Tag Archives: sarcasm

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

Flashback: Letters on LD 2

Good evenin’ folks,

A few months ago I wrote a little ditty on the uses of repetition in fiction writing. If you haven’t read it, I said, if you haven’t read it, here it is: Letters on Literary-Devices 2: Repeaters, Restaters, Reworders

Anyway, the reason I’m writing tonight is to show another neat trick, another neat way that authors can use repetition in fiction. On top of that, it’s a way for all you novelists out there to SHOW something instead of TELLING it (I hear that’s all the rage these days).

So, what’s the trick? What’s it used for? Well, the repetition of images can often be used to show confusion in a character. So, instead of the narrator of your story saying something boring like “He was confused.” You can use this trick to SHOW that “He’s confused.”

To SHOW you what I mean, here’s an excerpt from Just After the Fall Check it out!







from Just After the Fall

Maria woke up face down, covered in ash. She coughed until she threw up. Even then, her lungs felt coated in the powdery white matter that had been the concrete exterior of buildings. She tried to pull herself up. She fell back down and her black hair landed in her vomit. She tried again to sit up. She pulled her hair back not noticing that it was covered in vomit, noticing only that her hand felt damp and warm after doing so.

She blinked and blinked.

Nothing was quite visible. In the distance there were flashes of light. There was no sound. There was a slight ringing but no sound at all. Another flash of light in the distance and no sound, another flash of light and no sound, was what Maria saw as she continued to sit with vomit on her hair and vomit on her hand.

The ringing in Maria’s ears began to grow louder. It grew louder and louder and she brought her hands up to her ears. She covered her ears and on one side of her head she could feel the dampness from the vomit that was on that hand. Louder and louder the ringing grew, and Maria pressed her head in between her hands. She must have felt as if it would burst and then another second passed and the pain, the pressure began to dull.
Well, that’s it. That’s the excerpt. Hope you liked it and please let me know what you think by commenting below!

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale for a dollar a piece. Check out these links if you’re interested:

















Letters on Literary Devices 8: Back to the Present

Howdy y’all,
Just kidding. I’m not from Texas (Sorry if I offended any Texans… don’t hurt me).

Tonight I’m writing to discuss a topic that gets some folks a little bit ‘tense’ if you know what I’m sayin’. Yes, that’s right, this post is all about using tenses in fiction. Present tense, past tense, past participals, present participals, futures, perfects, the whole lot of ’em. Now I’m not going to go through all the definitions. That would be mundane. Trust me, I teach them to high school students and no one ever seems very interested.

So instead, to save us all a little boredom, we’ll just assume that everyone here knows their tenses – well, at least the two basic umbrella tenses (my term, I use it for teaching high school) used in fiction: Present and Past.

First off, most fiction is, in fact, written in past tense. There are some exceptions, of course, the most popular being the Hunger Games series. I haven’t read it personally, but it’s pretty popular I hear and written completely within the present.

Now, that’s all fine and dandy but what’s the point?

The point is this: A novel can be written in the past; a novel can be written in the present, but it is a major faux pas when an author goes back and forth.

Why though? Well, if done poorly it makes for a pretty sucky book. Seriously, if an author goes back and forth too much, their book is probably going to be hard to follow, hard to understand, and totally sucky.

However, there are some awesome authors who have gone against common wisdom and jumped from the present into the past within their fiction: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Dickens to name just three. I actually just finished a novel by Aldous Huxley last night, so I’ll throw him in with all the others transgressors.  And No, it wasn’t Brave New World. He wrote other books too, apparently. Ape and Essence was the book I finished last night and, guess what? That one’s a tense changer and a damn good book.

So, what am I saying here? Simple, I’m saying this: If they can do it, if they can change tenses within a novel, it should be possible for other people to do it as well.

So you’re probably thinking this: those are some of the best writers of all time. Of course they could do it. Those guys could do just about anything with words. Well, yea, but it wasn’t  their names alone that accomplished the feat.

The trick is this: They didn’t try to hide it. They didn’t jump from present to past between paragraphs or in the middle of one.

Fitzgerald did it using simple paragraph breaks. If you read The Great Gatsby or The Beautiful and the Damned closely, you’ll find several examples. In To Have and Have Not, Hemingway wrote whole chapters in the present. Chapter breaks make for a really clear transition. My favorite example can be found in A Tale of Two Cities. The final chapter, when Sydney Carton is described rolling out to his fate, the guillotine, Dickens makes a sudden shift to present tense, making his readers, his millions of readers feel as if they were rolling out to the guillotine too, at the same time in the present.

