When to cut chapters


Dark Orbit is written in chapters, and not just the ordinary chapters with a single story but with multiple scenes coalesced into a single chapter. And each chapter break also coincides with a perspective change, alternating between Sara and Thora, or at least most of the time. (Read the italics for the theory on chapter breaks.)

Chapter 1: About Sara reorienting herself with Capeallan society after 25 years, this chapter overviews the main character’s background and personality while introducing a new plot line: observing/protecting Thora aboard the space ship, called Escher. This chapter comes in right when Sara coalesces on the transmission pad and ‘fades’ out at the ending of her job assignment meeting with her boss.

Chapter 2: This chapter introduces us  to the second main character, Thora, in the form of a written version of her audio diary. “Iris, they have called it: the rainbow planet” (Gilman 23). It first focuses on facts, on the new setting of where our characters are now located. And then after, introduces some of the tension points (which crew members are present and their relationships with each other) and new conflict (somebody was murdered within their room). It fades out with Thora remembering how she showed the crime to the head of security.

Chapter 3: “News of the murder spread through the ship at the speed of a rumor…” (Gilman 45) continues the tension with the murder, except a reversal in perspective, this time continuing with Sara. But while the murder is still a mystery, the scientists continue their mission to the planet’s surface, ending with Sara wondering where Thora had gone, ramping up the tension with a new conflict: where had the book’s most central character gone? And had she been murdered?

Chapter 4: The first line of this chapter continues with the conflict, changing the setting, by moving all the characters back to the ship. Even though there is a portion with Thora’s POV, most of the chapter sits in Sara’s POV, trying to figure out where Thora went or was murdered. At least, until a new conflict is added within the last line of the chapter, “Sara, it’s a native” (Gilman 92).

Already I’m sensing a bit of a pattern. The first line of each chapter continues the previous situation, reinstating the conflicts as a bit of a reminder. Which makes me think it’s almost a sales gimmick – for those who have put the book down between chapter, it’s easy to jump back and remember what you just read.

And the last line, almost section, of each chapter introduces another conflict that ramps up the tension of next portion of the book. Notice it’s always something different, whether a complicaiton or conflict: first the murder, then another supposed murder, and now native where they expected none. We’re maybe a third into the book, and we’re easily being pulled along.

Chapter 5: “I am in darkness,” says Thora in her audio diary (Gilman 93), introducing us to a new setting and giving away a point of tension, that Thora is still alive and well, but somehow blind at this point in time. The chapter continues with Thora, discovering where she is, which natives rescue her, and why she is here. It ends with with a point of excitement for her character: “I am tantalized by the thought that they can lead me to something I have been seeking for a very long time” (Gilman 115).

I also think it’s very interesting that most intros and conclusions of each chapter start with an internal reflection. It’s very few to open/close with dialogue or action, usually only with reflection by the character. 

Chapter 6: This chapter actually feels like a continuation of chapter 4 because it restarts with Sara’s reaction to the dialogue of ‘a native.’ It then moves to the native’s interaction with Sara and the rest of the crew, and ends with the realization they will have to teach a blind person to see in order to get Thora back.

Chapter 7: And then back to Thora! Another internal reflection, not really a setting-related fact, only a feeling: exhausted. This chapter continues to delve into Thora’s interactions with the local community, and how she is learning more about her past, herself, and something the natives call, the Ground. The last thing we read is Thora’s feelings on the subject: “I think I am close to an important discovery, perhaps more important than anything I have ever learned – yet if I could escape tomorrow, I would” (Gilman 164).

Chapter 8: Back to Sara and teaching the native to see, as stated in the first line of the chapter, reorienting us in the perspective and plot. It continues with this purpose, except toward the end, conflict is ramped: the native had vanished and a gravity bubble, or spatial anomaly, appeared in the space ship, which broke their lightbeam assembler, preventing their return to Capella Two.

At this point, I believe the slowest chapters are Thora’s, but having finished the book, I also believe these are the most important. The slowness comes from the fact they are so reflective, without the tension-heavy conflict that comes from Sara. But I think it’s Sara, action-heavy perspective that helps propels the book forward, revealing Thora’s discovery, with the aid from Sara, who thinks in more plain terms, being a scientist that observes culture, not the senses. 

