On Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian. I don’t know where to begin with this book.

It’s a western, or an anti-western. I’ve heard it called the greatest work of southern gothic lit out there, if that helps at all. It follows the kid (he has no name, always referred to simply as “the kid”) through 1850’s northern Mexico who joins the Glanton gang as they go on a scalping spree.

It’s fantastic. Maybe the best novel I’ve ever read. Definitely provocative, controversial, often difficult to read, eye-opening, mind changing, terrifying. The prose is sparse, gripping, often perfect, I mean really truly perfect as if some greater power wrote through Cormac McCarthy. What a novel. What a novel.

So many people have written about Blood Meridian, throwing my hat in the ring hardly feels justified. Doesn’t matter, I’m giving it a shot. My goal isn’t to be illuminating. I don’t think I can help you fully comprehend this novel. I just want you to read the damn book and wear the same look of shock on your face that I did during the three months it took me to soldier through it.

Sketches by JaradOwen of characters from Blood Meridian.

No it’s not a long novel. But it demands your full attention and concentration. Sometimes reading it was so taxing, I had to put it down for several days before I had the energy to pick it back up again.

And you should read it. No matter what I say throughout this piece, remind yourself that you owe it to you to read this book. It’s a masterpiece.

What’s it about? Professional American scalpers in 1850’s Mexico. The Glanton gang who butchered Indians for a buck, then Mexican villagers and American soldiers. They get consumed in the violence before getting consumed by the violence. Saying Blood Meridian is violent is kind of like saying water is wet. It’s a stupid sentiment because it’s so clearly evident from page 1 til the end.

Eye gouging in chapter one is the least of the atrocities. Scalping becomes commonplace. There are several massacres. The violence is never exciting. It’s never thrilling or fun. It is a gut punch until you grow numb to gut punches. By the end of this novel, you’ll form a callous around your heart. You’ll walk through life in a kind of stupor, replaying scenes in your mind over and over again. Will you gain a greater understanding? Probably not. But it will consume you, that much is certain.

Found this on Pinterest. Could not find out who the artist is… If you know, let me know, and I’ll link here.

There is a kind of illumination in the violence. Illumination of what, I don’t know. Was the novel written in defiance of God? I don’t know. Was it written with hands blessed by God? It could go either way. More than once I found myself seriously considering whether Cormac McCarthy is extremely blessed or cursed, sanctified or damned. I still don’t know. But God is in this book, and so is the devil.

The devil, in fact, makes perhaps the most literal appearance in the form of The Judge. But I’ve read convincing arguments that The Judge is in fact God. Who ever he is, he’s chilling.

The prose often require some effort to gain a full understanding of any given paragraph. Here’s a quote showing how difficult some paragraphs are to read, but you can’t deny the imagery these words conjure. This is perhaps Blood Meridian at it’s most difficult, but I personally didn’t mind:

A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear or cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.

Holy shit! Did you read what I just read? Damn it, I might need to give up the craft. That’s the kind of thing you’ll be reading throughout Blood Meridian. For some, this is enticing, but it may dissuade many. Do not let it. This book is worth it. Trust me.

Another quote:

The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.

The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.

I mean, come on! It’s beautiful, dark, enlightening and nearly indecipherable on first reading.

There are scenes that will linger in your mind long after you put the page down. Such as when the Judge lifts a meteor over his head in defiance of the universe. Such as when the Glanton Gang make gun powder of piss and bat guano and lava rock, then gun down their pursuers with their crude recipe.

There were sentences so perfectly wrote I threw the book down and cursed because I’m fairly certain I’ll never be able to write half this well. It’s infuriating to see someone using language near perfection, even when it’s contained in a few short lines describing the way spit evaporates in the desert and how the lizards will drink it up before it bubbles and dries.

A Blood Meridian poster I found on Red Bubble

And that last paragraph. If you’ve reached this point, and you’re convinced that you’ll never read Blood Meridian, you owe it to yourself to read that final paragraph and see if it doesn’t give you chills. Even removed from all context, the final words of this novel will make your blood curdle.

I loved Blood Meridian because it more than once made me pause and think “How was that written by a person, a human being like me?” Can a man really be that good a writer? I don’t know. Can I ever be that good a writer? I don’t know. Probably not, and even typing that makes me sad.

It does, however, give me something to strive for. I’ll revisit this novel, of that I’m certain. And when I do, I think I’ll type out the best of pages word for word just so I can see how it feels to mimic what I can only describe as perfection. I have so much to learn from Blood Meridian.

Read it. Just read it.

Writers Life

Think about 20 different ideas

Winnie the Pooh Thinks

Narrow it down to one.

Think some more.

Outline maybe… Or just start writing.

“We’ll, that idea sucks. Time to rewrite.”

Expand on everything!

Expand

Oops. Expanded too much. Cut it down.

Write! Write! Write!

Almost done, don’t get burned out.

The last chapter isn’t working. What did I do wrong?

More rewrites!