Another way to do it is through Framing. If you don’t know what framing is in literature, check out this old blog post: Framing a Story. In Ape and Essence the story begins in past tense. Two characters find an old movie script. They read the script. Guess what? Scripts are written in the present, so the rest of the story is written in present tense.

Well, with that in mind I tried incorporating jumps from present to past, from past to present in my recently published book (I hate when people say released) The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited. The tense jumps only occurred in two of the chapters. This specific example is from the chapter titled “The Bench Made of Green Recycled Plastic”. I actually showed the ‘seams’ on purpose in the beginning of this chapter and then let the transitions become ‘seamless’ as the chapter continued. Check out this short excerpt and let me know what you think!






from The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited
The boy was twelve. He didn’t know it, but that’s how old he was. Hanky Wilson. That was what the other boys had called him. But that was years and years ago.
The boy no longer goes by the name Hanky Wilson. He calls himself Hank to those who ask. How many years has it been? That is a question he never considers, never thinks about.

At twelve, Hank is thin, short, dirty, ugly, malnourished, and smells like shit and body odor. His skin is dark, not only because of the quantity of time he spends out in the sun, but because of the quantity of dirt that is caked to his skin.

Sitting alone within the crumbling remains of the Church Peak Hotel, Hank is nothing like the six year old Hanky Wilson, a boy ridiculed for an over-attendance to personal hygiene.

Hank can’t picture himself at six, no, he can never see himself when he reflects on his past. But that is the last age he remembers. After six there are no birthdays. After six time is still. He is alive, but time is still. It is the present, always the present.

Hank reflects. He sees images frozen in time. There is no progression. There is no cause and effect. There is no order. He sees these as things, things that he can think about, call into existence.  It’s like images but not just images. There’s emotions and some fleeting thoughts too. There is how he felt in the moment. But not always. It depends.
Here is an example:

Hank saw two boys, sometimes three; other times it was just the one. He couldn’t remember that one’s name. He tried sometimes at night when he was alone. He tried to remember that name, but all he could see was the face, a red face with freckles and angry blue eyes. “Oh, no! Hanky Wilson got a wittle dirt on his shoe,” the face said in a jeering whine. “Oh, no! Better wipe dat wittle dirt off with a hanky, Hanky Wilson!” There was always a drawn out, dramatic pause between hanky and Hanky and then extra emphasis on his last name. It was always the same words. It was always that same face.
Back to the present:

Hank’s shirt is a rag. The left sleeve is ripped at the seam. The right is still attached. His shorts are new. Well, new to him.

The crotch of his old shorts had ripped when he was climbing a rock. He hadn’t worn underwear since the first year, so one of the two men that he’d been staying with kept ribbing him for having his, “thing,” out.  “We really ought to figure out some way to get those shorts mended. Get that ‘thing’ put away.”


Well, that’s it. That’s the excerpt. Hope you liked it and please let me know what you think by commenting below!

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale for a dollar a piece. Check out these links if you’re interested:
















Eric James-Olson

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 recently started following me. Since this is my first time doing this, I figured I’d do it right. I’m bringing y’all all the way back to my first foray in blog writing, my very first post.

You’ll Notice that I wrote the post to a much narrower audience. This was when I was only writing to my fans on Goodreads; it was written as an introduction to the types of posts that I would be writing in the future. So, for those of you who’ve followed along with Letters on Literary Devices and found yourself asking the question “what the f***, here’s my original explanation for writing those posts:

April 21, 2014

Letters on Literary Devices: An Introduction
To Whom it May Concern:
Just like everyone else in the world, I’ve decided to start a blog. Why? Well, because why the hell not. It was a few months ago when I got the idea. I thought to myself, “self, why not start a blog about something or other.” At the time I had no intention of actually doing it. I figured I had enough to do already (Don’t worry. I won’t list all the things I was doing already. It’s annoying when people do that). I was busy but that wasn’t the real reason. The real reason was simpler than all that. The real reason was, well, I didn’t know what to write about. I figured that with all the other blogs out there, what the hell else IS there to write about.
Allow me to flash forward. This past weekend I was fishing. Standing alone in a creek, casting a fly at a fish that either wasn’t there or wasn’t interested, I was struck suddenly with an idea. I would have preferred a fish but the idea wasn’t bad. At the time it took the form of a question. It was this: Why not just write about the shit I know? Now, I know what you’re thinking. This guy’s going to start a blog about fishing. Why the hell’s this guy going start a fishing blog on Goodreads? Good news. I’m not. Fortunately for me, and anyone unfortunate enough to still be reading this, I’m a terrible fisherman and am totally unqualified to write about it.Instead, I’m going to write about the stuff that I DO know: literary devices.Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: Seriously dude? That was the punch line? That’s what you’re going to write about? I ignored all the lectures on that shit when I was in high school. Why would I want to hear about that shit now? Seriously, I think you’re better off with the fishing blog.You’re thinking that, I’m sure, but if you haven’t left the page yet, if somehow you’re still reading this, allow me just a paragraph to explain. Here it goes.


