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Writing with Style 5: Writing Discomfort

While its easy enough to simply say a character feels uncomfortable, I find that showing the discomfort goes  a long way in making that discomfort feel real. First, it’s important to identify a “symptom” of the characters discomfort. This could be anything as long as its repeated throughout the event you are writing. It could be a look, sweat pouring from the character’s forehead, cottonmouth, or anything else your imagination can contrive. despair-513529__180The trick is repetition. In the excerpt below, you’ll see my approach to showing discomfort in a new coming of age novel I’m working on. Like everyone else who writes bildungsroman, I’m trying to write the next Catcher in the Rye. I’ve bolded the repeated “symptom” so you can easily see what I’m talking about. Check it out:


from Untitled

“Jordan!” she said with a gasp and her hand over her chest. “I double checked my calendar twice. I was so worried. I—I thought you must’ve been in an accident or—I didn’t know what to think—I—”

“It’s fine, Grandma,” I said as I hugged her. She smelled like old-lady perfume and incontinence. “There was a bad traffic jam and I was sitting in it for over an hour. Must’ve been a ten car pile-up. I saw two ambulances coming back the other way before it all cleared up. Looked pretty bad.”

She gasped again. “That’s horrible.”

I felt a little bad because she didn’t think to question me, but what was I going to say? “Hey grandma, I’m late because I slept off a hangover, got in a fight, popped some painkillers, did a line of coke, had some sex with a girl I’m not dating, and then hung out by myself at the skatepark as I came down from the drugs.” Obviously, I couldn’t say that and if I did, it would break her tiny old lady heart. It’s the same with mom. You have to lie to them for their own good. They don’t want the truth. They just want to hear that you’re doing well and you’re happy and they don’t need to worry about you. That’s all they want.

After that my visit with grandma was uneventful. We watched the TV and drank tea and played cards at her little kitchen table. We didn’t talk at all while we played gin rummy and I couldn’t help but focus on her tiny ashen hands, so white I could see the green and blue of her veins. A fine mist from a humidifier sprayed into the air behind her and the room was so hot I stripped down to my white undershirt.

I still felt the hangover from the night before, and the smell of old person caused sweat to bead-up on my forehead. After the final hand grandma looked up at me and leaned back in her chair.

“You’re mother says you’re doing well in school. All A’s?”

“Yea,” I said and I wasn’t lying. I had straight A’s since freshman year.

“And you’re applying to colleges this summer?”

My palms were sweating now and I was glad we were finished with the cards. “Yea. We made visits last year. And mom wants me to apply to five schools.”

Grandma nodded her head and smiled. She was pleased. “No one from our family ever went to college. I wanted to go but there wasn’t enough money. Your mother is so lucky to have met your father. Without him, you would have grown up like everyone else in the family. You’re a lucky boy.”

I felt like I’d puke right there and my eyes started doing this thing where the bright light made them twitch. Sweat stung my eyes, and I couldn’t look at her anymore. Every time I looked at her the light in the room pulsated around her head.

“We’re all so proud of you,” she said.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “Well,” I said. “I have to get going. I’m meeting up with a friend tonight. We’re studying for a test in physics.”

“Ok,” she said. “Is it with that friend I met last summer? What was her name? Hm. Miranda?”

“Yea,” I said quickly. Grandma must’ve forgot I go to an all-boys school.

“She was such a nice girl. So polite. And pretty. That’s the type of girl you hold on to and never let go.”

“I better not be late then,” I said. And as I stood up and grabbed my shirt from the back of the chair, I started to feel good again. I hugged grandma in spite of the old-lady perfume and incontinence. “I’ll see you next month.”

Writing as Art 2.0: Mirage

th (12)Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. Well, its supposed to at least. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. But that doesn’t mean the excerpts are artistic or even well written. You see, when I first started posting these excerpts, I provided running commentary  demonstrating the authors artistic choices. I don’t do that anymore because my readers thought it was weird and hard to follow. So instead, I just post the excerpts that are sent to me and let my readers decide. Some are good. Some aren’t. Either way, let me know what you think in the comment section below the excerpt. Don’t feel like you need to hold any punches.

For this week, we have an excerpt from Jean Blasier’s novel Mirage. Check it out and let me know if its art or just cleverly written or just a bunch of crap.




The cab turned left off Sunset, past the Bel Air Hotel now emerging from the fog, its manicured lawn glistening with dew.

Lily put on her glasses and checked the directions again.  “Are you sure this is the right road?” she asked the cab driver for the third time since they left the airport.  And for the third time the cab driver responded, “Stone Canyon.”

Inside the mansion at 1520 Stone Canyon, Tim Michaels was looking out the front window, as nervous as his soon-to-arrive guest was excited.

“Dad, sit down.  I’ll get you a cup of coffee.”  Molly Michaels, Tim’s daughter-in-law, hated to see her father-in-law all wrought up about this woman who, after all, had invited herself to California.

“I don’t want any more coffee, sweetheart.  Does this sweater make me look fat?”


“Did I ever show you a picture of Lily from grade school, Molly?”

“Yes, you did, dad.  But that was a long time ago.”