Share with beta readers. (quietly die inside)

Get their feedback.

editor

Rewrite some more. Does it never end!??!

Walk away from it for three months.

Read someone elses novel, feel inadequate.

die inside

Read it, see if it’s as good as you remember it (it isn’t).

Rewrites!

Editors, agents, proofers, publishers.

Promotion… nooooooooooo!

no

And start again.

What to read next

Picking my next read is a task brimming with possibilities. So many things to consider, so much to gain from a good choice, so much disappointment from a bad one.

I’ve been thinking about what I want from my next reading experience, but am torn in several directions. One of my goals this year is to read more difficult but rewarding books, a bill that was filled by my previous two very different reads Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and The Iron Council by China Mieville. Both definitely work to get through, but both were amazing in their own unique ways.

I also want to read more unique post apocalyptic novels, because 1) I enjoy them, and 2) I’m writing in that genre and need to scope out the competition. I’ve read a few post apocalyptic books in the past (my favorites being The Road by Cormac McCarthy, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, and is Roadside Picnic considered post apocalyptic(?)).

I’ve narrowed my next book down to four very different choices, and I want your input. Pick from one of the options below, click on the tweet thingy and fill in your choice of book with one reason why. It can be any reason, even if you think it just has the best cover.

The choices are:  Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Pulp by Charles Bukowski, Stoner by John Williams, or My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Let me know what I should read next by filling in the blanks in the tweet below:

You should read -FILL IN BOOK- next #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

Why these books?

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Station Eleven Book Cover by Emily St. John Mandel

I first heard about Station Eleven while googling for “best post apocalyptic novels” or “best dystopian novels” or something like that. I saw it mentioned more than once, thought that was a good sign (though I have read terrible books from ‘best of…’ lists, so you never know).

This came up and I mentioned it to my wife. “I’ve only heard great things about that book” she said, and then, “Read it ’cause I want to read it and we should read it together!” But she’s currently reading something else so it’ll be a while before we can read this together? Should I get started early? Probably because she reads SO MUCH FASTER than me.

Really, that’s all I know about Station Eleven. I haven’t looked at its goodreads page, I haven’t even cracked it open. All I know is it’s supposed to be good and it shares the genre that I’m currently writing in. Should I read it?

You should read Station Eleven by @EmilyMandel #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

You can follow her on twitter @EmilyMandel

Pulp by Charles Bukowski

Pulp book cover by Charles Bukowski

I’ve never read a Charles Bukowski book. I think many people consider that a crime. I don’t know much about him except that he’s highly regarded and wrote books with titles like Ham on Rye. To be honest, I don’t know what’s kept me away from Bukowski for so long.

Anyway, I only own one of his books, Pulp. I have a feeling that it’s not the Bukowski book you’re ‘supposed’ to start with, but it’s the one I own. So there.

For some reason I put Charles Bukowski in the same camp as Kurt Vonnegut (one of my all time favorites), but I don’t know if that’s accurate or not. They just seem to exude similar vibes. Am I wrong? Should I read it next?

You should read Pulp by Charles Bukowski #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner book cover by John Williams

Stoner, I have heard, is one of the best American novels ever written. This is a novel that’s been floating around my periphery for years. I think I heard about it first from an article from a publication like The Guardian or something. It wasn’t this article but it was a similar one to this.

I forgot about it for a while, then rediscovered it through this YouTube video by Better Than Food, the book recommendation channel by Clifford Lee Sargent @BksBtrThnFood. He gives it about as high of a recommendation possible, which has me intrigued. Should I listen to Clifford and read it next?

You should read Stoner by John Williams because @BksBtrThnFood told you to #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

My Struggle book cover by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I only recently heard about My Struggle. This one I also learned about from Clifford Lee Sargent (there, I think I linked to all of his things, lol) while bingeing his channel. The same day I watched this video I went to Half Price Books and found the book in the staff recommendations section. It felt like a fatey type of thing, so I bought it.

It’s been a few months since then and the details as to what makes this book great are escaping me now. All I know is that some people who I think have decent taste like it, so hopefully I’ll like it too. Should I read it next though?

You should read My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard because @BksBtrThnFood told you to #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

So which should it be. They all seem to be very different books. Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on twitter @scbarrus

 

 

Mushi-Shi - Scene from the Anime

The Three Greatest Influences on Grim Curio

This week I reached a major writing milestone in Grim Curio. I wrote my 50,000th word. This is a big step in the process and to celebrate I’m going to share some of the works that have influenced me over the past few months.

What follows are GC’s three greatest influences, which is by no means a complete list. Each of these books feature specific elements in the area’s of tone, character arcs, and genre elements that I’ve taken, made my own, and tried to emulate. Let’s get started.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy - Book CoverEvery Cormac McCarthy novel has blown me away. The guy is a master of prose, at genre subversion, and at non-conventional storytelling techniques. He has a voice all his own and manages to write genre fiction with deeply embedded literary flair.