Chapter 9: This chapter starts with an observation: the medicine man was reluctant to take Thora on as a student with the rest of the chapter showing how she became the student and learned his experiences. It ends with a new conflict: the gravity anomalies are getting worse, and Thora needs the medicine man for help, except he’s gone. This ramps up the tension at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 10: Another observation starts this chapter: a character’s reaction to Thora’s reaction. Thora must get home, but a character helps lead home to her, ending with a partial conclusions – Thora was found: “There, lying in the perfect blackness beneath them, was Torobe” (Gilman 240).

Chapter 11: And yet another observation, this time of the what the city looks like, directing our attention to the new setting and that we’re set in Sara’s perspective. This chapter shows the city’s desperation, and the first contact between the two communities as they ask each other for help. The last part of the chapter shows tension ramping up with a new complication: the space ship was rearranged from the spatial anomaly.

It seems not only are chapters started by a continuation or restatement of the previous happenings, but can also start with an observation that helps set the scene. I still find it conclusive that each chapter ends with either a profound thought or some sort of tension ramping which encourages the reader to continue with the story rather than stop and take a break. 

Chapter 12: Restatement: “They returned to a different ship than they had left” (Gilman 263). This is the people’s last chance to save each other, but they must trust each other – a difficult thing considering that characters distrust each other from the initial murder and mission arrangement. But, it ends with a partial resolution: “He looked at her hand as if it were a cobra, but finally shook it” (Gilman 283).

Chapter 13: Another repetition of what readers have missed: “I am going back to Torobe,” says Thora (Gilman 285). She is the central character who is going to save the people of both communities. But it is Sara who we leave with, with a repetition of the initial introduction when she climbs back onto a lightbeam dis-assembler instead, bringing us in a complete circle.

I think it’s definitely safe to say these chapter breaks were designed with the act of reading in mind. Each starting sentence is with the intention to re-introduce readers to the action, reminding them what they had previously read while each ending sentence ramps up the tension with some sort of conflict or complication in order to encourage readers to keep on reading. 

It’s a very interesting design choice, and I think it’s a good thing to keep in mind when you want to encourage readers to finish your book. It can make the difference between a somewhat dragging read, to a faster read since readers who devour chapters are devouring your book. 

Gilman, Caryoln Ives. Dark Orbit. New York, NY: Tor, 2015. Print.

A Thorough Introduction

I wasn’t supposed to finish this book so quickly. Stuck on a snowy mountain for four days with sore muscles from panicked skiing, I was supposed to stretch this book out to last each evening, and instead I finish it my second night here. Sometimes it’s not the best to be a quick reader.

Titled, Dark Orbit, it’s about two women: Sara and Thora, who are both sent to Iris, a newly discovered planet, and find out they have to save the inhabitants from the outcropping space-folds. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Although Carolyn Ives Gilman is not a poetic writer, I get the impression she is very organized. Everything she writes seems to have some importance, being directly relevant to the story in some way, which I quickly sensed after reading the introduction. It quickly gives her away as being a very direct, focused writer.

In the first line of the book, the reader learns about which planet and timeline we’re on: “In the course of Saraswati Callicot’s vagabond career, she had been disassembled and brought back to life so many times, the idea of self-knowledge had become a bit of a joke” (Gilman 1). Through this internal reflection, the reader learns that in this timeline, the people can travel through a process of particle dis- and re-assembly.

Continuing the process of self-reflection, we learn the type of story this will be: “Even with endless experience, she still felt like an anachronism until she accounted for the years everyone else had lived, and that she had spent as a beam of clarified light. / It had been five years in her subjective time since she had left Capella Two” (Gilman 8). This story will be one of science fiction that treads the line between make believe and theory, which makes it a more convincing story to have some anchor in truth. I certainly believed more in the theme. This line also introduces part of the background of the character, slowly transitioning as a sort of past reflection, letting the reader catch up with the character.

