Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: The Monk (1796), by Matthew Lewis, Part 2

I thought I was finished with this review, but I wanted to revisit it for the sake of another point of contention.  As you may know from my other reviews of classic works, I take particular objection to the portrayal of and condemnation of so called "fallen women" - meaning the views of society as portrayed in literature.  If a woman has premarital sex with someone other than her future husband, she usually comes to a bad end.  We see this in several examples including Bleak House and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, and Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.

I am going to give spoilers to The Monk.  If you don't want to know how it ends, don't continue reading.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: The Monk (1796), by Matthew Lewis, Part 1

This novel has all the elements wanted for a Gothic Romance, including old castles, ghosts, catacombs under old abbeys, and the like.  But this book has a much more important feel to it than the other two Gothic Romances I recently read (The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Castle of Otranto).  That's because it tackles such weighty subjects as the heavy hand of religion and premarital sex.  A century later, Tess of the d'Urbervilles would show the effects of both religion and society on that subject.  But to see it discussed frankly in an 18th century novel surprised me.  In fact, the narrative outlook on it seemed quite modern, at least for certain characters.

There are multiple intertwined storylines, each involving a young woman and the men who love her (or lust after her).  The title refers to the great foe of the story.  But to say he's only a foe demeans the wonderful character study by Matthew Lewis.  Here is a man who believes himself safe from the sins of the world, but is then exposed to sins and soon develops other ideas.  All the other characters are classic stereotypes that could be pulled from any major novel of the day, and they represent the contemporary thoughts and actions of heroes and servants.  That's not to say they're poorly drawn.  On the contrary, each character is a unique piece of work, though some are still a bit cliched.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review: The Castle of Otranto (1764), by Horace Walpole

This was a great, quick read for a Gothic Romance.  It did not bog itself down in flowery language or try to become epic in nature.  The entire story takes place in just a few days.  It tells of a tyrant - a usurper - whose claim to his title is being challenged.  There are old, dark prophecies that frighten him, that foretell terrible things if his line is broken.

Manfred is the tyrant.  He has a wife, Hippolita, who he doesn't love, a daughter, Matilda, who he doesn't care about, and a son, Conrad, who we never meet.  The son dies at the very beginning of the story in a weird way that is never fully explained.  Let me point out that the supernatural plays a big part in this story.  Unlike other gothic romances, the author doesn't try to explain away the supernatural as being misunderstood normal events.  But neither does he do a great job of presenting the supernatural in a believable way.  The son is killed by a ginormous helmet falling on him and crushing him to death.  There are visions of a giant here and there, and not until the end to we get a glimpse of who the giant is.

Book Review: The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe (1794) Review Part 2

Second part of my review of Ann Radcliffe's most well-known novel.  Yes, I do recommend it, by the way.

This book can be confusing at times, but I'm having a great time reading it.  To help you through it, you could listen to the audiobook while you read.  That certainly helps carry you over the flowery descriptions of scenery.

However, to me, the main character - Emily - seems a bit naive on this whole affair.  I wish she would have thought to escape from the castle Udolpho.  But that's not something women do in these novels, they are rescued.  If an escape is planned, they are not the planners but the weak, simpering participants.  They put all their faith and hope in some man.  In this case it was the servant Ludovico, the servant Annette's romantic attachment, along with another prisoner who happens to be in love with Emily and lived near her (wonderful melodramatic coincidence).  Of the four of them, it won't be Annette or Emily that plan or execute the escape.  Another weak point is that this new character, Du Pont, is introduced late in the novel.  It's the sort of thing you see in serialized novels that are written as the story progresses in a monthly publication.


There is an inverse relationship between an approaching deadline and the ability to write above the level of a 5th grader.

It's simple, really.  Those pesky deadlines are always far off in the distance, nothing but a glimmer on the horizon.  The editor and her needs do not exist.  Every day, every scene I experience sparks a new and original idea for articles or stories that the masses will love.  I am Tolstoy.  I am Fitzgerald.  Ideas flow from me like cool water springing forth from the fertile ground of my mind.

Then, five days before it's due, I get that friendly email reminder from the editor, and ideas evaporate like dew on a summer morning.  I can't articulate a sentence and the fertile ground of my mind is a barren wasteland.  Nothing I think of is interesting, no idea I come up with sounds remotely readable.  My ideas are passĂ©, cliched, and overdone.  My style is weak.   I scramble, I look through old, unused articles.  Maybe I can revamp something, maybe I wrote something months ago that I forgot about.  But the well is dry.