“Thirty eight years.  She moved to Pittsburgh after eighth grade and  broke my heart.”

“Seems odd, doesn’t it?   All these years and you never heard from her.”

“We moved to California and lost track of Lily.”

“Until last Saturday.”

“You could have knocked me over with a feather when that letter arrived telling me she was coming here.”

“How do you suppose she got your address?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe one of those searches on the internet.”

Molly fluffed up one of the pillows on the sofa.  “Did you ever try to find her with one of those searches?”

“Yeah, I did once, after Barbara died, but there was no trace of a Lily Spitzer who used to live in Sandusky, Ohio.”  Tim picked up one of the chess pieces off the small table in front of the sofa, polished it on his sweater and returned it to the board.

It was the perfect time for Molly to say something she’d been wanting to say ever since she heard that this woman was planning to visit for an indeterminate stay.  “I think you should be careful, dad.  I mean, you don’t know anything about this woman.”

Tim looked out the window once more.  He checked his watch.  “You’re going to love Lily, Molly,” he said, ignoring his daughter-in-law’s counsel.  “She was the life of every party.”

“I’m just saying, I can’t believe she invited herself indefinitely.”

“Just until she gets settled.”

“Did she say that?”

“She said she’s hoping to stay with me for a couple of days to look around.  She’s never been to California.”

The cab pulled into the circular drive of the mansion and stopped at the front door.  Lily and the cabbie had a few words about the fare before the driver got out, walked around and opened the rear passenger door.  He picked up a scuffed, cardboard suitcase from the floor of the back seat and then helped Lily out.

While Lily stood there looking up at the brick and columned two story house, the driver walked up the three front steps and set the suitcase on the Carrara marble entry.  The suitcase looked ridiculously out of place.


That’s it. Let me know what you think by commenting below. Oh and if you’re interested in the author, Jean Blasiar, she’s a playwright and author of the Emmy Budd mysteries. Check out her website: Jeanblasiar.com


It Leans

Hi folks,

It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted. I’ve been flooded with writing jobs lately, I’m revising one of my own books, and I’ve been sending out short fiction to journals, magazines, contests etc. etc. etc. So what I’m trying to say is this: sorry I’ve been silent here on the old blog.

Tonight I break my silence. The inspiration for the following fictional piece comes from a scrap of particle board I saw leaning against a road sign in my neighborhood. I picked the board up and snuck it into my trash a few weeks ago. For some reason, I’m not sure  what, I started thinking about that board as I was driving home yesterday. So as an exercise in creating symbolism, I wrote this:


It Leans

The board sits there leaning on the sign at the corner of Turkey Trot Lane and Red Fox Drive. A month or two ago it had appeared in that spot. The top of the board is jagged. There’s a screw sticking out of the bottom corner. thQ738M5EN

A month ago it looked old. “From a dresser?” a friend asked as I took the corner driving up Turkey Trot Lane. “Or a table,” I said.

It still looks old. But now it’s weathered and grey too. Maybe it’s been longer than a month or two. But I can’t remember when I first saw it.

Other cars pass the board. I watched a car pass it a day ago when I was walking up the hill. And cars driving in front of me—they pass it too.

Maybe the driver was thinking, the one driving in front of me yesterday, hey, someone should pick that up. Why doesn’t anyone pick that up? That never would’ve happened years ago. People leaving trash out on the road. No respect.

But he didn’t slow down. He didn’t stop.

Or maybe he didn’t see it at all. That’s more likely. He didn’t see it. Maybe he saw it a month or two ago when the board first showed up. But he doesn’t see it now. And, if I’m being honest, I don’t see it most days either. Today it caught my eye, but most days—

Anyway, I know I should pick it up. Some days, when I see it, I think to myself, just stop and pick it up. Put it in the dumpster. It’ll take a second—that’s it. It’ll only take a second. But then I take the turn up Turkey Trot and the board is gone. It’ll be there tomorrow, I think. Someone’ll get it.

So here I am today about to take the turn on Turkey Trot Lane. The board is there leaning against the sign. It leans there and I can’t help but make comparisons. It leans there like the dentist appointment I need to make. It leans there like some sad kid whose dad won’t come to see his baseball game. th10V2VGTBIt leans there like global warming or carbon emissions. Maybe it leans it there like that extra ten or twenty pounds we all wear on our gut. Or maybe—I could go on and on but I think that’s enough.

As I approach the turn I slow down. I notice the board leaning against the sign. I take the turn. It’ll be there tomorrow. Someone’ll get it.


An Announcement… of sorts

Hey Folks,

For all of you out there interested in my fiction, my books can be borrowed free from Amazon. It’s through the KindleUnlimited program which is now offering a free 30 day trial (US ONLY). Don’t know much about the program? Check out this link: KINDLEUNLIMITED

I know – it’s awesome. And if you’re not interested in my books, or have already bought them, there are tons of other author’s with books listed through the program.



