Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

As I have mentioned before, with the libraries closed, I am searching my shelves for overlooked books that I may have bought sometime in the past but never read. The Windup Girl is one of these. I found it in a Value Village a few years ago and meant to read it – after all, it’s a Hugo and Nebula award winner – but never got around to it. Until now, that is.

This dystopian novel is set in Thailand a few centuries into the future. Global warming has raised the level of the ocean, and Bangkok is kept from flooding by seawalls. Genetic plagues ravage the globe, and huge corporations use bioterrorism and monopolies on seed stocks to subjugate most of the world. Thailand stands out, though, as a bastion of independence, although even there life is a debilitating struggle for survival.

Bacigalupi tells his story through the viewpoints of several major characters. These include an American who works for one of the major agricultural corporations, his Chinese refugee factory manager, two Thai members of an elite force that is loyal to the country’s Environment Ministry, and the windup girl of the title, an artificially created being whose owner uses her as a prostitute. Everyone regards the windup people as machines that have no souls and can be used and discarded at whim, but the author soon makes it clear that the windup girl is as human as anyone else.

To be honest, I got off to a slow start with this book. I found the setting up of the story by switching from one character’s perspective to another to be somewhat confusing. It was interesting enough to persevere, though, and I’m glad I did. As the various threads of the characters progress, the situation clarifies, and I found that I became more and more invested in what was happening.

One thing that works well in this novel is the setting. It is evident that the author has done his research, as he presents a future Thailand that is believable, albeit depressingly dark. For the most part, he focuses the story within the city, and so he is able to provide a dense, detailed microcosm of a closed-off realm from which the outside world is perceived as the habitat of malevolent political and economic forces. This creates an almost claustrophobic atmosphere of paranoia, deception, and subterfuge.

The novel is particularly relevant in light of the pandemic that is changing all of our lives. It swept in on all of us suddenly, caused us to close ourselves off to each other, and made us realize that things will never be the same again. In a sense, our complacency has become our undoing. We were seemingly on a roll, going along with business as usual, and all of a sudden the lives of everyone on Earth were upended. The world has changed, and it continues to change daily. Each news report carries frightening new realities. I didn’t realize that worldwide plagues comprise one of the focuses of this book; if I had, I might not have picked it up. Now that I have read it, though, I am thankful for the experience, and thankful for this vision and the visions of other science fiction writers who often have premonitions of things to come decades or even centuries before they arrive.

I’m not saying that science fiction novels are prophetic. However, they offer thought-provoking possibilities that cause us to ponder the consequences of our actions, now and in times to come. That’s what this novel does.

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Book Review: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

I bought this book thinking that it was a typical biography – typical, that is, in the sense that it would be an absorbing story of an extraordinary individual set in a fascinating time period of world history. In these expectations I was disappointed. It is not a standard biography, and even the historical background in it is rudimentary.

Isaacson explains his intention at the beginning, so I should have seen it coming. In the introduction he emphasizes that his starting point for the book was Leonardo’s notebooks, which contain thousands of pages of drawings and text on all of the many subjects that fascinated him. As a result, this book is not so much a biography as a dissection of Leonardo’s interests. Rather than tell the chronological story of Leonardo’s life, which he does in some parts of the book, Isaacson devotes chapter after chapter to various topics that Leonardo studied and various subjects that he painted. For instance, there are chapters on birds in flight, mechanics, mathematics, hydraulics, dissection of the human body, and other subjects, as well as, of course analyses of works of art such as the Vitruvian Man, the Last Supper, and the Mona Lisa.

To be honest, I found the book slow going at first. Part of the reason was my disappointment that it was not a fast-paced biography like other works of Isaacson I have read such as The Innovators. Once I got over my expectations and took the book on its own terms I was able to accept its pace and get more into it. I still would have preferred a standard biography to the more disjointed analysis of Leonardo’s interests, but it is interesting and even fascinating in its own way.

