Book Review: “And Thereby Hangs a Tale” by Jeffrey Archer

In any story, there’s a portion of yourself that goes into it. Whether it be someone from your past or a moment that stood out to you. And certainly Jeffrey Archer’s “And Thereby Hangs a Tale,” a collection of short stories, demonstrates this. He even admits in the author’s notes that most of the stories came from other storytellers. This wouldn’t be a big deal if there were more of Archer’s stories to balance them out. 

There are fifteen stories altogether. Ten of them are marked with an asterisk, which I will refer to as “borrowed.” The remaining five are from his own imagination. The collection as a whole is solid. There’s a mix of humor, drama, and suspense. The characters are diverse from a blind man to a neroutic neighbor to a businessman-turned-golfer-turned-seaman. I had issue with the settings. The flap on the hardcover copy advertises a variety of locales. Most are set in England, which makes sense since that is where Archer is from. 

So, the “borrowed” stories first. The one shining moment in them is how the author, whom I assume is Archer, interjects himself in these stories, giving a sense of authenticity. At the same time, that’s where they suffer. Most felt like info dumps. Some were direct, while some spat out factual details. Maybe to retain the authenticity, Archer might not have been allowed to tamper with them. It’s kind of a shame because there were a few stories that felt like they could be doctored up if allowed, like “Double-Cross” or “Caste-Off.” I was expecting more dialogue between the characters involved, not just the author telling the stories as he heard them. 

The originals were the ones I was more interested in. “Blind Date” was a standout because of the way Archer uses other senses for his main character. “Better the Devil You Know” was hilarious. It reminded me of “The Devil’s Advocate” crossed with “Bedazzled.” And “No Room at the Inn” was fun. The main character has everything he really wanted given to him by women turned on by his charm. I was more interested in the originals than the borrowed. A few more wouldn’t hurt my overall opinion of the collection and I would learn more about Archer as a storyteller. 

Overall, the collection is good. There’s a good balance in the themes and qualities.  It loses points for not having the balance between the borrowed and original. The borrowed have a few jewels, the originals won me over. I just wish there was more of them.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5.

Respect for the Individual

Fifteen years. For fifteen years, the citizens of the United States have commemorated the lives lost on September 11, 2001. Last year, I wrote a post about where I was and what I was doing that day, so I won’t bore you with the details. Instead, I want to briefly share my opinion on where we are now. 

The phrase “Never Forget” is quoted quite often, especially today. I’d like to take it one step further. When I think of the words “Never Forget,” I remember today as being the one day where everyone of all nationalities came together and mourned a country. But I believe we’ve forgotten those moments where people didn’t look at one another with prejudice and disdain. Dare I say, people are more divided now than ever before. Take the recent tragedy in Orlando and the numerous reports of police brutality. I speak of the United States, but there are similar tragedies throughout the world.  Events like these have fractured us. And from what I’ve observed, it’s not going to get any better.

The company I work for, one of its core values is “Respect for the Individual.” That basically means I must treat each person equally. Now I don’t always practice this. I have my own prejudices to address. But I do believe in respect for the individual. And that is what it boils down to: respect. Now respect doesn’t equate to acceptance. We have free will. The choices we make are on our own. So not everyone is going to agree with those choices. But it’s what makes us individual. And at the end of the day, it’s what makes us human.

So yes, we won’t forget this infamous day. But in the same way, we mustn’t forget when the people of the United States stood united. When we see our neighbors and random strangers, we need to treat them the same way we would want to be treated, even if it’s not reciprocated. And maybe, just maybe, we, the citizens that populate the world, can make our respective countries great. 

Baby Steps in Branching Out

I promise this will be a short post. 

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a Twitter chat session. Somehow, I got off tangent with the thread and talked about writing and reading in different genres. Because I hadn’t read other genres, I couldn’t write in other genres. But the moderator suggested I try flash fiction. Get a feel for writing in other genres, see if I like it. I still had my hesitations, but then a friend on Twitter told me that there are no set rules in genre fiction; at the core is character development. 

So I thought, “Why not? It couldn’t hurt. It wasn’t as if no one would see it.” I researched a prompt on a Pinterest board–a science fiction prompt–and went from there. It took between thirty minutes to an hour to write. (I was writing during breaks and between customers.) I read it through and was pretty happy with it. I emailed the same Twitter friend who offered the advice. She liked it. A few days later, I wrote another piece. This one geared in the fantasy genre. No one’s seen that one, but I’m debating posting it. And this past weekend, I wrote another one in the same universe as my first story.