To all of you who e-mailed, my next “Letter on Literary Devices” will be out later this week. I know, I know, I haven’t posted much recently. I’m not sure if any of you out there are inclined towards believing excuses, but I do have one for anyone who happens to trust me (Suckers): for the past month I’ve been painstakingly editing and revising a new novel – well, the first half of it at least. I’m planning on having the second half written by the end of the year but am not sure of when it will be published, who it will be published by, or any of that stuff yet. I have a title, but that might change too.

So, that’s it for this evening. Below are the links to my books for anyone interested in a free borrow. As always, thanks for checkin’ out my blog!

But the Angels Never Came:

Farmers and Cannibals:

Just After the Fall:

The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you!

Letters on Literary Devices 10: The Hard Period.

To all those who “go hard”:


When I first started writing, a certain “fiction writer” confronted me with a problem, well, he thought it was problem, with my overuse of the “hard period”. For those of you who haven’t heard of “hard periods” take my advice and resist the urge to search google for a definition. You won’t find one. You will, on the other hand, find several websites offering advice for women suffering from “hard periods” (We’re talkin’ menstruation here – not grammar…yea).

Anyway, the “fiction writer” said I used too many periods and should use more commas. He had a theory. His theory was this:  “There are different schools of proper grammar and writing style.  Some prefer periods, others commas.  I’m of the school of the latter, not only in my writing, but also my reading.” Having read his writing, (we had agreed to read each other’s manuscripts and offer advice), I knew that he was also a student of these other fine schools of literary thought: “The School of mind-numbing over-explanation”, “The School of telling everything and showing nothing”, “The School of boring the reader instead of entertaining him or her”, etc. etc. etc. The dude couldn’t write. Sure, he could string a sentence or two together, long, boring, painfully consistent sentences with no change in length or rhythm. But he couldn’t create suspense. He couldn’t create a book worth reading.

Now look, I’m not writing this to hate on the fella. He sucks. Whatever. It was fun while it lasted, but I have a point here: the hard period has a solid place in fiction writing. Sure, some critics will describe writing as choppy or “not flowey” when an author utilizes short, telegraphic sentences in abundance. But that doesn’t mean a writer should be afraid of “goin’ hard” when the occasion demands it.

Let me break this down for you. Typically, longer sentences are used for slowing down the pace of a novel. Longer sentences, particularly sentences whose subjects are disconnected from their verbs, disconnected perhaps by a string of phrases, disconnected by description after meaningless description, whose main point is obscured by clause after pointless clause, whose point still hasn’t been made,  which are so convoluted that you have to read them over and over to understand, cause the reader to read each word very carefully. Well, at least according to theory. But is that always the case? Look at that sentence I just wrote. Look at the one that started with “Longer sentences.” Did you actually read it all? Technically, it’s without grammatical error. Technically, it should make sense to you. But did you read it? Did you read it or just skim over it because it would’ve been a pain in the ol’ ass to read? (I just counted. There were 53 words between the subject “sentences” and the verb “cause”)

And that shows the obvious benefit of “going hard” and using the “hard period”. Shorter sentences are easier to read. The subject connects directly to its verb, its action (Like in that last sentence. The subject was “subject”. The verb was “connects”), which makes the narrative easier to follow because who and what each sentence is about is always clear.

And yes, this speeds up a narrative. But that ain’t gotta be bad. Short sentences are great for moving a plot and are particularly useful when describing action.

But wait folks, there’s more. Telegraphic sentences with “hard periods” can be used for changing up the pace, making strong points, or dropping the punch line on a joke. Just check out the second paragraph in this blog post. Check out the variety in sentence lengths. And check out that telegraphic sentence towards the end of it, “The dude couldn’t write.” EJO “goes hard”, that’s all I’m sayin’ (Please pardon the shameless self-promotion).

So, for all you writers out there who’ve been “goin’ hard” but ashamed to admit it; for all you who’ve tried to make your writing “flowey” afraid to embrace your inner “hard” self; don’t let your face turn red and don’t be overcome with fear. “Go hard”.



Eric James-Olson


Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale. They are priced between 2.99 and 3.99.  Check out these links if you’re interested:





















Letters on Literary Devices 9: Incomplete thoug…

To all the incomplete thoughts out there,

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an article (I can’t remember where, when, who is was by, or what the title was) explaining the conventional differences between good ol’ American English and the slightly different, slightly more refined version of that same language on the other side of the Atlantic. No, it wasn’t about how American Standard English (AmSE) is the best and British Standard English (BrSE) is the worst or anything childish like that. Rather, it was about one of the most fascinating, intriguing subjects that man has ever conjured: punctuation.

Yea, that’s right folks. I’m talking periods, commas, and yea, that’s right, even the old semi-colon.

The article went on to explain how differences in usage are often cited as typos by readers educated under the opposing standard language. What? Let me explain with an unnecessarily awkward, convoluted sentence: So Brit readers reading American author’s might see a comma “misplaced” that is actually in a standard location according to AmSE, and an American reader reading a British author might see a comma “misplaced” that is actually in a standard location according to BrSE. Yea (1). I know. Crazy (2).

This got me thinking. Yea (3). I know. Scary (4). When a reader posts a review, what other assumptions does he or she make about typos?