The introduction continues by having Sara examine herself in a mirror – oddly cyclic when compared to the ending, though it’s perhaps not a coincident. And then by her past catching up with her for her mission, the true start of the story, the reader gets a sense of the character’s attitude, looks, and background. By the one of the main character’s being an exoethnologist, a scientist who studies outside cultures and ideas, she’s much more analytical of her surroundings, hence the critical POV from this character.

This book would be a good study for authors looking to introduce their story. As always, there’s multiple ways to do it, but by choosing this moment of the story – after her transport by light beam – it gives the reader to catch up with the character, to check out her appearance and the world around her, to reflect on how things have changed from her past and etc. I’m sure everyone would have a good point in a timeline to better examine their characters, and self-reflection seems like a good start on how to do it.

Gilman, Caryoln Ives. Dark Orbit. New York, NY: Tor, 2015. Print.

Duck. Duck. Pass!

I’ve been working with the theory of passing – a form of editing that involves checking your paper for a single aspect and then repeating through a list, and I feel like this method has been really working well for me. It keeps the task from feeling overwhelming, and helps me stay focused.

It also reminds me a lot of CUPS, which works in the same theory, working in passes over your paper while checking for specific aspects of copy editing.

I’d like to propose another acronym for editing. But first, I have to examine what I’d like to check for:

1. Concise writing

2. Understandable timeline

3. Tense conflict

4. Smooth transitions

5. Original plot line/characters

6. Many internal reflections + reactions

7. Evocative imagery

CUT SOME sounds pleasantly terrible when you consider it’s in respect for a book, not necessarily your dinner. Ha. And it’s a nice phrase to keep in mind while editing. I’ve found that I tend to deviate within my writing, and although it can be timely, a lot of the times, it drags out a scene and becomes distracting. Cutting has helped me a lot…

Also not a healthy phrase to say at a party.

But each of these is something I would recommend to check within a pass while editing. Change as you see fit.

For more help, look here!

Edit: I want to remind myself: Action, reaction, reflection. These are the most important pieces of a story, and without these, your story is lifeless! I definitely think there’s such a thing as over-editing, which might cause me to go back and write straight up scenes to inject life back into a piece. Tragic, I know.

Writing is manipulative

People are manipulative, or at least I think most people are, including myself. It’s human nature where there exists a want and a have.

Think back to Snow White and her step-mother. She was too beautiful, her mother too jealous. When her mother couldn’t stand it anymore, she poisoned her step-daughter, feeding her a sleeping potion, disguised as the world’s most beautiful apple, shiny and red with a gentle reflection of light. She manipulated the nicest girl to give  up her position as princess.

I feel like writing’s the same way, though I’m not manipulating you to give up your throne.

When you write, you write to convince the reader of a life, a story. You want to prove your character is real, and manipulate readers into caring for your individual, no matter if he’s fiction or not. And a lot of times this means using some form of manipulation within your writing.

And before you walk away, thinking I’m crazy: Wait. I’m not talking about your normal manipulation, where you include some devious discourse to convince others to have it your way. I guess I’m talking more about persuasion since you have to convince readers your writing is real.

When you write, you have to include the reaction and feelings of your characters. Their reflection. You have to write so that when your readers read, they feel the same things your characters do because they’ve inserted themselves into the same places and lives.

It’s an odd reflection when you realize that writers are just as much psychologists as they are writers. It’s made me consider teaching as a much more helpful profession for writing since I get to witness every day how my students try to manipulate me and how I try to manipulate them.

(Which I do. I had lots of students confess they wanted to skip class on Friday, and I had to convince them to stay. A lot of them didn’t want to take the quiz we had promised to give, but unbeknownst to them, it was worth barely any points. Worth much less than the real deal. Because, of course, we couldn’t quiz before break. They weren’t that practiced with the unit.)

Other than that, I don’t have much to give. But I thought it an odd reflection that I was willing to share.

Characters in the Vorrh

Characters in the void – I mean, Vorrh. 😛

So this post is mainly for myself. I’m having trouble keeping track of them all, and to relate this to my teacher-reading…Because our brain generates new knowledge by connecting concepts, because this story hasn’t yet drawn any lines between plot, conflict, or characters, I’m having trouble following all of the characters and their individual lives.