By the way, the reason I keep using the name Leonardo instead of referring to him as da Vinci is explained in the book. Da Vinci is not really a name. Leonardo da Vinci simply means Leonardo who is from the town of Vinci. I’m from Seattle, and calling Leonard by the name of da Vinci would be like calling me “from Seattle.”

Anyway, one of the strengths of this book is its illustrations. It is full of reproductions of Leonardo’s sketches and paintings so that as you read about the works, you can study them at the same time. It greatly enhances the experience of going through Isaacson’s history and analyses of the various works to be able to see them and understand visually what he is talking about. Isaacson is not impartial, by the way. He is an enthusiastic Leonardo fan and doesn’t attempt to tone down his praise or enthusiasm. Which is fine. He’s not the only one who considers Leonardo one of the greatest geniuses of all time.

In conclusion, sure, I can recommend this book. However, when you go into it, it is important to remember that it is not a conventional biography. It spends far more time on explanations and discourse than it does on telling Leonardo’s life story. That’s not a bad thing unless you are looking for an intriguing historical drama.

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The Woman Who Fell Backwards and Other Stories

5-5 The Woman Who Fell collection2 big

My new short story collection has been published and is now available at multiple booksellers.

A woman doomed to fall endlessly backwards in time unexpectedly finds an unusual and enigmatic romance. An elderly homeless man’s debit card becomes a magical fountain of money. As predatory aquatic aliens invade the Earth, a formerly disabled young woman obtains the power to fight back. A terminal cancer patient discovers a dark fantasy world where he embarks upon a quest towards a tantalizing yet ephemeral goal.

In these fast-paced but subtly-wrought tales you’ll find time travel, alien invasion, fascinating devices, dark fantasy worlds, revelries of the undead, and other wonders. Prepare to strip off the shackles of the mundane, abandon preconceived thought patterns, and step into worlds unknown.

Includes: “The Woman Who Fell Backwards, “The First One Through the Door,” “Fly Me Away Home Silver Hummingbird,” “Tripping the Dark Fantastic,” “Sylvia’s Wake,” “Hive Minds,” “The Yearbook Entry,” “At a Shotgun Wedding, Shots Fired,” “Spirit Girl and the Stolen Souls,” “Turn Me On,” “The Magic Debit Card,” “Afterword.”

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Book Review: Slow River by Nicola Griffith

This book, Slow River by Nicola Griffith, I’ve had on my shelf for years but never got around to reading. Not that I didn’t want to – it’s a Nebula Award winner and all – but it always seemed that other things grabbed my attention. I can thank the coronavirus social distancing and our local library being closed for the impetus to read some of the gems I have set aside. This is a good read, with fast pacing, fascinating characters, and a gripping plot that always made me want to keep reading a little longer than I had originally scheduled.

The protagonist, Lore, is the member of an ultra-wealthy family that made its fortune on patented microorganisms that purify water. As the story opens, she has just escaped kidnappers who were demanding an enormous ransom for her release. After weeks of captivity, she had despaired of her family helping her. A petty criminal named Spanner finds her wounded and naked on the street and takes her in, but then uses her in her own schemes of internet piracy, prostitution, and other illegal activities. For a time Lore and Spanner carry on an affair while pursuing Spanner’s illicit money-making schemes, but Lore eventually breaks free, moves out on her own, and gets a job at a water bioremediation plant that uses microbes supplied by her family.

Even though I write science fiction I have to admit that I am not very scientifically-minded, and some of the explanations about how the water purification process works, which Griffith goes into in detail, went over my head. No matter. You don’t have to understand the technicalities of the process to enjoy the story.

Griffith shifts between three narratives: Lore as a child during various stages of her maturation, Lore’s misadventures with Spanner, and Lore’s experiences at the plant, which constitutes the present day in the novel. She shifts between third person present tense, third person past tense, and first person past tense, each of the narratives having a specific style. I have read novels in which such stylistic flourishes do not work, but Griffith pulls it off well. The transitions are smooth and appropriate.