The deadline is now.  The editor sends one more email.  I've got nothing.  Pressure, frantic pressure builds.  I write.  It's horrible.  I rewrite, it's still horrible.  I scrap the whole thing.  I email her asking for one more day.  She grants it and then I waste my time watching reruns of Gilligan's Island.  Mary Ann is hot.

I finally come up with a masterpiece!  No, that's a lie, and not even a convincing lie.  But I send it to her, anyway.  My email is apologetic.  "Sorry this sucks so bad.  Wait, I meant badly!  Or did I?  Oh hell, whatever."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Now On Twitter!!

Follow me on Twitter @mattnealwriter today!!

If you do, then I will send each new subscriber a mental hug and my best wishes.

(Best wishes may be delayed up to three weeks and can increase during the St. Patrick's Day season.  Mental hug will be instantaneous, as long as our new servers can handle the immense volume.)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Story Segment - The Dead Thing, by Matt Neal

In this segment, I'm trying to make the reader feel both curiosity and tension.  After reading it, tell me what you felt.  Grammar isn't being graded, I wrote this in just a few minutes.  Just enjoy, and go with it.

The Dead Thing
Wet leaves fell like sticky, silent rain over the surrounding hills.  Lizzie looked up.  The sky was grey with low hanging clouds.  She held the dead thing in her arms.  Rugart stopped too quickly and she almost ran into him.

“What the hell?” she moaned.  Her foot slipped on an algae covered rock.  But she caught herself before falling.

Rugart did not reply.  The only sound he made was a grotesque slurping as he shoved red things into his mouth.

“More damn berries!  Get going, you stupid---“  but her voice trailed away as she regained her footing.  The dead thing had fallen.  She looked down with immense sorrow.

“Beety.  Oh Jesus, my Beety.”

It lay amongst dirty leaves and scattered stones.  But there was little time for ceremony.  The dogs howled in the distance.  A gunshot whizzed over her head.  Rugart screamed like a child.  In the instant before Lizzie could push herself up, her mind flashed on a distant childhood, with a tiny boy sitting on a swing beside her.

“Lissie, I fall!” he said.  Then her mind returned to the present.  Rugart lay in a heap in front of her.  His voice was small and weak.  “Lizzie, please…help me.  They’re coming.”

Seconds later she had lifted him to his feet, but not before noticing the blood streaming from his leg.  She held the dead thing tightly, pushing her brother before her.

“Run, damn it!  Run!”

Another bullet grazed her arm, sending a shockwave of pain through her mind and body.  She did not stop.  Seconds later they were at the end of the creek.  A tiny boat was lodged among the rocks.  Water trickled slowly, and then steadily into a larger body of water that wound between trees.  In the distance was an opening into the main river, and freedom.

Rugart stared at the boat.  He turned a blank look towards his sister, who pushed him down until he tumbled into it.  She grabbed an oar and began paddling.  A distant shout, now nearer, made her muscles tense.  She quickened her strokes.  A tree obscured their pursuers.

“We made it Rug,” she said.  Far away gunshots echoed around the bayou.  “You hear?  Rug?  We made it!”

As she paddled, the dead thing lay before her in the bottom of the boat.  The open river was so close.  They would make it.  But they did not.  She let out a breath of relief only a second before staring at Rug.  Why did he look that way?  He slid sideways, and crumpled over the side.  She saw the blood streaming from the side of his head.

Lizzie’s grip tightened on the oars.  Her brother disappeared beneath the dark waters.  She watched him vanish from her sight, and from her life forever.

“I’m sorry, mama,” she muttered.  Then she continued on.  Seconds later, the river opened up before her.  A quick current took her away from the overhanging vines that had sheltered the tiny access from which she had just emerged.  Soon the barking of the dogs was lost in the fog, far behind her.  She was alone on the great river with just the fog, the sound of her oars, and the dead thing.


Tell me what you thought the dead thing was.

Something New - Short Stories and Segments

     I'm going to add something new.  I'll start posting a few short stories here and there, as well as a few segments.  A segment is either the beginning of a story or a segment of a story.  I love to write and sometimes I'm just trying to hit a certain mood, or push a certain idea.  So a segment is an incomplete story meant to do just that.  Rarely does a segment ever evolve into a full story...but it might.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Putting Yourself Out There as a Writer

Writers put themselves out there.  I never realized I would get such hate mail, people attacking me personally, saying such horrible things, over such innocent, humorous articles in a magazine.  It takes a lot out of you.

