Friday Fun: David Quammen

I want to be David Quammen when I grow up. He’s a professional writer who spent most of his life getting paid by magazines like National Geographic and Outside to go on adventures and write about them. He’s written about crows in Seattle, corpse fruit in the Pacific and hiking through the Congolese jungle.

More recently, he finished a fun and compelling biography of Charles Darwin.

Here we have him addressing Case Western University as part of the Darwin Year lecture series. It’s longer, but worth it. The man is as engaging a speaker as he is a writer.

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Friday Fun: Beat the Reaper

Published in 2009, Josh Bazell’s first novel is some of the most fun I’ve had with fiction this decade. It’s popcorn fiction — nothing deep or philosophically challenging, just a good adventure yarn.

It has a few things to teach budding writers. The structure builds and maintains suspense. The prose is engaging and distinctive. Better still from a professional standpoint, the website for the book is very, very clever.

Click here for the website, and click “Excerpt” for print and audio samples from the book.  Be sure to check out the games and video trailer. These are great ideas for promoting our own work in a memorable way.

Warning. Beat the Reaper is not for children, not work safe and not for the easily offended. By the end of the excerpt, you will have been exposed to grossly vulgar language, casual sex, explicit violence, drug use and “fact” about the medical profession that will make you cringe every time you see a hospital for the rest of your life.

Not for the faint of heart, but wow is it fun.

Thanks for listening

Friday Fun: Folsom’s 93

Alert readers might recognize April Moore’s name from the comments on this very blog. She’s another writer — and illustrator — and occasionally stops in to drop her two cents into our wishing well.

April has finished a novel, and you can find her short fiction and art here and there. One of her darker — and more fascinating — projects is her blog. Folsom’s 93 is an episodic history of the men executed at Folsom prison. Some of the stories are gratifying accounts of society doing what it must to punish unthinkable crimes. Others are sadder, tales of undereducated men caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of them are interesting, and told with a professional’s turn of phrase. Moore takes time along the way to tell us about other facets of life in Folsom, ranging from details of daily prison life to a discussion of a newly introduced parole system.

This is a well-done blog on a fascinating topic, and deserves a look. Find the front page here, then browse around. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for listening.

Friday Fun: Wings of Defeat — Another Journey

Some writers choose fiction. Others, nonfictions. Others do ad copy, scripts or humor. Another kind of writer does documentaries, working with words, sound and image to create compelling films. Risa Morimoto is one of these writers. Her award-winning Wings of Defeat chronicles the story of kamikaze pilots during WWII.

Filming this documentary, Risa interviewed several survivors of kamikaze attacks. This included Fred Mitchell and Gene Brick, two sailors on the USS Drexler — a destroyer sunk by kamikaze on picket duty between mainland Japan and Okinawa.

By an amazing set of circumstances, Fred and Gene were invited to Japan to take part in the events surrounding the release of Wings of Defeat. They met with survivors of the kamikaze corps, drank sake and visited several cities. It’s a story of forgiveness and peacemaking that can literally bring a tear to my eye. Here’s a snippet of Another Journey, Risa’s documentary of that part of the story.

If I’d written this story, it would have been rejected as too unrealistic. As a side note, Gene Brick is my grandfather. I’m rather proud of him for having the courage and kindness to do this.

Thanks for listening.

Friday Fun: Science Fiction

After last night’s rant about poor design, I figure I should balance the scales with some good design. As a life-long science fiction fan, I’ve spent much of the last ten years saying “WOW!” at how many things are part of our world that were once just features of my favorite pulp fiction.

Here are three devices still in the research and pre-production phases that impress me, even after the past ten years of progress that borders on the ludicrous.

Andrew Vachss received a rejection on his first novel, based on the editor thinking his predictions were too far-fetched. Ten years later, they describe the social situation for urban gang life to near perfection. We live in an age of wonders, and it blows my mind to think about the tech my sons will find boring when they’re my age.

Thanks for listening.