Well, I racked my brain. I thought real hard and then had a milkshake. After that, I went to the gym. I lifted some weights. Did a little cardio. Checked myself out in the mirror when it seemed like no one was watching. Did some more thinking. And drove home.

As I drove home I still had nothing. Honestly, I couldn’t think of much. But that’s when it hit me.  Sentence Fragments (5). The bane of secondary school teachers everywhere (6). Sentence fragments (7).

Despite the threats, brow-beatings, scare tactics of English teachers globally, the sentence fragment has always had a home in literature. I would start to name author’s but that would be silly. Everybody does it. Open a book. Read a few pages. You’ll find one. Guaranteed (8).

Right now, you’re probably thinking this: But why? Why? God, Why!?! Mrs. Bonebreaker told me that if I put another incomplete sentence in my paper she’d snap my pencil in half, and I don’t think she was talking about the one I write with.

Relax (9). It’ll be ok. Deep breaths (10).

Let’s go back to the basics. What’s a sentence? Easy (11). It’s a complete  thought. That’s why they’re so good for writing with. It’s good to have complete thoughts. So, what’s a sentence fragment? An incomplete thought (12). Not too useful in an essay (13). That’s why ol’ Bonebreaker threatened to snap your pencil in half. You were probably writing an essay.

In fiction, however, the incomplete thought can be fairly useful.

The most obvious and probably most common use of incomplete thoughts  is through character dialogue. People don’t always speak with completely formed ideas, so  a lot of author’s imitate this when writing dialogue.

Another common use of the sentence fragment is in the imitation of real human thinking. Think about it. Do you think in complete sentences? Unless you’re really weird, you probably don’t. So a common way to show this, to show a characters thoughts is through the employment of sentence fragments. Most of the time you wouldn’t even notice that you’re looking at fragments. Check out this excerpt from a novel I’m working on:


I’m just stuck here. Stuck here watchin’ the old man take a swim every now and then. Stuck here watchin’ ol’ Linda read trashy novels and stroke the armrest of her beach chair. Stuck here bored as hell wantin’ nothin’ else but a chance to meet some chick young enough to take me seriously.

That’s the problem though. All the girls around here are so stuck up and full of shit and three or five years older than me. Sucks being fifteen.


For those keeping track at home, that’s four fragments and only three complete sentences. All those “sentences” starting with “stuck” are without subjects. There’s no subject in the sentence starting with “sucks” either.

So, what does this do? Well, it makes the ideas seem less organized. It makes the ideas feel as if each runs into the next. It makes the ideas sound like, well, thoughts.

Now, do all readers know this? No (14). An author takes a chance anytime he or she uses a sentence fragment or any other break from convention when writing fiction. There is the chance that the break with convention won’t be seen as an artistic choice, but rather, will be seen as a clumsy error.

So what? Good question (15). I’ll try to answer it in three sentences. Complete ones (16). Here it goes: with the explosion of self-published authors into the mainstream of fiction, a huge amount of poorly written, poorly edited, poorly proofread novels have hit the market causing readers to notice unheard of quantities of conventional errors in “published” books. This trend has raised awareness to the possibility of typos in independently published fiction. My point is this: although there may be a preponderance of typos in “indie” fiction, not all typos are typos; some writers are better than others; some writers have the literary knowledge to make artistic choices that bend the rules of convention.

In a free society where everyone is empowered to be a critic, a society that encourages all customers, all readers to share opinions on an authors work, there will always be those who critique without requisite knowledge, without adequate understanding. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s much better than the alternative. But it is a fact for which we should be cognizant.

I don’t know about you, but the next time I see a break with convention, I’ll think twice before I assume it’s a mistake.



Eric James-Olson


P.S. If you were wondering about all the numbers in parenthesis, the explanation is simple. I was keeping track of all my sentence fragments. No, I didn’t include the fragments from the excerpt.






Flashback: Letters on LD6: Literary Fracking

Hi folks,

Today I’m flashing back to an old post I wrote, Letters on Literary Devices 6: Jumpy Writing, and providing an example of “literary fracking” for all of you who were confused by the term. I coined this term based off an actual term in literary criticism: “the fractured narrative.”

Basically, the fractured narrative is when a book travels from one perspective to another focusing on the same event. The perspectives can come from character who took part in the event or even characters who are commenting on the event days or months or years later.

In my novel Just After the Fall, I used this strategy throughout. The main event, the beginning of a religious cult, occurred in real time for the protagonist. Two separate commentaries are provided by a future historian and a future religious leader. There is also a separate narrative that occurs after the main event but during the life of the protagonist. This is important because it shows how the cult developed into a religion which inevitably benefitted its people through the creation of a shared, common culture. Despite the fact that  it was just made up.

The excerpt below shows the commentary by the future religious leader and the separate narrative that occurs after the main event (I couldn’t use the chapters that showed the main event because those chapters are too long for an excerpt). Notice the change in narrative tone. The second chapter, the chapter that shows the beginning of the religious cult, maintains a simple, matter-of-fact voice, absent of the thinly veiled sarcasm found in  the “Sermon”.