Yes. I like reading the book.

No. I’m not sure what’s going on.

This is me trying to connect what I’m reading – its purpose or plot line, in reference to characters.


Anthropophagi – Yellow, pink-spotted, cannibals who feed on humans and attract them deep into the forest with pails of water and food. Once they find you, they cut your Achilles’s heel and drag you back to camp. (Monster in the Vorrh)

Charlotte – Woman married to Frenchman. Compassionate, sympathetic, empathetic.

Cyrena Lohr – 33-year old used-to-be blind woman, who gained her sight after sleeping with Ishmael at the carnival. Wore the costume the “Owl.”

Edward Muggeridge – aka Muybridge, hunter of quiet. 30-year old man who underwent a stagecoach accident and lost part of his vision. Fixed by a doctor and became a famous photographer, more famous for his Native American portraits.

Erstwhile – Old beasts living in the Vorrh with the task to protect the tree of knowledge

Frenchman – aka Raymond Roussel. Writer who compiles the history of the Vorrh, married to Charlotte.

Ghertrude Eloise Tulp – Only child. Daughter of third-generation owner of city’s second-largest timber merchant. Wants to know everything. Can lock pick.

Dr. Gull – aka Sir William, the physical doctor in England, who healed Muggeridge and studies medicine of the soul and mind, most recently anorexics and such.

Flora – Wife of Edward Muybridge.

Irrinipeste – aka Este. Seer who was born in the Vorrh, daughter to Abungu. When she died, her body was made into a bow. Kin to Erstwhile (?). Living heart of the True People (?).

Ishmael – Abnormal white human, raised by the Kin. Smart cyclops.

Kin – Dark-brown machines, made from different material that’s not human, made from Bakelite, like furniture (early plastic). Includes Abel (explains materials and processes), Aklia (explains plants, minerals, earth, and insects), Seth (teach tools, history, inventions), and Luluwa (instructs on animals and their use). Filled with white pus.

Mutter – Slave man who carried boxes to Ghertrude’s 4 Koheler house.

Nebuesel – medicine man doctor who helps Tsungali stitch his jaw back together and make him a new arm & helps make Ishmael a second eye in his face, or makes him normal

Orm – something used to wipe out the Bowman, worked within Limboia. Birthed from the aborted child brought to the Limboia who did some ritual on it to give it consciousness? Correction: Orm is a power/ghost thing that was used to kill Tsungali and protect the Bowman.

Peter Williams – aka, “I,” the only first-person perspective in the book, also known as the Bowman or Oneofthewilliams, married to Este. Soldier in the outpost southeast of Vorrh. Also an armourer, meant to equip and train the new police force. Preferred to butcher “professionally, with a precise tool in skilled hands” (19). “I am a man with four eyes” (362) – is this meant to reference him and Este?

Rumour – all humans and semihumans after Adam

Seil Kor – Black man, wise. Knows the legend of the Vorrh.

Sidrus – some sort of police (107)? An assassin meant to stop the Bowman before he made it to the Vorrh. Correction: An assassin dude meant to protect the Bowman while he makes it to the Vorrh. He’s meant to be the forest defender (???).

Sigmund Mutter – Servant, tight-lipped. Delivers the boxes to 4 Kuhler Brunnen (house).

Tsungali – Black man who worked in the bush police (& British army), uses a Lee-Engfield rifle. Has scars, prophecies, and charms marked in his face to protect against animals, demon, and men. Has dispatched 23 men and 3 demons. He began the Possession Wars – to take back his people’s lands. (Won.)

Williams Maclish – a Scottish used-to-be Black Watch sergeant, who now controls the Limboia (slaves of the Vorrh train)


Right now, I think the book is told from the Frenchman’s point of view or writings about the Vorrh, which is God’s land, partly made of the Garden of Eden. Don’t know much more beyond that. This book is currently skipping between characters, more introductions, and their history, catching up to what they’re doing now. It seems as much of the tension is built from Eloise and Ishmael since Eloise just broke into Ishmael’s house.