So, that what’s happened the past couple of weeks. It’s been fun writing in different genres. I even started looking up science fiction books to read, since that’s a particular genre of choice for male readers (more on that another time). I’ve also looked up fantasy books since I wrote that micro story. I bought a book called Red Rising. It looks interesting. A friend of mine recommended it. We’ll see, after I finish another book. 

Being a good writer means writing and reading things in and out of your comfort zone. Before, it was merely thought. Now, it’s starting to become reality. 

Writing Hiatus

Last week, I posted about why I don’t meet deadlines. Specifically for this writing “contest” I entered. (Ironically, I met the goal about a week ahead of time. I felt bad, though, that I couldn’t send a completed story.)

Anyway, after I sent the scene, I decided to take a break from writing. This wasn’t a hare trigger decision. I thought about this a good few days, wrote about it in my journal. Long story short, I wasn’t enjoying the writing process. I wasn’t getting much satisfaction in writing. I felt creatively drained. So, I picked this past week to rest and recharge, to make some decisions about my writing. Here are a few epiphanies I came to while on my “hiatus.” 

  1. Not writing is hard. If I was in college and said this, I would be lying. I feel like I can say it now because I am writing more. And because I use writing as a means to vent frustrations about life in general, not writing felt like I was bottling in a lot of emotions, and that’s never a good thing. That alone is one reason why I write.
  2. Even when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing. I don’t think there was a time when I wasn’t thinking about writing, as much as I would try. If I was out running errands or at my jobs, I found myself to be more observant of the world. If I was playing video games, as I watched cutscenes play out, I thought about the storylines, looking for possible plot twists. I imagined myself in the shoes of a character or having an original role in the story. I formulated ideas for new stories. Granted, some may not get past the brainstorming stage, but it’s there. No matter what I was doing in the real world, the writing part of my brain was still active. 
  3. Time away from writing refueled my passion. With jobs and family demanding the majority of my time, I had to utilize the pockets of time that were available. In doing so, I felt like writing was more of something I had to do, not something I wanted to do. Taking this time off gave me an opportunity to recharge and remember why I got into this business: because I have a need to create.
  4. Time away from writing gave me opportunity to create a schedule. Since I took a break from writing, I had more time for me. At the same time, it got me thinking about how serious I wanted to make writing a “habit.” Sure, I wasted some of free time on social media. But some of it was productive, getting in some exercise while on my lunch breaks. In doing so, I thought about how I was going to make writing a priority without it feeling like a chore. I’m working out more of a set schedule to write for a certain amount of time, taking a day or two off to recharge. I’m still working 
  5. Time away from writing gave me opportunity to think about my stories. One of my goals in writing is to show off my work. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog. But because I wasn’t getting a lot of traffic when I posted earlier works, I started to think my blog wasn’t the right platform. (Apparently, this is a common thing with writing blogs.) Lately, I’ve thought about posting work on other forums. But I had to ask some tough questions. Did I want an audience? Did I want my work critiqued? Could I meet the demands of those who read my stories? Would one story be a stepping stone to a series? I’m doing research on other forums, weighing the pros and cons of each. We’ll see what comes of them. 

In this self-imposed “hiatus,” I thought a lot about where I want my writing to go. I want to move to the next level. It takes commitment and discipline. But I want it to be fun. Like everything else, there’s a balance. I have yet to discover that balance. Like all I mentioned above, it’s a work in progress. But in the meantime, it feels good to be back. 

Deadlines

Earlier this month, I commented on a 4am Writer post about writing something new. The piece would then be submitted and the winner earned a coaching session or a free copy of one of two writing handbooks. I signed up because I wanted a challenge. And I thought surely I could come up with something and submit it by the end of the month. After I found a writing prompt to build on, I wrote out scenes on my phone. Kind of a way to keep it fresh until I could get to my laptop. But life has a way of keeping you “busy.”

As it stands, the deadline is less than a week away. I haven’t started to put my story on my laptop. If that wasn’t enough, I started a “brand new” story. Like before, I wrote out the most important scenes on my phone. And like before, I’m waiting to get to my laptop so I can type it out. 

I remember in school having deadlines to write essays and stories. But after graduating, I wasn’t as anxious to complete stories; I could take my time to make sure they were good and ready. But having that mentality made me lax. I wasn’t motivated to sacrifice time and certain activities in order to get things done.