Hope you enjoy it! Literary Fracking, everyone!




from Just After the Fall

A Sermon on Suicides from the Year 2540: Part IV


…“Followers of Abraham,” the orator continued, his voice reaching the top of a crescendo. His hands were above his head. “On this day, as you depart, as you leave this holy service, look around yourselves. See that there are powers acting independent of you. See that none of these powers are greater than you. And know that you do not have control of those powers, nor do you need to have control of those powers, for you do control your individual self, for that, above all else, was the lesson Lawrence learned traversing the wilderness. For that was the lesson that brought our people out of the darkness of the mountains and into the white light of liberty. For myself and no-one else!”

“For myself and no-one else,” the flock repeated.


In his private chambers the orator de-robed. Underneath he wore black. Sitting across from him, on a thick mules-leather chair was another man in black.

“Well done,” said the man in black. “You are a tribute to our order.”

The orator nodded his head. He grinned. His teeth were perfect. His canines were sharp.

“Some of the boys at central ran numbers last week. Faith has increased almost six percent since you began here.”

The orator said nothing. He nodded his head.

The man in black reclined further into his chair. “We’ll see productivity numbers next week. The projection from central is showing a three percent increase.” He shifted his weight. “This looks good. You’re looking good. You’re making me look good.”

“Just wait till next week,” the orator replied. “I’m beginning my telling of the Abraham stories. Those, I do particularly well.” He chuckled. “I have a name for it. They’ll eat it up. I’m calling it, But the Angels Never Came.”

The man in black laughed. “They will,” he said. “I know they will. They’ll grow fat on your sermons, and we’ll grow fat on our bonus checks from central office.”



To the East of Eden: Part IV


The top of the mountain was white rock. There were no trees or vegetation. The old man, wearing the brown cloth unique to his tribe, walked across the space separating himself and Lawrence and embraced the younger man.

“It has been too long,” the old man said. There was no hair on his head, but his beard was still thick and long. The dark hairs of his youth had turned a healthy grey.

The old man turned towards Maria. He embraced her.

“How are the boys?” the old man asked.

Maria smiled. “It has been too long,” she answered. “George is a man now. He’s a leader in our tribe. There is talk of him running for the next election. We are proud. And Cain, he was such a smart boy. As a man he’s interested in farming. He has a lot of ideas. He’s been planting trees. He wants all the breadfruit, for all the people of Abraham, to come from the south. ‘Trade,’ he always says the word ‘trade.’ He thinks very big.”

The old man nodded his head.

“So,” Lawrence began. “How are your people Chet?”

“Well fed.” Chet answered. His hands were at his sides. He was old but his back was not curved. The muscles in his legs were thick. “And yours?”

“Well fed and growing. The lands to the south are filling up.”

Lawrence looked past Chet. Resting next to the old man’s bag was an automatic rifle.

“Come across any poachers?” Lawrence asked.

“No, I never do. They see my rifle and they stay away. Besides, I’m an old bag of bones. They go after young meat.”

Lawrence nodded his head.

“It must be nice,” Chet continued, “traveling through the south, traveling without one of those.” He pointed back towards his rifle.

“We stayed as one people.”

“I still remember our splitting off. You were crazy, I thought, staying down there, near the patrols.”

“The first year was tense. But the drones got packed up and shipped off. Never saw one myself. Not after the split. The shared fear. In the beginning, that’s what kept us together.”

Chet nodded.

“How is Abraham?” Lawrence asked.

“Oh,” Chet replied, “last I heard, he’s doing fine. Always on the move. For so long he lived for the people of the Village. Since the split, he has lived only for himself. You see. I knew him. I knew him well. He was always under so much strain. I could never look at him in the eyes before. But now, he is at peace.”

Lawrence nodded. “He was right. He had the right idea all along. He had all the power, but he walked away.”

“It’s his example that they follow,” Chet said in agreement. “They can longer follow the words from his mouth. They follow his beliefs. They follow his morals.”

Time passed. Maria spoke more of her sons. Chet and Lawrence reminisced sitting with backs against the white rocks of the mountain. The sun went up. The sun went down. Maria started a fire and the three ate. It was not until after the meal that Lawrence brought up the matter of official duties. The men talked of trade, new developments in breadfruit farming, and efforts on both sides to maintain the religion of Abraham in their peoples, for the yearly gathering at Church Peak was only a month away.


Thanks for checking out this excerpt! If you still have questions about the fractured narrative or literary fracking, feel free to put those in the comment section below!


Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale. They are priced between 2.99 and 3.99.  Check out these links if you’re interested:




















Books for Men 2: Ape and Essence

Ladies and Gentleman,

Welcome back to Books for Men. As I mentioned in my post last week, I’ll be reviewing Aldous Huxley’s Ape and Essence .

For those of you who missed last week’s post, I’ll break down the most important parts for you: Books for Men focuses on fiction that emphasizes history, philosophy, politics,  religion, ideas, beliefs. The criticism centers on the author’s development of symbolism, allegory, and milieu, not the author’s development of character and plot. These conditions were decided based on well-documented trends in what men read, not on stereotypes regarding maleness, masculinity, what it means to be a “real man.” My goal has nothing to do with defining masculinity; it has everything to do with suggesting books that I think other men will like.