Okay, I’m on page 259, and it seems multiple plot lines are going on right now. There’s Eloise who used to teach Ishmael, until he ran away into the Vorrh after accidentally giving back Cyrena her sight (unknowingly). There’s Muybridge who is busy trying to impress Dr. Gull with his photography, until Gull gives in and decides to use photos to help with the study of disease of the mind and will. There’s the Frenchman who traveled into the Vorrh, getting lost because of his stern refusal to follow Seil Kor in his biblical teachings, until Seil Kor comes back to rescue him in the forest. Then there’s Tsungali wanting to kill the Bowman and got hurt in the process, losing use of his jaw and hurting his arm, but is still determined to follow and kill the Bowman into the Vorrh. The Bowman seems like he’s supposed to be the most important person in the book since he’s the singular first-person perspective, and the seer, Este gave him some important task besides constructing his bow from her body. He always seems to have direction of moving into the Vorrh but I still don’t know for what.

Edit 2:


So I finished the book. All 495 pages. Not including the epilogue. (I skipped it.) And basically the plot stands as this: After sleeping with Cyrena, Ishmael left for the Vorrh, wanting to figure himself out. There he saved Tsungali’s life from the Bowman, after which Tsungali offered to take Ishmael to the medicine man (Nebuesel) to give him a new face with the extra eye that Tsungali had found upon one of the Anthropophagi. While this is happening, Ghertrude and Cyrena look to bring him home, first using the Orm, controlled by the doctor and Maclish, only to fail, which brings about Mutter killing the doctor since he threatened the girls’ reputation (being fearful of them ruining his reputation). Along the way, we find out Ghertrude is pregnant, never learning whose child, only that it happened along the same time as the carnival. Later, Ishmael and Tsungali make it back to the medicine man, who remakes Ishmael’s face and Tsungali’s arm, and where, through paranoia, Sidrus comes to kill Tsungali and through doubt lets Ishmael live until Nebuesel makes it back to save him. Nebuesel, upset, threatens Sidrus and lets him escape the hut after feeding him poison, and lets Tsungali’s ghost stay to protect Ishmael until the cyclops leaves for the city to go back to his love, Cyrena. After we found out, Sidrus did survive but only after mutilation from the poison, where he then decides to go into the Vorrh to fix himself.

Then there’s Muybridge with his photography, who in the end goes crazy, thinking Dr. Gull is still alive when he’s not, perhaps thinking he can capture things in photographs that’s not in the physical world. 

Then the Frenchman, who went home after losing his memories of Seil Kor to the Vorrh, where Seil Kor died from the Orm on accident. 

In the end, we find out that Sidrus, desperate to figure out the purpose/center of the Vorrh, tries to get the knowledge from Williams, by kidnapping the man and torturing him, but the arrow that Wiliams had first shot comes down and kills him, releasing him to freedom, also showing us the exact point where he remembers his wife, Este. Still desperate for the knowledge inside the Vorrh, he hunts back inside the forest, but it’s around this point, when Tsungali shoots his arrow, which seems to make the forest die and disappear.

Still not sure what the book is about. It has to do with the Vorrh, and although I’m reluctant to admit it – since the bow changed hands so late int he game – I do think Este has to do with it, especially with her two arrows. I don’t know… I’m gonna read up and come back.

Edit 3:

This helps. Kij Johnson says this book is in response to Roussel’s Impressions of Africa, and this is the first volume of a trilogy…Doesn’t make me feel any better but it helps a little bit. You can definitely tell this book had a bigger purpose. It just never wanted to let you in on it.

OPINION – is this book worth it?

Currently? Yes. It has compelling enough style that I am still reading even though it is slow, and not quite developing yet. I’m still interested. It is different to want to keep reading, and to need to keep reading. I don’t feel the need or tension to turn the page, so can put the book down whenever I want. But, I want to keep reading because the pieces are interesting enough I want to know what happens.


