ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Luminaries - Organization, Construction, and Victorian Plot Devices - A Writer's View

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As many of you already know from reading my blog, I most often read outside of my own genres of science fiction, horror and thriller. It's not that I don't love my genres because I do. I heart them magnificently. It's just that I want to see other styles and other voices and perhaps in the end bring something new back into my genres that wasn't necessarily there. But what books to read? Where do I go?
Well...

I cheat.

I look for award-winning books and read them to try and understand why the book won an award. I read Pulitzer Prize books and Man Booker Prize Books. I read National Book Award Books. I read books that are shortlisted. I read books that booksellers tell me are similar to books that won awards. For the most part, these books hold my attention. About half the time I can see and appreciate why the books won the award they did. And sometimes, like in the case of The Goldfinch and what has become my favirote book of all time, A Little Life, I find myself just overjoyed with the privilege of reading an amazing book.

I recently read Luminaries: A Novel by Elizabeth Catton which won the 2013 Man Booker Prize. This prize is awarded annually to the best book written in English and published in the UK. At 28, she is the youngest to have won this award.

Laura Miller of Salon.com breaks it down like Donkey Kong for us. "From the first five pages of "The Luminaries," it's evident that Catton's model is the Victorian "sensation novel," in which middle-class characters were suddenly confronted with alarming, inexplicable and uncanny events whose true causes and (usually scandalous) nature are gradually revealed in the course of the story. The best-known examples of these are "The Woman in White" and "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins, and it's safe to say that if you are one of Collins' avid modern-day fans, you'll be in clover with "The Luminaries." But if Collins' novels are rich in reversals and twists, Catton's is a veritable Gothic cathedral of plot, so complex and intricate that most readers will find themselves doubling back to make sure they've got it all straight. "The Luminaries" might have been written with the sole intention of disproving the canard that literary fiction is short on old-fashioned storytelling. There's enough plot here to fill four novels.

And there is. There's plot galore. Every character has their own complete arc and you learn, for good or bad, who they are, why they are, and what happens to them. Just look at the character map below. This means that the book is a big book. 

And it is. 

The question you are asking was did it drag. And that's an excellent question. 

To that I will answer yes and no.

Yes, it dragged because of two reasons. 1) I needed time to get into the writing style. The first third of the book is written in a Victorian style that gets its power from revolving narrators and their ability to dramatically deliver rumor and gossip. In fact, much of the plot is propelled by gossip, one character detailing what another character is doing and so on. Once into it, I found the narrative style both intriguing and engaging. and 2), also, because of the order that the author chose to present the plot-- basically the organization structure of the novel.  It took me a few literary moments to Grok what she was doing, but once I was, I enjoyed the way the plot was presented.

John Mullan of The Guardian asks: Has a novel ever been more strangely yet elaborately organised?  

I don't think so. What I do wonder is what the book looked like when it was turned into the editor. Was it the editors idea to organize it in such a way or was it the authors. I can almost see the novel presented for publication, only to have an editor with a grand scheme choose to reorganize it. In fact, you'll note that much of the action in the book goes in reverse.

Additionally, the book has been organized around astrological symbols. I didn't get this. Maybe I just didn't get that part of it. I didn't miss anything, but it appeared to be more of an organizational gimmick than was necessary. Of course, the idea of astrology and mysticism does buy into the Victorian ideal, so it was fitting as a plot device. I'm just not sure if it worked as an organizational device. 
 
Mullan goes on to explain: Some reviewers have been exasperated: how could such hocus pocus provide the ground plan for a serious work of fiction? (Though literary critics forgive Chaucer for organising Troilus and Criseyde by astrological principles and Spenser for using the zodiac in The Faerie Queene.) Others were admiring but befuddled: were we expected to comprehend the notes about celestial precession or work out which sign of the zodiac had been allotted to which character? Readers of James Joyce's Ulysses should know their way around The Odyssey; are Catton's readers expected to make narrative sense of the astrological charts that preface each part of The Luminaries?