To me the book does not really have a science fiction feel to it, but this is not in any way intended as a criticism. It was published twenty-five years ago, back in 1995, and maybe then the setting seemed more futuristic. In 2020, there is no differentiating the supposed near future the novel portrays with what is happening in the present day. There are people, especially in the tech sector, who are as rich as the family in Slow River. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know enough about bioremediation to know whether the techniques portrayed in the novel are futuristic or contemporary. It doesn’t matter. Twenty-five years after it was published, Slow River is still a good read. It is exciting, thought provoking, and emotional in all the right ways. Grab a copy (or download an e-copy) during these shelter-at-home days; you’ll be in for some great entertainment.

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The Dark Night of a Writer’s Soul (Revisited in Light of the Pandemic)

Recently I wrote an essay called “The Great Opportunity, or, Turning Lemons into Lemonade During a Pandemic.” In it, I encouraged those who were isolating themselves while avoiding exposure to the coronavirus to develop their creativity by writing, painting, sculpting, or whatever artistic endeavor they felt inspired to undertake. This essay is an extension of that one. It is addressed to people who, after dabbling in it, realize that they want to take their artwork seriously and pursue it further. I have added “revisited” to the title because I already wrote an essay once called “The Dark Night of a Writer’s Soul.” You can find it in my book Writing as a Metaphysical Experience, which, by the way, is a good read for those who have set out on a writer’s journey.

The stimulus to write this current essay was something I read in a book called New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk who spent much of his life self-isolated in a cabin near a monastery in Kentucky and wrote books. In his later works, he explored comparative religion and interdisciplinary methods of spirituality such as meditation. In parts, this book suffers from an unnecessary infusion of Catholic doctrine, but if you can get past that, it has a lot to say about the stilling and focusing of the mind.

Merton writes that if you get far enough into the contemplative experience, you come to a dark, lonely, terrifying place in which you feel cut off from everyone and everything around you. In this void, you even seem to be abandoned by God. You don’t feel his presence, and you wonder what’s wrong. This is the point, he says, where many would-be contemplatives give up and run back to the comfort of ritualism and formalities. It is a lost and lonely place.

The first person who described this condition seems to have been St. John of the Cross, when writing a poem about a challenging stage of a spiritual journey. However, the history of the phrase does not concern us here. What we are concerned with is how it applies to the artistic experience. As I was reading Merton’s account of how dreadful and frightening it is to reach the stage of contemplation in which you are surrounded by darkness, I couldn’t help but make the comparison with my writing.

I first realized that I was a writer long, long ago. I say “realized that I was” instead of “decided that I wanted to be” deliberately. There was no conscious decision on my part; it was rather an abrupt awareness of something that had already been there for some time. In a sense I had no choice in the matter, but that’s not really true. I could have sublimated the urge. I could have suppressed my creative instincts and gone after money, for instance, or power, or education. Instead, I gave into the urge to write and gave up everything else. My journey as a writer took me across continents and into many amazing and harrowing adventures.

This is the thing about writing as a metaphysical experience, though: it has nothing whatsoever to do with publication or fame or wealth. The business of publishing one’s work so that it finds readers and the act of writing itself are two completely different and unrelated activities. At least they are if you have any artistic integrity. There are many people who write primarily from financial motivation. I am not speaking about such people and such activities here. I am talking about art for art’s sake. Not many people can manage it. There are anomalies such as Emily Dickenson who wrote purely from her muse and despised publication. For most of us, however, the writing and the publication are inexorably entangled.

This is where the dark night of a writer’s soul comes in. The writing itself, once you abandon everything else and decide to bare your soul in all its guts and glory, is easy. I have found that once I get “in the zone,” so to speak, when I commit to writing truth (whether in fiction or nonfiction), the words come readily. The difficulty lies with publication, with getting your words out into the world so that others can see and read them. After all, if your ultimate goal is not to have readers read your words, you might as well save yourself the trouble and compose interior monologues.

Trying to get your words published takes you out of the cocoon in which you compose. It makes you vulnerable to rejection. Even if you dodge traditional publishers and self-publish it doesn’t mean that anyone will read your works. For me, then, the dark night of a writer’s soul is not in the act of writing but afterwards, when you have completed a work and hold it up as a bright new birth and you are met with… Indifference.