Without further adieu my review of Ape and Essence:


Ape and Essence starts out simply enough. Two men, both in the movie business, discuss an array of topics ranging from infidelity, to the assassination of Ghandi, to movie scripts that will never see the screen. The focus, however, appears to be the assassination of Ghandi. Through dialogue and inner narrative, Huxley juxtaposes two philosophical concepts: the plight of the marginalized individual vs. the machinery of civilized “Order”. Ghandi, of course, represents the individual serving his own cause,  who is killed because he “refused any longer to go on dreaming our dreams of a national Order,” concluding that “Order begets tyranny,” inevitably.

This representation of Ghandi, this dichotomy between the “individual” and “order” serves as a central theme throughout the rest of the book, an assertion that the plot will seek to make self-evident.

From here, our two men, Bob Briggs and the narrator are nearly ran over by a truck loaded down with movie scripts destined for the incinerator. The truck takes a sharp turn and several scripts fall out onto the pavement. Most of the scripts are trash, but one catches the eye of the narrator: “Ape and Essence.” It is this script, this piece of trash, this meaningless item written by an obscure author, that will serve as the majority of the novel.

Now, the men don’t just start reading. If they had just started reading the script, the significance of the script as an object in itself might have been lost. Instead, they try to track down the author. I won’t go into the details of their search. The search ends like this: he’s already dead. But the point is this: the story that he wrote, “Ape and Essence,” is not a story that other men want to hear. It’s a story that humanity turns its collective eyes from. It’s a story that owes its existence to the exigency of chance and luck. It goes against popular opinion. It isn’t comfortable. It isn’t easy to hear. But it does exist. It’s real.

So, what’s in the script? Well, the second part of the novel titled “The Script,” claims to be a verbatim reading. And it does read a lot like a movie script and begins with a short vignette, an allegory portraying men with power, world leaders, perhaps,  as apes controlled by an inexplicable need to destroy each other. The vignette closes with two warring factions, both in possession of an “Einstein” who pushes a button destroying the entire planet. Literally, this short scene represents a futuristic WWIII. It also represents the control that political powers have over scientific discovery; the “Einstein’s” are literally kept on leashes, and the devastating potential that science can achieve. Think: Prometheus bringing fire to man, except no positives outcomes, only destruction. A more contemporary comparison would be Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The message about the dangers of science is essentially the same.

From here, the script travels a hundred years or so into the future. With the exception of New Zealand, the entire world has been destroyed by nuclear blasts. The New Zealanders are scientists and in the midst of an exploration to California.

One of the scientists, Dr. Poole gets ambushed by the local Californian’s, a group of people who’s parents and grandparents somehow survived the initial nuclear blasts and weren’t killed by nuclear radiation.

From this point on, the suspense builds from a want to better understand these people. It becomes a milieu-based or world-building style narrative.

In the wake of nuclear catastrophe, Huxley creates a world where mankind has reverted to a state that is almost inhuman. He does this not by creating an absence of culture, but instead by describing a complete inversion of Western civilization. Instead of God, the people believe in Belial (the devil). Instead of Democracy, the people are ruled by despots (even though they call it a democracy, Animal Farm, anyone?). The women wear patches over their breasts that say “no”. They wear these patches over each of their orifices as well. The most grotesque manifestation of this new reality is in the mating ritual. Instead of marriages born out of love or arranged by parents or agreed upon by mutual recognition of common interests, the Belial worshippers engage in a yearly mating ritual in which any deformed children from the year before are slaughtered. Oh, I forgot to mention. The people are all deformed because of nuclear radiation. Any children who are “too” mutated are killed (This is Sparta!?!).

The slaughter is followed by an orgy. It isn’t a complete free for all. Much like deer during the rut, the men with the biggest horns get the women. The people in these scenes don’t seem like people at all. Reading these scenes was akin to watching the nature channel years ago, when all it ever showed was animals mating.

Much like in Brave New World, Huxley portrays women as a lower, unprivileged class whose main role in society is copulation. He goes further here, describing women as “vessel’s” for Belial. This brings about a strange irony: women are of a lower class because they carry “Belial” or evil with them; and yet, the people as a whole revel in, and celebrate Belial as their God. This also points out the inherent power that man, as an animal, has over women, as animals. Here, the men are shown as physically stronger, and the women are forced to “submit”. Although it isn’t clear, Huxley may have been commenting sarcastically about the inherent absurdity of gender inequality, showing that it’s a feature of our animal nature, not the part of our nature that makes us uniquely human.

After the ritual, our protagonist, Dr. Poole interviews the man who’s really in charge of this civilization, the head of The Church of Belial, the Arch-Vicor, and it’s from this Arch-Vicor the nature of this new world is fully explained, and for those who intend to read the book, I won’t spoil the reveal here, but I’ll give a hint: it has to do with the allegorical conversation from the beginning of the book regarding “Ghandi” and “Order”. He also reveals the reasons for the mating ritual and why the people are forbidden to have monogamous sexual relationships.