Exactly. If I was expected to understand, then the failure was in the presentation, because it appears I was not alone. 

Mullan further explains, The astrological scheme also controls the novel's chronology ("In deference
to the harmony of the turning spheres of time"). The Luminaries is divided into 12 dated parts, spaced at almost monthly intervals. We begin on 27 January 1866, but in Part Four, dated 27 April 1866, we also go back to the events of a year earlier, and the remaining eight parts replay the events of 1865, moving phase by phase through the zodiacal pattern. This is the most elaborate machinery of all, because the decreasing lengths of the succeeding parts mimic the waning moon, each part being half
the length of the one before it.


After reading this last bit of Mullan's explanation, now I understand how the novel's chapters became shorter and shorter. In retrospect it made complete sense. Maybe I am coming to understand the organization after all.

My only issue with the novel was its lack of a sense of place; and maybe that's because I've been to many gold rush towns so I am not the common reader. In this case, the author who hails from New Zealand set the work in her home country. I thought I'd find the sense of place stronger, but I didn't. I think the failure, here, if it can even be called a failure--seems too strong of a word-- is that the sense of place was concentrated on a Gold Rush Mining Town rather than New Zealand. The town could have been picked up and placed anywhere on the planet. Everything about it would have fit in Deadwood or Tombstone with the exception of the shipping and tall ships. Intriguingly enough, I felt more a sense of place at sea in the novel than I did in the terra firma of Hotitka.

For readers, I'd give this a four and a half out of five Donkey Kongs.

For writers, I'd give this a five out of five Donkey Kongs. Not that you'd copy the style, but understanding that there are highly successful ways to organize the plot rather than straightforward narrative is worth the 848 page journey.

About the book's author: Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 in Canada and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. She won the 2007 Sunday Star-Times short-story competition, the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the 2008 Louis Johnson New Writers' Bursary and was named as one of Amazon's Rising Stars in 2009. Her debut novel, The Rehearsal, won the Betty Trask Prize, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Prix Femina literature award, the abroad category of the Prix M├ędicis, the University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize 2010 and Stonewall's Writer of the Year Award 2011, and longlisted for the Orange Prize 2010. In 2010 she was awarded the New Zealand Arts Foundation New Generation Award. (Granta)




The Bagram ICU Staff, Scott Sigler and Two Free Nights Stay

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There's not much I'm going to share about this but suffice it to say that I had need of the ICU out here in Afghanistan for a few days. The men and women who staff it are the very best at what they do and come from all over the planet from different Air Force hospitals and clinics to save those nearest harm's way. I read somewhere they have a 99% survival rate for all gunshot wounds, which is a definite statistic to have in your favor in a war zone.


I also received a care package from friend and fellow author, Scott Sigler (Thanks Scott and AB). He and his team went out of their way to curate a box of mostly wholesome goodness. In case you're wondering, Jalapeno Turkey Jerky makes a terrific midnight snack I decided to share the wealth. So, instead of engorging myself on the great stuff Scott sent from SoCal, I brought it to the ICU and shared it with the staff, because I know that's what Scott would have wanted.


Seeing battle casualties is a terrible thing and nothing like what you see on television. The smell, the energy in the room to save someone, and the quiet professionalism displayed by all is wondrous to behold. I'm glad I had a moment to watch this as it unfolded and to remember what it is that people do. The moment the medivac crew chief showed up in his space-looking helmet and full battle rattle was about as sobering an experience as one could have. The warriors out here are in great hands.

Thank you, Scott. 

Thank you ICU staff!

You all are the best.


PS. Don't ask me what happened.

PSS. I am just fine.

PSSS. Why are you still reading?


.