I don’t think so. It has style, but there’s some scenes and chapters that either have no sense of purpose or are completely random and seem to have been thrown in there for an injection of artificial tension into the story. Like how Ghertrude and Ishmael copulated. Or the focus on the assassins targeting the Bowman. There was one scene of Sidrus who cut apart these other assassins and then cut off the genitals of a kid standing in his way. I get assassins are gruesome, but do all of them necessarily cause such a big scene? I thought assassins were supposed to be secretive. I don’t know. The first part of this book felt more like Cloud Atlas, very artsy and slow and descriptive, as if it was building up to this huge insight, and then there was this break with battles and sex thrown in, and it felt disjointed to his previous style. It’s slowly moving back to match the beginning, and I’m getting back into it. But as of right now, not so much a big fan, though still beautiful writing.

Edit 2:

Okay, so I’m now done with the book after a few days of avoiding it, and overall I have to say I’m confused. I’m not quite sure what the book was about, and I feel I can’t necessarily talk about it since I didn’t understand it so take everything I say with a grain of salt. But that still doesn’t detract from me opinion that I don’t like it. Everyone who knows me can attest to this because I’ve been complaining for quite a few days. But I’m also very vocal, so that could be part of it.

1) There were parts of the book that felt random. I wasn’t quite sure why they were there, such as the part of the priest, Lutchen, and Sidrus (who I believe to be a different Sidrus than the rest of the book because it mentioned a whole lot of people were named that after a famous hero). They killed the Erstwhile, and never appeared again in the book besides these two to three scenes. It was also very abstract, which didn’t help me at all. Another example of randomness on page 418: at least it didn’t fit the character of doctor Nebuesel to call out to Sidrus thinking the cyclops murdered the Bowman.

2) Finally figured out the purpose of the Bowman on page 284! He was meant to travel through the Vorrh…but I already knew that. At least it mentioned his life was a mystery, promising the reader, we’ll never figure out why he has to do this…Yeah. I’m upset. An unsolved mystery is really annoying. But it did mention on 320 that “if the Englishman [Williams] passed through the forest again, he alone would have the opportunity to understand its balance, its future, and maybe even its past. Not since Adam had such a single being altered the purpose and the meaning of the Vorrh…” This makes me think that the purpose of the book is not necessarily the Bowman, but the Vorrh. Makes sense looking at the title.

But it brings about the question, which I had written inside of my copy, why tell me now? Why leave the largest portion of the book a mystery, letting the reader figure it out for themselves, before giving up a plot point and making yourself either repetitious or glory-driven for having such a reversal of the reader’s interpretation of the facts? I have no idea. I don’t know why everything is being given away in the latter portion of the book, though it explains why I was able to follow a little bit easier and read with more vigor. 

But maybe the book is instead about the bow, which would be weird. See, Ishmael got the bow after Oneofthewilliams. Then, Tsungali got the bow. Essentially, the bow is being passed with the two arrows that Este made to each of these three men, where it “[draws] a blood line around all [their] maps of possible tomorrows” (411). Fyi: Ishmael never shoots. If anything, the bow is at least important (symbolic of something?), but it did make me angry to have the bow change hands after being with the same person for four-fifths of the book…

3) There were also parts of the book that felt totally repetitious, such as Maclish and the doctor repeating what we already knew about the Orm hollowing the wrong man. Or, how Ghertrude reveals to Cyrena that she’s pregnant (rather than the fact that she incidentally killed the doctor). A lot of this the reader already knew, and could’ve easily been summarized to show, hey the characters know now, rather than letting the reader read it again.

4) And we’re still introducing characters, albeight nothing more than a quick scene or so. But, it’s still the author ducking into a close third perspective, which makes me feel really strange. As if the author is standing there pointing his finger, saying, remember him! He’ll be important later! Why now?

5) I also find myself somewhat upset at having to go back and correct my definitions, which finds myself begging the question, was the book clear on all its descriptions? If I misinterpreted a lot of these characteristics, that would mean I’m misinterpreting the books plot the entire time. I’m really concerned over this. If there was just one correction, I’m willing to blame myself and let it slide. But there’s actually quite a few.

TL;DR I didn’t like the book. I found it confusing, random, repetitious, and at times withholding information that would’ve been more helpful and informative in the beginning of the book. Overall, I think this book would be more helpful in a style rather than construction sort of way.