I thought that if I avoid politics, religion, anything controversial, I could make people smile.  But that's not true.  People seem to be looking for reasons to hate, reasons to make you feel bad.

Even this blog is just about classic book reviews.  I never criticize the authors, I only discuss the books themselves.  But I get more hate mail than positive feedback.  And the hate mail always attacks me personally.  It's like I have to walk in lock-step with whoever happens to be reading me, or else they feel the right to attack me personally.  People don't live and let live anymore.  It's all about total, 100% agreement with their point of view, or else you are a despicable person who must die.

I'll have to ponder this more before I can give some philosophical, helpful insight.  At the moment, I'm still stunned.


The local woman who sent me that email is Tathata Revis.  The email was extremely vile, and made sexual references to my daughter.  I don't know this person, but the situation concerns me.  She lives in the same small town as me, and who knows what she is capable of.  Certainly I wouldn't put it past her to contact me again, or try to contact my family.  Tathata Revis is the kind of person who would probably send emails to my editor to get me (or anyone she dislikes or disagrees with) off the magazine.  Her motto must be "Reach out and hurt someone."

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Review: The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe (1794) Review Part 1

This is a classic Gothic Romance novel, and so far it has everything you might want in a Gothic Romance.  For those who don't know, this genre is all about dark, mysterious places and occurrences.  This particular novel is often held up as the standard of its kind.  If you want 18th century tales of castles, ghosts, secret passages, gloomy settings, evil villains and damsels in distress, this is your book.

The main premise is about a young woman, Emily, who lives an idyllic life, until all her props are taken away from her, one by one, and she soon finds herself forlorn, nearly alone, and held prisoner in a creepy old castle.  First her mother, then her father dies.  Next she is carted away from her beloved home and taken to (gasp!) Italy.  She misses her lover, she misses her sweet home, and she has every reason to fear for her life.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Drones Are Coming!!

So you want to read a book but you don't want to go to the library or bookstore.  Sure, you could grab your tablet or smart device of choice and download practically anything in a few seconds.  But suppose you want the feel of paper, or perhaps a leather bound copy of some old classic.

Well, worry no more.  Soon, Amazon will have flying robots bring you a book quicker than the pizza can get there.  No, I'm not kidding.  Amazon Prime Air promises to use drones for deliveries.  And if you've noticed, these quadcopter drones are all the rage right now.  I've drooled over several myself, and watched countless videos of them.

The problem, I believe, will be that these suckers will get stolen left and right.  They are unmanned, just flying along, and someone shoots it out of the air, or grabs it when it's on the ground, or throws something at it when it's low to knock it out of the sky.  Good ones today sell for 400-500 bucks.  One that has GPS, is completely automated, has a 10 mile range, and can carry a few pounds will easily sell for a grand or more each.

But still, technology is way cooler each year.

Upcoming Posts - Changes

So much old literature is starting to bog me down.  I need something newer.  I'm starting to crave modern books!  So my master plan of not migrating to mid-twentieth century classics until 2015 has got to change.

I plan to start the new year with a few of the Gothic Romance novels I promised you, but then I'll jump right into early-mid 20th century books of literary merit.  I'm not saying there won't be a few modern genre fiction novels thrown in just to bug you, because it may happen.  Since that's what I write myself, I've got to stay current with what the public is reading.

Thank you for your support.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Audiobook Narration

Is it just me, or do you hate to hear an audiobook narrated with the "wrong" voice?  A British novel should not be narrated by an American.  A southern drawl should not be faked.  Mark Twain books should not be narrated by someone from Brooklyn.  And when I listen to Tolstoy, I prefer English with a Russian accent.

On the way to work the other morning, I popped in a CD audiobook of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  It was a standard midwestern American accent.  Boo!  That book is supposed to take us back to early Victorian England, and anything but a British accent just doesn't cut it.

As far as male/female, it should be based on the main character.  Normally, authors write main characters with the same sex as themselves, but not always.  I would expect Jane Austen novels to be narrated by a British female.  But Charles Dickens novels might be a British male or female, depending on the book.  And I certainly don't want to hear Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt stories narrated by anyone but a tough sounding American male.

Are you with me?  Good.

