these books are at the 5th or 6th installment for crying out loud, and people are flocking to them.  Because they are literary works of art?  No.  Because they speak to the human condition and enrich our understanding of the Universe?  Hardly.  Why then?  For the love of Edward Cullen, why???

Ahem.  Because they resonate.  With me?  Not so much.  But when did what I like become the litmus test for what everyone should like?  People flock to these books because they like the stories.  Period.  The subject matter, or hunky dude on the cover, or twenty-seven euphemisms for male (or female) genitalia moves them on some level.  And as a lifelong lover of books, the hardest thing for me to admit is that I sort of envy them.  They don’t see bad writing; they don’t see cardboard characters and implausible plotlines.  They see (like me with Titanic) angst and glamour and fear, oh my.  The things that turn me on in a book would likely bore them to tears.  Does that make me smarter than they?  No, it makes me interested in different things.  I’m interested in the sheer craft of writing—and when it’s done well, the story hits me all the harder—when it isn’t done well…ah, the heck with it, I don’t’ finish a lot of books I start.  But I sometimes wonder if these other readers (and writers) might not have tapped into something grand: they are in it for pure story, pure entertainment, pure resonance.  And who is the better person here? Do they judge me for the books I like to read?  Uh-uh.  Yet I find myself judging them at nearly every turn, calling them names and questioning their genetics.  What fresh arrogance is this?  It’s akin to calling Itzhak Perlman a dullard because he doesn’t appreciate Charlie Daniels.

This has been a soul-searching rumination.  I am interested in your thoughts on the subject, I only ask that you be nice.  Don’t name names unless you are being complimentary.  Tell me: What kind of art rocks your world?  Who are the practitioners you particularly enjoy, and why?  Are you able to see how your liking them does not in and of itself make them great?  And that you not liking another artist doesn’t mean they’re no good?

Talk amongst yourselves.  And talk to me.  I’m all ears.

A shameless plug…

Posted: July 5, 2012 in Random Rumis

Actually, there are many shameless plugs herein, but in my defense…they are all from other people.

I promise not to do this sort of thing too often, but now and then one desires a bit of an ego boost, and to polish one’s nails vigorously against an imagined silken vest.

To that end I offer the following reviews for my book, Relative Sanity.

5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read! June 29, 2012

From the first page I was hooked. It has been awhile since I have picked up a book and have it get into my mind and have it keep drawing me back. It had just enough weird creepiness and thought provoking story line to keep me wondering just where it was going to go. It all comes together in the last few pages…..must read!

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5.0 out of 5 stars A book I wish I could write! January 22, 2012

Martin Reaves has created a dark, cold, muddy world that I was glad and fortunate to be enmeshed in. This is a book I can categorize, lightly, as scary. Not scary as in cheap thrills and the generically supernatural. Scary as in the unknown passages of minds slipping away from reality, of the twists in life that create havoc in the human psyche, of stories and characters so plausible that one wonders, with understandable fright, what would happen to our relatively normal lives if fate slapped us a little too hard.

Alex Tinkham and Nick Grimmer are best friends and partners in their detective work. They’re brought in to investigate a case I can’t describe without giving away the plot, and then their stories are crossed with other incredibly memorable characters’ in such an artistic, clever way that I wondered, page after page after page, where the plot was going and how it would unfold. And wow, how it did!

It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve allowed myself to read a thriller of this nature simply because I don’t enjoy having scary thoughts in my mind. I gave up superficial fare a long time ago, but I am so glad I picked up a book by an author who is so supremely talented that I can only hope more people flock to his books and enjoy them as much as I am. I bought his other book, “Relative Karma”, nanoseconds after I finished “Relative Sanity”. I haven’t been as involved in something dark since Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” a couple of years back and the only reason I compare these two books is because Brown also has a knack for putting his characters and readers in uncomfortable, perilous places and yet you love every second of that difficult flight. I enjoyed this book just as much, if not so much more, than Brown’s.

This is a book I wish I could write: a mix of literary fiction, thriller and mystery; something as difficult to categorize and describe as I am sure it was to write. But all descriptions and words aside, the bottom line is an expertly written, highly entertaining novel by an author I am very happy to follow closely. I look forward to reading “Relative Karma”, and I recommend “Relative Sanity” with the awe and satisfaction of having read something that’s simply quite brilliant. Kudos to Mr. Reaves for his amazing work – in a nutshell, what a good, good book!!