But if I really think about it, I do set deadlines for myself. On the job, there are deadlines I must meet. I plot out my plan to get the tasks done as efficiently as possible. Same with my journaling. Unconsciously, I set a deadline of writing something in it before the day is done, and it does. It’s like second nature almost. So what changed when I accepted this challenge? Urgency. Seeing how I had time to work on this challenge, the urgency wasn’t there. Now that I’m less than week away from the deadline, I feel the urgency and the guilt of not getting this done sooner.
Urgency is key to meeting deadlines, as everyone knows. And as everyone knows, meeting deadlines requires discipline. Discipline in the sense of planning out the steps to see a task through. I do it on a daily basis on my job and in my home. So why am I not doing the same with my writing? Where is the sense of urgency to write these stories? Is it a fear thing? Maybe. Is it a discipline thing? Absolutely. 

I may or may not meet this deadline, but I hope that I do. The bottom line is that I need to practice working on deadlines so I can develop that sense of urgency. when it comes to my writing. I need to be develop the discipline needed to develop said urgency. And the best way to do that is to set deadlines for myself and create a rewards/consequences system. If anyone else has any ideas, I’m all ears.


WNF: Will Not Finish

Everyone’s heard the old saying, “Don’t start what you can’t finish.” I think it’s a flawed philosophy, but one with a sliver of truth. Those who know me know I don’t like to leave anything hanging. Whether it’s in my writing, or when I’m prepping pizza dough, or when I’m activating a phone for a customer. I want to see a task all the way through, or at least reach a comfortable stopping point. But in my walk through life, I realized that finding resolution is not always possible. That you have to stop wherever you’re at and move on to something else. 

I’ve experienced these feelings with my writing over the past several months. Each of the following scenarios marked good intentions, but ultimately ended up on the shelf. 

Exhibit A: Earlier this year, I posted some goals I wanted to accomplish. One was posting a short story series. I had everything pretty much figured out. Then as I wrote them and telling others about it, I slowed down and eventually stopped. Bottom line, I wasn’t happy with how the stories turned out, so I scrapped the series. 

Exhibit B: A few weeks ago, I started writing a story that basically was a modernized version of a published work. I started typing it out, but didn’t feel right about it, but a week later, felt compelled to write a different story. So I abandoned the reboot. As it stands now, I’m trying to make time to get the new story into my laptop and into the hands of potential readers.

Exhibit C. Back in April, when a new bookstore opened, I bought Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” Four months later, I started reading it. A week into it, I’m thinking about selling it. It’s not as enjoyable, despite being an American Classic. It just doesn’t do it for me.

There are more examples. These are the most recent. Two concepts are prevalent in those scenarios. One, I lost the passion and enthusiasm I had for them in the beginning. The energy wasn’t there. Two, in the middle of the activities, I “found” something better. But I learned that can be a curse in that there can be so many unfinished projects that it’s hard to keep them straight. Now, this isn’t to say that I will never go back to them. Maybe they need time to marinate. Perhaps I need to look at them from a new perspective. But currently, I am making the decision to stop, move on to different projects.

In life, we all have choices to make. I decide whether to have a good day or not. I decide whether to eat healthy or not. And so on. Writing has its own set. And I have to listen to what my heart and head says what I should do with my writing. Ultimately, it’s my decision. And if that means I stop a certain project midway, so be it. 

Growing Up

There are some things that no matter how long or how much you prepare, you will never be ready. That’s the biggest takeaway I got from being a parent. This week, my daughter started public school. This is a big step for all of us. For her, it means being away from Mom and Dad for over six hours five days out of the week. For us, it means not hearing her make up stories of princesses frolicking with unicorns or giant bears. It’ll be quieter, which will be odd, even if it’s for a few hours. 

The decision to put her in school wasn’t easy. But we came to the agreement that this will be the best thing for her. She can get help with reading and math. She’ll meet new people and develop friendships that hopefully will last longer than time on the playground. There are a couple of concerns. The biggest is that she’ll be different. By that, I mean that she’s mixed–mother is Caucasian and I am African-American. Yes, it’s a cost we counted years ago when we discussed having children, but it doesn’t hit home until you see it yourself.

 

It’s one thing when your parents enroll you in school. You don’t see everything that entails. It’s a different animal altogether when you are said parent. We had to make sure her health records were up-to-date. The hundreds of dollars worth of school supplies and clothes. Deciding whether or not she’ll ride the bus, and learning what bus she’ll take and when to be at the bus stop. Budgeting for school meals. Meeting the teacher(s). Meeting the parents.

Saying that it’s overwhelming is an understatement. But those are the costs you count to ensure your child will grow into the adult you hope he or she will be. But it brings about a question. If I’m not ready for her to go to school, what other things will I not be prepared for? Driving? Boyfriends? Jobs? College? Marriage? Kids of her own? There’s a lot in which I will never be truly ready for? But I have to take it one day at a time, just like everything else.