Some of the most common threads that I’ve read here on Goodreads have to do with complaints. In reviews, in group discussions, in personal messages, us readers love to complain about the annoying errors in judgment that writers often commit. Whether it’s too much head-hopping, too little character development, clunky prose, flowery prose, too much unattributed dialogue, or too much explanation, there are thousands of opinions out there on how writers should and should not write. My goal in writing this blog is neither to judge how books SHOULD be written, nor is it to comment on any specific work of fiction. Rather, my goal is to better inform the Goodreads universe on the underlying literary devices that often contribute to the most common of complaints. Every other week I’ll scour the conversations of Goodreads groups and the comments posted on popular books searching for common complaints. And every other week I’ll do what I can to explain the devices used, or in this case, perhaps, misused by Goodreads authors.


My first post will be next week. Hope you come back and check it out!

Eric James-Olson

P.S. If there is something specific that you think I should write about, I’d love to hear about it. Just send me a message.

P.P.S. I know it’s weird that I wrote this in the form of a letter. It’s called epistolary… deal with it.


Well, that’s it. My very first post. Hope you liked it. I write a new “Letter on Literary Devices” every other week. Oh, and one other thing. All four of my novels are still on sale. This is includes the Amazon bestselling But the Angels Never Came. Just click the pictures:







Not sure which order to read them in? Check out this post: What Order do I Read These In!?!

It’s Monday…How about a book excerpt?

Hi folks,
Recently a reader commented that she liked “the clean style of writing” in But the Angels Never Came,

If you haven’t read it yet, But the Angels Never Came is a post-apocalyptic re-contextualization of “The Binding of Isaac.” It’s been on the Amazon bestseller lists for both Dystopian  and Post-Apocalyptic fiction in the months of April and as I write this.

So, anyway, I figured I’d find a passage that I thought was particularly clean and share it. Here’s the one I picked:








from: But the Angels Never Came

The interior of the plateau held a diversity of vivid greens. The plant life was never taller than the waist of Abraham. There were no flowers. But the greens were richly varied and beautiful to look upon. As the day carried on, the sky above cleared. The clouds separated and there was more blue than gray.

At midday the family watched as the clouds cast long moving shadows on the low, wavy hills ahead. The path that day went in one direction; the shadows always moved towards the family, coming to meet them.

Each shadow could be seen from a long distance off. Each moved slowly, very slowly, yet each was inescapable, for each cloud moved in the direction the wind took it, and Abraham and his family were restricted to a singular narrow path.

Abraham felt the breeze on his face; he felt the moments reprieve from the sun’s brightness when the shadow passed over. Both felt good, but only as a negation of an overexposure. If he was given a choice between the sun’s brightness and could have only that, or the choice of permanent shade, he would undoubtedly take the former. He has no choice though. The shade will come when it comes. The sun shines when it shines.

He chose to walk forward with shadow approaching. If he turned around, the same shadows would overtake him. To meet darkness head on, or to turn his back and allow himself to be caught, that was the only choice he was free to make.


And that’s it. That’s what I picked. Let me know what you think. And if you’ve read one of my books and found a line particularly “clean” feel free to mention it below.

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale for a dollar a piece. Check out these links if you’re interested:










To Everyone and their Mother:

I’m writing this to inform you that I, Eric James-Olson, have recently acquired a new location for my blog, a new location for my millions (well, hundreds) of readers to gather. While I promise to continue my weekly posts at Goodreads, I’ve come to the realization that there just isn’t enough space for all my ramblings there. Well, that’s actually not true at all. There’s plenty of space there. Let’s face it: I only have so many ramblings. But it’s unorganized space. The blog format is just too simple, and I require a greater degree of orderliness.

Now, don’t worry, I promise to continue posting my “Letters on Literary Devices”, random promotions, book excerpts, and the like there on Goodreads. However, in my new space, I’ll be starting two new types of posts: “Writing Books Like a Man” and “Books for Men”, the latter being a review based post. So it’s worth taking a look.

Also, in this new blog space, I’ve included old posts, links to the books I’ve written, a way to follow me so posts get sent directly to your e-mail, and several descriptions of myself (You can never have enough of those).

Check out the site, help me out with follows and facebook likes. Come on dude. It only takes a second. Help a brotha out!

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