Monday, April 2, 2018

An Open Letter to My Daughter On Her Birthday

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Dear Alex,


The irony of today is not lost on me. Twenty seven years ago I was in Desert Storm and wasn't there for your first tremulous breaths. Now, twenty seven years later I am in Afghanistan. Not much has changed with me, but a whole lot has changed with you.
I am so very proud of you. You have become an incredible woman who could be an example to so many. Through drive and determination you've found ways to succeed. We've provided you strong and significant role models and you have followed them. From your academic achievements, for which there are many, to your personal achievements, for which there are many more, you constantly make me a proud father and Yvonne a proud, Evil Step Alien Mother.

All that said, you will most always be that young girl, precariously balanced on high heel shoes, wearing the dress we bought for you from Chinatown in L.A.

You will always be the ravishing girl in the super soaker green prom dress.

You will always be my daughter and I am so happy for it.

Happy Birthday, Alex.

We love you most dearly!


Love,

BTAM and ESAM


Ezekiel 25:17 - On Inequities of Fact and the Tyranny of Moments

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Evidently, Joshi wrote something about me a week ago. I'm deployed to Afghanistan, so I must have missed it. Thanks for those who pointed it and thanks for standing up for me.

I read Joshi' s Blog Post. You can find it here if you search for his March 24th posting.  He wrote it in response to my defense of two of my fellow authors (here). I noted the inequity that Joshi did not include a link to the post to which he is responding and that in itself is telling. Please take a moment to read both posts so that you can then read what's written below in context, rather than be hostage to the tyranny of the moment.

But first let me address this. Joshi said, "Mr. Ochse believed that speaking about me behind my back was a more admirable course than addressing me directly." This is a common literary ploy to try and achieve the pedestal of the aggrieved. Neither of us are aggrieved. We both understand the game we are playing. He's being intentionally disingenuous.

I addressed Joshi in the same way he addressed Laird Barron and Brian Keene. He wrote an article about how terrible they were and published it without fanfare on his blog. In Laird's case, he proclaimed that Laird had already achieved 'A Fall as a Writer' before his career had barely even begun. In turn, I wrote an article about a man who I felt was a literary bully, who used words like blowhard, schlocky, and plebeian to describe my peers, and posted it on my blog. There was nothing behind his back nor was there anything hidden in the way I responded. I was up front, I was honest, and I was obvious.

But then again, because Joshi didn't link my article, his readers only have his word on the subject, so his comments about me seething with hatred and whining like a baby go uncited, as they should; another example of his attempt to tyrannically own his reader's moments. If you've only read Joshi's article about me and have stumbled onto this article, please take a moment and check out the link I provided for some context. Although you can tell I had some good-natured fun in the article (e.g. ...so it's on the back of an impoverished Rhode Island writer that he's established himself, like a Lady Godiva of Cthlulu), the sentiment of defending my fellow authors from attack was clear.

As I said, I read his post. I actually read it three times. Once as I woke up this morning on my cell phone because many of my friends, fans, and peers were coming to my defense on Facebook. In Afghanistan, we work at least fourteen hour days, so I was pretty bushed after working all of yesterday and last night. I read Joshi's post again after I took a shower, less bleary eyed and almost awake. Then I read it a third time right before I went to work, this time fueled by my coffee and my getting old vitamins.


What amazes me about a supposed academic is that he seemed to limit his research about me to Wikipedia, which has always been a verbotten source to scholars because of its very nature as a source adrift to the whims of its authors. The very fact that Wikipedia isn't anchored in academia makes it a source even this former adjunct professor from a community college, now current professor from a state university, wouldn't allow. But then perhaps this suits Joshi. After all, his slatternly approach to scholarship is evident in his assertion that half of a PhD from Princeton is better than my Master of Fine Arts from National University. Let me just point out that there is no such thing as half of a PhD. Anyone and everyone can drop out or be kicked out of any institution, so claiming achievement from failure is an interesting twist of fact. In his defense, Joshi does indicate that he dropped out rather than was kicked out, so I will not impinge his character, yet he still pathologically claims honors. I hope Joshi understands that half of a PhD is equal to half of a marathon. For those who start either one and don't complete, they receive a DNF beside their name, standing for Did Not Finish.