The novel concludes suspensefully. In spite of custom, Dr. Poole develops a romantic relationship with Loola, a native Californian who’s mutations are relatively unnoticeable: she has four nipples. Dr. Poole finds himself faced with a difficult choice: he can either join The Church of Belial and become a leader in the community (I forgot to mention that becoming a priest in this society requires surgery. Eunuchs), or he can leave with his new girlfriend in search of place that values individual freedom over collective order.


I won’t say how it ends. I hope you read it and please, feel free to comment below. There was so much more in this book then I had time to discuss and would love to hear your interpretations!

I’ll be posting my next Book for Men in two weeks. I’ll be reading and reviewing To Have and Have Not by Earnest Hemingway

Oh, and if you have any suggestions, know of any books that you think I should review, please let me know by posting them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!




Seein’ that its Tuesday

Seein’ that its Tuesday, I figured I’d dig up an old blog post and re-post it for all you who’ve just started following me. This one’s from my old Blog on Goodreads. It’s one of my Letters on Literary Devices, a fun, mock-epistolary take on literary critique. Hope you don’t mind sarcasm. Check her out!



To all you underdeveloped, two-dimensional, cardboard cut-out flat, uninteresting, unengaging, unrealistic, stereotypical characters out there that ain’t worth the key strokes your author wasted on your creation:
This letter’s for you.
If there is one thing that readers the world over seem to agree on it’s this: you and all your friends are the scum of the literary universe. Yea, I’m talkin’ ’bout all your buddies. The author surrogate, the foil, the stock character, parallel characters, dichotomous characters, all you bastardized step-children of the well-rounded, complex protagonist, and morally flawed antagonist who is still deserving of our empathy.Nine out of ten times (I made that statistic up) when I read a bad review of a novel it’s because one of you son’s of bitches decided to show up in an otherwise merit-worthy book.Characters like you are described as annoying, inconsistent, unimportant, unnecessary, strange, etc. etc. the list goes on and on, you get the idea. But if somehow you didn’t, allow me to be perfectly clear: readers hate your guts.

Now, I’ll be honest. There was a time in my life, a dark time, when I felt the same way too. I’m admitting it. I hated you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but what can I say, I was on this kick where I was into reading excruciatingly long novels by writers like Tolstoy and Steinbeck. There’s nothing quite like pages and pages of character development to turn a man against other elements of storytelling such as plot and conflict, allegory and symbolism, all those other aspects of a story that you and your pals are often used to create.

Now, Don’t get me wrong here. Most of the time when readers complain about a flat, underdeveloped character they are talking about the protagonist, the main guy or gal that the story is all about. And I admit, in many cases, an underdeveloped main character can ruin a story.

But you, the less developed minor character, I got your back. I’m on your side. I know you serve a purpose.

Whether your author created you to speak his her own opinions, to serve as the ying for the protagonist’s yang, to represent a stereotypical idea, to serve as a exclamation point highlighting a major characters attributes, or to represent a contrasting extreme, I know you’re doing your job, and I like you now (Sorry if that last sentence didn’t make sense. Each item in the list is a playful definition of the bastardized step-children mentioned in paragraph three).

Yes, I admit it, I have changed my beliefs on characters. And with a newly opened mind I can’t help but wonder: have I been wrong all along. Have I and readers everywhere assumed unfairly that it is well-rounded characters above all else that make a book worth reading?

And immediately I am struck with a realization. There are some seriously flat characters, from some seriously enjoyable classic books that I found to be both gripping and interesting. Coriolanus from Coriolanus, Barkis from David Copperfield, Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. These characters, a protagonist, a minor character, and an antagonist are all flat as can be, all have a single motivation, and yet, each holds my interest.

Why? That’s the question. Why? Each for a different reason I suppose. The first’s inability to change leads to his tragic, and suspenseful downfall. The second’s singularity in purpose serves to develop an important theme. The third’s desire for revenge swallows both him and his entire crew alive.

Although none of the above mentioned characters could be described as round, each contributes allegorical significance to their respective stories, and each functions as a driving force in the plot.

Even though I still love characters, well developed characters that serve as the sole purpose in a character driven novel, I can see now, that stories don’t have to be about characters and characters only.

Come to think of it, I don’t think us readers give you less developed characters enough credit. And I think we’ve been a little hard on those authors that have chosen you over your more fully developed counterparts. It’s funny really. It’s ironic. With all the criticism out there, and all the pressure for authors to develop characters, we, as readers, for the sake of rounding out characters, have limited an author’s ability to create a well-rounded book.

So, in conclusion, I hope you forgive me for past prejudice. I was harsh, but I’m sorry, and I’d like to be friends.

Your New BFF, Eric James-Olson

It’s Monday…How about a book excerpt?

Hey people,

It’s Monday again.  To start the week off right I have a book excerpt for you. Don’t worry. It’s not inspirational or campy or a bunch of crap.