Catling, B. The Vorrh. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2015. Print.

Realism in words

In school today, I had some news-droppers – students who have a lot going on in their lives and have decided to sneak me a peek of their home lives right before Christmas, “holiday,” break. And it’s kind of depressing.

When you’re a teacher (or a teacher-in-training), you’re privy to all these kids lives, and so many of them have 504s (classroom/instruction accommodations) and so many of them have IEPS (classroom/instruction modifications). And then you realize that there’s stressors on top of that. I’ve had kids with concussions, who’ve lost parents, whose family has been in the hospital. And this doesn’t even begin to cover it.

And yet it hit me today, when we write, I feel like our characters don’t even begin to bridge this sense of realism or complexity. There are some books who come close, but I feel like it’s their plot or conflict, not necessarily their characters. But there’s always the exception.

I feel like Vorrh is better at this than most. When it describes its characters set of problems, I feel like their perspective has a certain realistic weight, and I think this combination of abstract and detailed writing style has helped Catling achieve this effect.  (Also has been one of the slowest, while still interesting, reads for me.)

It was the museum that changed everything and explained the volume of their lies…And there, at the centre, was his grandfather’s sacrificial spear. The one that had been handed down towards him for centuries, its wood impregnated with the sweat and prayers of his family. The one that he had never touched. He had walked into a trove house of all that was significant, all that was cherished – all that was stolen. (Catling 28)

This paragraph made me feel humbled and made me feel equivalent to what the Native Americans felt when we immigrated to this land, like we had stolen something of theirs, and yet being the typical ‘white, privileged’ person, reading this on the other side of the person touring these museums, it made me feel like this was a true statement. Everything in museums was in a sense stolen from these people lives. Put on display for others to gawk and gossip. It was an oddly humbling scene, making me feel somewhat guilty on behalf of others and sorry for the more man whose family has suffered because of it.

I think the best praise I can give Catling is I love and hate him for his style. He’ll have pieces like this that are inspiring, purely revolutionary for the kind of effect and intellectual stimulation it can affect on the reader, and yet I come across passages like this:

It grabbed at his memories and perverted them with elaborate motivations, succulent in their weirdness, making stupidity and pride fuck on the hallowed ground of his genius. (Catling 58)

Which confuse me, and literally mind-“f” me to no end. Seriously. No idea what’s going on in this passage, re-read it multiple times, and I feel like my brains been washed through a dryer on high speed every time I try to read it. Maybe that’s a wanted effect, but seriously…confused. I’d have to treat this like poetry and break it down to understand it.

Overall, I’d like to praise him and encourage everyone to give him a try. I wouldn’t recommend it yet to the average reader (only on page 75), as I’m still confused on why I’m reading it even though it’s a beautiful read. If anyone wants to study style, this would be a good book to pick up.

One last quote for the road!

No planes dared fly over it. Its unpredictable climate, dizzying abnormalities of compass, and impossibilities of landing made it a pilot’s and navigator’s nightmare. All its pathways turned into overgrowth, jungle, and ambush. The tribes that were rumored to live there were barely human-some said the anthropophagi still roamed. Creatures beyond home. Heads growing below their shoulders. Horrors. (Catling 34)

Summary: My impressions of Catling are he’s very exact, detail- and image-oriented. Every chapter/scene break starts the same way, orienting us in perspective. And every piece of information is very exact. There’s not a lot of nit and gritty first person perspectives, and when he does get in the gritty detail, it’s with TMI about sex, death, life, etc.

Catling, B. The Vorrh. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2015. Print.

First Impressions

When you sit on the plastic chairs at the office, your knee continuously bouncing and your heart trying to escape from the front of your chest, you tell yourself interviews are not that big of a deal. It doesn’t matter if your suit is spattered with mud because you had to walk a mile to the office, or if your shoes are untied because they’re a size too small, passed down cause you can’t afford a new set.

And yet, it’s all a lie.

Everyone knows first impressions matter, even though it’s a terrible thing. We are not defined by our first introductions – because we would all surely fail if we were – but they still matter because people are imperfect: we form biases and match to stereotypes. And while sometimes, they don’t fit the impression, sometimes they do.