Of his works, you might expect The Road to be the greatest source of inspiration. It shares the Post Apocalyptic genre with Grim Curio, and it’s probably his most well-known book at this point. And while The Road is certainly a book that makes me aspire to being a better writer, there are only really superficial similarities between that book and mine.

No, the McCarthy book that had the greatest impact on GC is easily No Country for Old Men. From the tightly paced narrative and the interesting moral dilemmas to absolutely stunning prose and fantastic character arcs, there’s so much to draw on.

Is No Country for Old Men an action novel? You could argue that it’s an action subversion, taking the guise of an action narrative while flipping all the tropes on their heads. Or perhaps it’d be better classified as post-action, especially in the way the book ends. Whatever it is, it’s a damn fine novel, and one that inspires me continually as I write.

Check out the three biggest influences on Grim Curio by @SCBarrus #novels #thriller #fantasy #scienceficiton Click To Tweet

The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson - Book Cover

Switching genres, the next major influence is the Mistborn trilogy which consists of The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. These books feature an epic fantasy plot with a unique magic system and massive twists all along the way. But it’s not really these elements that inspire any element of Grim Curio.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved every aspect above, but what really caught my eye was the near perfect character arcs. While reading I kept picking up on these often subtle character changes. Almost none of the major characters are static, they all end up as drastically different people than they started as, but the progression feels so subtle and natural.

Taken by the character progression, I ended up watching a series of novel-writing lectures from Brandon Sanderson on YouTube hoping that his secret would be revealed. Turns out it totally was, and it changed the way I write.

He has a unique approach to novel planning which I’ll dive deep into in a future post. It involves listing out all the major moments in a characters arc, then figuring out how that a character will earn that plot point. Each of these will turn into a scene. The end result, when done well, is subtle character growth leading to major changes over time.

While Grim Curio isn’t going to be anywhere near as long as Mistborn, I hope it still carries elements of this kind of character progression with all the major characters.

Mushishi

Long time followers may have guessed Mushishi would appear on this list. Mushishi is a quiet, contemplative and amazing piece of entertainment. Some may criticize it for being slow, but to them I say “no one asked you!”

Mushishi follows Ginko, a sort of traveling medicine man in feudal Japan. He wanders the rural villages to cure the ailments brought on by Mushi, creatures that exists in a different plane, yet affect our world in sometimes subtle and sometimes drastic ways.

While this one isn’t at all an edge of the seat thriller, it does instill the viewer with a sense of awe rarely felt while watching TV or movies. While technically Grim Curio will likely be categorized as Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction, it’s really Fantasy masquerading as Sci-Fi. The fantasy elements are all written through a Sci-Fi lens, but really it’s closer to Mushishi than any sort of hard science fiction.

GC attempts to take these small moments of wonder, and then build and build upon them until the scale is massive and the stakes are higher than ever. But it also seeks to capture periodic quiet moments of contemplation.

Mushi-Shi - Scene from the Anime

Mushi-Shi - Scene from the Anime

Conclusion

There you have it, the three biggest influences on Grim Curio. If you’re interested in learning more about inspiration, be sure to check out this post where I explore how to live a lifestyle that encourages constant inspiration and idea generation. Or if you’d rather get more peeks behind the scenes of Grim Curio, check out Building the Plot & Structure of Grim Curio.

15,000 words written – plus first look at Chapter 1

Its the beginning of my journey: writing my next novel, Grim Curio. It’s been a long time since I released Discovering Aberration, a long time since I’ve really sat down and wrote anything at all. Until recently, that is.

I’ve written 15,000 words towards a new novel, and I’m really excited about it. This is the first time I’ve been really passionate about something since Discovering Aberration and it feels good. It feels right.

So now that I’ve carved a decent chunk out of Grim Curio, I want to do something more than I’ve done before. I want to share as much as I can about the entire writing process. I’ll share critique ready chapters, change logs, and production notes.

  • Critique ready chapters – as I write, I share my writing with other writers to get their feedback on a subreddit called /r/DestructiveReaders. I share it via a Google Doc and they leave comments in the margin, as well as write full, in depth critiques. I’ll share these with you too. Because why not.
  • Change Logs – I’ll make these more interesting than the sound. These’ll be short posts that explain some of the changes I make to sections of the story, and may explain why I made those changes.
  • Production Notes – These can be plot points I’m thinking about, characters I’m developing, or it can be something as like describing an image I have in my head that I’d like to add to the story.

That’s it really. Feel free to be a part of the process. I’d love to hear what you think of this idea, as well as feedback on the writing itself.

First critique ready chapter

To top off the beginning of this journey, I’ve got something for you already. Below is a link to the first critique ready segment of Grim Curio. The first link goes to the reddit post where I received feedback. The second goes directly to the google doc. The response has been great and the feedback is intensely in depth. Crazy how deep we writers go to craft something you’ll enjoy.

So here it is. Intro to content and critiques here: Grim Curio – Chapter 1 Part 1 (3521 words) Or just skip to the google doc and read it.

I’ve already made major changes to this portion of the book, which I’ll discuss and share in my next post.