Before I show the excerpt, however, I’d like to give some context. A few days ago I received an e-mail from an author in response to a post I wrote: Flashback: Letters on LD 2. The post gave an example of how the repetition of images can be used to show confusion in a character. In her e-mail the author asked, “So what emotions can repetition be used to show?” And my answer to that is simple: any emotion as long as emotional weight is given to the repeated image. Some images are already loaded with emotion. These are sometimes referred to as cultural symbols. Objects such as prison bars, hearts, doors,  and horizons come pre-packaged with collectively prescribed emotions. Other objects require a some symbolic development by the author. Our culture hasn’t assigned any particular symbolic or emotional significance to extension cords or garage door openers. But, believe it or not, an author could develop these into emotional or symbolic images if he or she wished to. Anyway, in the following excerpt from The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited, I used the repetition of images to show a characters growing insanity, fear, moral deprivation, need for submission from his wife. Look for when the character mentions tits, food, and water. Hope you enjoy it! Happy Monday! (Oh, and one last thing. I know that character is sexist. In context with the rest of the book, his actions are NOT condoned.







from: The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited

For the rest of that night, I sat by the door. I didn’t eat. I didn’t drink. I sat with my knife in my hand, ready. After a while Mayra got up. She wasn’t crying anymore. She seemed like her bitchy self. Whenever I looked over at her, she had a stupid, angry look on her face. She wanted me to see that look. She wanted me to see it.

Morning must have come, but no light came through the solid black of the steel shutter. Every now and then, I looked through the peep-hole. It was black out there now. The flickering light was gone. Maybe he was sitting out there. Maybe he wasn’t. There was no way to tell.

“You can’t sit there all day,” Mayra said. Her arms were folded tightly across her little tits. “Do you want some water?”

I told her that I did. She was looking relatively less bitchy, but I still answered like a smart-ass.

“Well, fuck you,” she said. “Get your own fucking water.”

After that she paced around the room with her folded arms tight against her tiny tits. What a fuckin’ bitch. That’s all I could think. I kept thinking, She’s a bitch; she’s a bitch; she’s a bitch. I couldn’t think about the boy who trapped us in there. I couldn’t think about how it was I who brought us here. It was I who wanted the story. It was I who was responsible for everything. All I could think about was how much of a bitch she was being.

I didn’t try to apologize or make it up to her. I just let her pace the room. I got up with my knife in my hand. I walked towards my backpack. I pulled out the water bottle. I took a drink.


For the rest of the day, I sat in a chair next to the door. I listened. I listened closely for the sound of feet walking down the hallway. All day I sat there. All day I heard nothing.

Mayra made herself useful. She brought me food every so often. At one point she fell asleep. That was around noon. I remember because I made a point to check my watch. In the afternoon she tried to talk to me. It was that nervous type of chatter that some women can’t help but do. I told her to keep her mouth shut, and she did.


Evening came, and I was exhausted. Mayra brought me food. I ate, and my eyes started getting heavy.

I woke up to that feeling of falling. The room was dark. “What the fuck – Mayra, what the fuck!”

“I turned it off so you could sleep.” She said that and then the dim light from her lantern filled the room.

“You let me sleep.” I said. “You let me sleep! You let me fuckin’ sleep!” I screamed and screamed. I don’t even remember the words I called her. I walked across the room. My knife was in my hand. I held her by the throat. I remember holding her and seeing that fear in her eyes. She would have let me do it. She would’ve…

(The subject stopped speaking abruptly. He had been sitting straight up. But when he stopped speaking, he slouched forward. A distant look came to his eyes. He sat like that for several minutes)

Mr. Jeffries.

(The subject appeared surprised to see us)

Mr. Jeffries. Continue, please.

Right. Right.

You were speaking about holding a knife up to your wife.

Right. I did do that. Right. I had forgotten. But. I wasn’t going to tell you that. But I did. I guess it’s alright. I feel like I know you. I do. I know you.

Yes, it does feel that way. Could you continue, please?

Right. Well, I didn’t kill her. She was afraid, and that was enough. Sometimes you just have to scare someone into doing what you want them to do. That’s really what the world is all about. Think about it. That’s what the world has always been about. It’s not about killing. That’s counterproductive. It’s fear. It’s fear that gets you what you want.

Right, so, after that she didn’t let me fall asleep. I stayed by the door. I was there to protect us. I stayed by the door and she brought me water and food. There was a madman out there, an enemy, and it was my job to protect us from him. It wasn’t asking too much when Mayra brought over a water bottle or a meal bar. No, it was fair.

And at some point it was night. If not for our watches, we couldn’t have known. It was always the same color in that room. There were the same shadows on the walls, the same shadow underneath the bed, the same shadow cast from Mayra’s nervous body. Her arms weren’t folded across her little tits anymore. She wasn’t calm, but at least she knew well enough to keep from annoying me. There was no point in her showing me her anger anymore. There was just no point, so she kept her arms to her sides and no expression on her face.

It was a shame really. I liked the way her tits looked with her arms folded across.


And that’s it. Repeating images. Please feel free to comment below. Love to hear from you!

Author’s: If you have an excerpt that you would like me to share next week send me an e-mail: ejamesolson1@gmail.com. Hope to hear from you.

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale. They are priced between 2.99 and 3.99.  Check out these links if you’re interested:


















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