So anyway, what are you guys doing tonight?  I'm up for anything.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: An Upheaval, by Anton Chekhov (1886)

This was a great story.  Unfortunately it's been lost to history and only the opening few chapters remain.

No, that's not true.  But that's how I felt after reading it.  An Upheavel was wonderfully written, but ended rather abruptly.  I suppose Chekhov just had an idea he wanted to put on paper, even if it never developed into a full novel.  Chekhov is known for his extensive writing.  In a little over 20 years he wrote hundreds of short stories.  So if any of them feel unfinished we shouldn't blame him.  Just be happy we get a taste of his wonderful writing.

An Upheaval is a perfect example of that.  You are quickly drawn into the story of a young governess who has to choose between harsh treatment by her mistress or returning to a simpler, if poorer, way of life.  She is an instant heroine, and instantly likable.  That shows great talent for Anton Chekhov to have a character grab readers in such a short amount of time.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Village

This is what I've been doing instead of posting reviews.  This little gem took weeks to carve and paint.  It's my first one.  Maybe next year I'll expand.  Maybe by next year my wife will have forgiven me for spending a boatload of money on these expensive little "Spooky Town" houses and things.

Update: Video does look bad, I know.  It looked great before uploading.  Don't know how to make it higher quality.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Suggested Reading List

The story takes place in the mid 1930s.  F. Scott Fitzgerald was in a bad way.  He was battling alcoholism and depression.  His wife, Zelda, was admitted to the Highland Hospital of North Carolina.  While staying at the Grove Park Inn, in Asheville, NC, he fired a revolver in a suicide attempt.  After that, the Grove Park Inn wanted him to leave, but allowed him to stay if he had someone to look after him.

Enter Dorothy Richardson.  Dorothy was both his nurse and companion.  The story goes that he eventually became friends with her and wanted to help her literary growth.  So he gave her a list of 22 books that he recommended.  Richardson wrote at the top of the list the following words:

"These are books that S.F. thought should be required reading."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1864)

In the book Notes From Underground, the term underground refers to an emotional place where people live.  The narrator of the story is a representative of a type of people who are full of thoughts and feelings but spend most of their life not expressing them.  Those thoughts well up and take hold of them.  They do not interact with their fellow man as they wish they could, but instead evolve elaborate scenarios of both real and imagined wrongs and triumphant ideas for expression and retribution.

That could sum up the entire book, but this isn't something we want to sum up.  Notes from Underground is not the sort of book to be glossed over and stuck back on a shelf.  Dostoyevsky's writings are brimming with ideas, thoughts, truisms, and interesting factoids on life.  But there's a devil of a time to pull meaning out of most of this book.  It's a rambling discourse on God knows what, for parts of it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1864) - Pre-Thoughts

When reading Notes From Underground, it is required that you wear a black turtleneck shirt, beret, and dark glasses.  Goatee is optional.  You must sit in a dark cafĂ© discussing revolution.  Someone must appear on stage telling bad poetry about death.  B-Y-O-Bongos.

Beatnik?  or Russian Revolutionary?
I don’t know why I always had the impression, just based on the name, that Notes From Underground was something beatniks would read, something to do with Russian revolution and philosophy, and socialism, perhaps.  Maybe the name Dostoyevsky is the cause – his name conjures up images of deep metaphysical, philosophical discussions.

Either way, get ready because I'm going to read this book.  I'll report back from time to time on my progress, and let you know if I feel my personal philosophy being swayed in any way.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Coming Soon: H. Rider Haggard Months!

A tribute to the father of modern treasure hunting adventure stories!

H. Rider Haggard started an entire genre of books when he wrote King Solomon's Mines.  Late July and August, 2013, will be dedicated to reading as many of his books as I can squeeze in.  Here are some I will read.

  • Allan Quatermain (1887)
  • She (1887)
  • Cleopatra (1889)
  • Nada the Lily (1892)

I will also try to read these others, if I have the chance.

  • The World's Desire (1890)
  • Eric Brighteyes (1891)
  • Montezuma's Daughter (1893)
  • The People of the Mist (1894)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Book Review: Master and Man, by Leo Tolstoy (1895)

Master and Man is the story of Vasili Andreevich and his servant Nikita.  Both men set out on a journey to a nearby town and are caught up in a snow storm.  This is a character study that focuses mainly on the master, Vasili Andreevich.  His character evolves during the course of the story and Tolstoy charts those changes for us.