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4.0 out of 5 stars A totally engrossing and satisfying read. December 12, 2011

With “Relative Sanity” Martin Reaves has peeled back the layers of life in a small town; revealing a dense and disturbing vista that may be closer to each of us than we’d be comfortable with revealing to the world. The claims in the previous reviews that this book is a real page-turner are NOT exaggerated in the least. I read this book in one marathon session, and was completely riveted. Yes, this is a dark tale that many residents of Any-Town USA will be able to relate to, and it claws at the kind of emotional scabs that long-term friendships and relationships can sometimes ignore. The tone of the book is almost confessional in nature, which only serves to make the characters all the more real and their unique pain transgressive. The story unfolds at just the right pace, and the interwoven lives of the characters seem very plausible; never treading into plot-convenient waters. This was a fantastic tale, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of Stephen King, Peter Straub, or even fans of true-crime authors such as Ann Rule and Jack Olsen.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Winding road…, October 11, 2011

This book was great! At first you wonder how these lives could possibly be connected… You wonder how these characters might help one another, and then twist after turn, you get there, you get it, and you wonder what the hell kind of genius mind could think up such a story, with such connections.
Bravo! I thoroughly enjoyed this work of art!

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5.0 out of 5 stars A SENSATIONAL Read! October 5, 2011

This book grabbed me from the first page and I could not put it down. You yearn to know what will happen next.   Martin Reaves’ writing is brilliant. The way he draws you in by feeding you a breadcrumb of information at a time only to tie it all together in a shocking twist of an ending.  An absolute MUST read! I cannot wait to see what he comes out with next!

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5.0 out of 5 stars A winner from page one! October 3, 2011

Martin Reaves nails it! Rarely does an author go so smoothly from one scenario to the next and have me caring for the characters so soon into the first chapters. I read Relative Sanity straight through. This is one I will be recommending for a long time to come! I LOVE reading and this book doesn’t disappoint! It’s going into my favorites!

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5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST Read!!! September 30, 2011

This novel grabs you from the very beginning. It was near impossible to put down. Plenty of twists and turns and extremely real characters you grow to know and love.
I can’t wait to dive into Reaves’s next novel!

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Fabulous Read, September 27, 2011

I could not put this book down once I started. The characters were realistic and interesting, and the story was unpredictable. Just a really great read.

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5.0 out of 5 stars *** INSANELY READABLE ***, September 25, 2011

Putting this book down is not an option – wow. The page disappears within seconds of reading the first line. It is not so much a narrative as a voice whispering in your ear, perhaps your own. Read it. You will not be sorry.

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5.0 out of 5 stars TOTALLY ENJOYABLE, September 18, 2011

Grabs you from the first page and is hard to put down until you finish the last!
You think you know how it ends but it was totally unpredictable. I recommend this to all my friends and fellow readers!

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5.0 out of 5 stars Relative Sanity, September 8, 2011

An exciting read. I enjoyed this very much. I love the way Martin made us care about the characters. Can’t wait to see what’s next from this author.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Captured and Kept My Attention, August 11, 2011

This book caught my attention from the first page. The story engrossed me, fed me little bits of information and roamed between a few key characters. I didn’t want to put it down. I took it with me everywhere I went so I could get back into the story even if only for a single page at a time. I anxiously await more books from this talented author which I surely will purchase. Thank you and Keep it coming Martin Reaves.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, August 7, 2011

A great read! Could not put it down. Plot kept me guessing, had a couple of things figured out, but then a couple that surprised me. I will look forward to reading more from Mr. Reaves.

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5.0 out of 5 stars timeless, August 4, 2011

Time evaporated while immersed in Relative Sanity. Great read. Biting my nails until the next book by Martin Reaves.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Relative Sanity, August 3, 2011

Relative Sanity was one of those books you just can’t put down. Loved it! Can’t wait for more books by author Martin Reaves.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book! July 25, 2011

I couldn’t put this down….loved the sarcastic humor! Even though the subject matter was serious, I chuckled at the sarcasm. I hope he writes more because I would absolutely read it!!!

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5.0 out of 5 stars A must read! July 21, 2011

Relative Sanity is a brilliant psychological thriller! I had difficulty putting it down. A must read and a perfect addition to your holiday reading list. You will not be disappointed.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting and Intriguing, July 14, 2011

Martin Reaves’s second novel, _Relative Sanity_, is an intriguing and edgy psychological thriller that you won’t be able to put down. Readers of Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King, or Truman Capote — though Reaves’s novel is better written than Palahniuk’s or King’s work — will appreciate this frightening, touching, and unflinching look at the darker recesses of our minds.