Which is why first impressions for a book matter.

In this case, I started The Vorrh, which I’m still reading albeit very slowly, and the first thing that came to mind is how abstract the style is. There are definitely parts that are concrete, and he weaves words like still photos, dropping sense-stimulating images where it best fits the scene. But then there’s pieces like this:

The bow quickened, twisting and righting itself as the days and the nights pulled and manipulated its contours. There was a likeness to Este’s changing during her drying, although that transition had nothing in common with all the deaths I had witnessed and participated in before. With Este, an outward longing marked all, like sugar absorbing moisture and salt releasing it. Every hour of her final days rearranged her with fearsome and compelling difference. (Catling 11)

I liked the first sentence – it really brings the image of the bone drying and setting into place, but then there was the next description, completely abstract, with Catling trying to balance it with the sugar image, and I felt a little confused as to why there was this longing, this fearsome difference. I would’ve liked to see a little more explanation, tie this to some memory, but maybe with our orientation of just within the brains of this man, we’re not supposed to know yet.

Maybe the non-sense making of the abstract helps attract the reader to follow along and want to understand. I’m not quite sure of the effect on me besides confusing me a bit, but perhaps on other readers it had a different effect.

I think this needs more consideration before I can make a more firm recommendation.

Catling, B. The Vorrh. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2015. Print.

How to write a chapter

This isn’t a how to on how to write. This is how to write a chapter for your book or novella. And this isn’t professional advice, but my own wisdom from my own experiences.

I found chapter each have their own purpose, and keeping that in mind while writing definitely helps give the writer perspective. It helps focus your direction and unconsciously include what’s important.

(I would consider this the meat of your chapter.)

But without some sort of tension, your chapters go slow, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if your readers are struggling to make it through a chapter, maybe it’s not the most interesting read. Maybe you need to make it more exciting, more effective.

What I like to call this is adding conflict. Each chapter is almost like a miniature story, and by making sure it has its own conflict, each chapter has enough drive to propel the reader forward while the writers dawdles along with their purpose.

This means all chapters should have 2 things: objective and conflict.

This doesn’t include all the basics like setting, time frame, etc. This only helps keep you focused while what to write about for your chapter.

Setting the backstory

Unfortunately I have this talent that causes things I own to mysteriously disappear and never show up again until months or years later if it at all, and it seems one of those the things that has decided to walk is the book I most recently read.

A huge hardcover, colored blue and green – you think would stand out amongst your apartment, but I guess that’s the stereotype with things being lost. They can’t be found. -_-

It makes it a little more difficult to write about a book that’s missing, but luckily what I want to talk about is on the first page, which is easily revealed thanks to sample chapters. Thank you Barnes and Noble!

One of the things I really liked about this book is how quickly it sets the scene, thrusting you immediately into the action while slowing down enough to introduce you to some of the characters and backstory.

Navarr Ardelay’s body was laid to rest in a blazing pyre, as befit a sweela man who owed his allegiance to flame. Zoe stood numbly within the circle of mourners, unable to speak, as she watched her father burn away to ashes. Even as he had wasted away for this past quintile, growing thinner, more frail, uncharacteristically querulous with pain, she hadn’t really believed he would die. (Shinn 1)

Here, I can see a man’s body atop of the pyre, burning and releasing all his ashes to the sky, and in front of him stands his daughter. It’s a very heart-breaking image, especially as she stands with the mourners, reflecting on the last quintile of how she struggled to take care of her father. That’s a lot on the shoulders of a poor simple girl, especially one by herself since there’s no other family revealed to us, and it makes the reader feel sympathetic for a child to do this all on herself.

This is a great demonstration of how to set the scene and bring us into the action while revealing enough back story that we as the readers understand what’s going on.

The idea is to be careful of what image to reveal. What draws us immediately into the action or pulls us in enough that we connect with the character, as we did here in sympathy for Zoe?

I can say for sure that this was a book I was interested in from the beginning  – no slow start here!

Shinn, Sharon. Troubled Waters. New York, NY: Ace Books, 2010. Print.