Still, his scholarship missed the fiction I've had published in peered academic journals as well as my assistant professorship at a New England university. Or did the Half PhD really miss it? After all, a literary bully achieves more by his ability to curate the nature of facts than to deliver the actual magilla. Have I ever had an article in a peered journal? To that, I can say no. I've also never submitted to one for publication, unless you want to call Soldier of Fortune a peered journal, in which I have appeared. My guess is that the global subscription of that single issue in which I appeared was more than all of the issues of Joshi's peered publications combined. And yes, those who publish and read Soldier of Fortune are my peers, the whole ramshackle, bruised, sweaty, soldierly lot of them. Other evidence of Joshi's sloppy scholarship is in his failure to learn that the American Library Association tagged me as "One of the major horror authors of the 21st Century." But then I can't be sure. Is that sloppy scholarship or selectively choosing facts that only appear to support his thesis? Or does he not feel that librarians have earned a position of trust among the hallowed stacks?

My earlier musings over his attacks must have been festering for quite awhile. I'd been anticipating an attack from Joshi for sometime, although I thought he'd wait until I'd redeploy. I found it regrettable, however, that he decided to ignore the more salient points I made in order to present slants that barely resemble my comments. But then it appears he was forced to in order to try and make the points he tried to make. For instance, the title of his article about me is Weston Ochse - World Class Hater. Please go and read my comments and tell me how I am a world class hater? Did I espouse any hate or did I defend those who had been trodden upon by the hob-nailed boot of a self-celebrated half-PhD? I suppose World Class Hater was easier to attack than World Class Defender, because those who know me and my work know that this is me to the core.

Now, I can almost see the Joshi apologists whom we've seen previously populate responses like congratulatory spiderbots now eagerly hunched over their keyboards and madly typing that Joshi is using academic critique, therefore his bullying is acceptable. He is in fact not using critique in his article about me. There is no academic criticism. He doesn't provide any literary criticism to Scarecrow Gods and its attempt to negotiate and explain the onerousness of the Judaeo-Christian imagery associated with our everyday lives, nor does he even mention my attempts to create PTSD-positive characters in my Grunt Life series in order to plumb what it takes to be human. In both, I think I did well, but certainly didn't master the form. No, he doesn't comment on any of my award-winning, award-nominated, or bestselling works, but instead, responds to my comments defending my fellow authors and attacks me as a credible source of information, using his chosen method of layering invenctives as his solitary strategum.

So this was merely an attack.

His counter punch.

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

Whatever.

I could spend all day disassembling Joshi's latest personal attack but that would be a waste of my time, and frankly, yours. Let me just leave with this. If at any time anyone wants to attack me for standing up for my friends or fellow authors, leave out facts, adjust the narrative to better align a point of view that better favors them, call themselves a half a PhD, or make fun of the fact that I actually completed a graduate school while serving in the military full time, then please give me your best shot. I'm open for all comers and I've had better attempts to besmirch my character than this. Because here is the rub, folks. This is about character. His character and mine. You can judge his for yourself, but as to mine, I have spent a lifetime defending those to whom harm would be done.

Now, you'll have to excuse me. I need to get to work. Joshi chose to attack me while I am deployed to Afghanistan, but then based on his self-proclaimed superiority in academia and his hard-earned half PhD from Princeton, I'm sure he realized that and still decided to attack me.

Again... character.

I have serious work to do. There are bad people here who want to travel to my homeland and do worse things to those whom I love. I aim to stop them as best I can. I continue to defend even now, so I know you'll understand that my time has to be spent elsewhere.

Now please go out and read a good book.

Thank a teacher.

And hug a librarian.

I'll leave you with the words of Lil' Kim - "I like to live righteous. And I just want everyone to know I'm not trying to get out of anything."

Peace out.