It happens to everyone who sets out on a writer’s journey. It’s one thing to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and compose a written work. That takes persistence, resolve, and vision, sure. But then you complete your work, you polish it up, you send it out there, and you hope for the best. When it comes back battered with rejection after rejection, it can be devastating. Hopefully you will have started the next work by then so you just keep going, but nevertheless rejections hurt. And let me clue you in on something: they never end. There is no point at which you get so well-known that you never get rejected anymore. (There may be a few exceptions to this, but they are few. Very few.) At different times I have spoken to very famous, award-winning writers at gatherings and expressed my frustration because, despite some success, I am still getting far too many rejections. They invariably tell me that they still get rejections too. I am incredulous at first, considering the acclaim they have received and the awards they have won, but it’s true. It never ends. Rejection is a part of a writer’s – or any artist’s – life.

The thing to keep in mind is that when you are writing, when you are in the act of composition – that is when the experience of being a writer is at its purest. That is when you need to be lonely and committed and persistent. The blank page will not reject you. The blank page will hear your words. So write them. Write them in purity and honesty, whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. To hell with the aftermath. Live in the moment.

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The Great Opportunity, or, Turning Lemons into Lemonade During a Pandemic

I empathize with those who have lost loved ones, those who fight on the medical front lines or remain at their posts performing other essential jobs, and those who have suffered loss of employment and remain helplessly at home as their savings dwindle. I appreciate your pain and in no way want to belittle it. However, while taking a walk recently I found the need to glean something positive from this crisis, something to lift spirits and focus attention for the many people who find themselves trapped at home.

Let me preface this by saying that my state is under a lockdown directive and I’m going stir crazy too, even though I am a freelance writer and have been working at home for years. My schedule is simple. I work seven days a week, although with slightly relaxed hours on the weekends. I exercise regularly; I take long daily walks. Until the need for social distancing was stressed, I would often combine these walks with bits of necessary business. Instead of doing all my weekly shopping at once, I would break it up and go three or four days a week to nearby supermarkets. Once a week I’d also go to the local library and see what new titles had come in. The library has been closed for over a month, and my shopping trips have been cut back to one a week. I wake up early and go to the supermarket when it is least crowded, shopping list in hand, and move through the aisles as quickly as possible, deftly avoiding other early bird shoppers. It’s no fun anymore.

My income has remained fairly steady, but that’s no great accomplishment when for years it has averaged far below the poverty line. The difference between me and others who have recently lost their jobs is that I am used to living at the edge of fiscal disaster; I have already been doing it for a long time. In fact, this pandemic has caused me to appreciate the situation I am in more than I ever have before. In the past, I looked around me and realized that almost everyone I knew earned far more money than I did. I’m not someone who is prone to envy, but I couldn’t help but feel downcast sometimes when I contemplated the reality that I was near the bottom of the heap. Now, however, as I tread water, I appreciate that I am used to treading water; others for whom basic survival is a new experience are much more in shock.

Be that as it may, as I was on my walk the other day, I realized that these recent stay-at-home orders have their bright side. What are you doing while you’re waiting to get back to work? Twiddling your thumbs? Binge watching TV series on streaming services? Getting drunk? Getting stoned? I have a suggestion of an alternative activity.

I have been reading a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Well, it’s not so much a biography as an analysis of his works; nevertheless, the point is that it has caused me to contemplate creativity. And it has occurred to me that rather than rattle the bars of their cages or indulge in self-destructive activities, homebound people can yield to their creative impulses and let loose their inner angels or demons by writing stories or poems, or composing music, or painting pictures, or carving sculptures, or crafting furniture, or whatever it is that you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for. This could be the start of a new artistic renaissance as people express whatever thoughts and feelings they have been hiding inside.

The best part is, it can be a community effort. Create your works in secret, and then publish them online for the world to see. There are all sorts of platforms where you can post videos, photographs, stories, poems, musical compositions, and so on. Some of these venues even offer you options for the payment of royalties. You never know.

If you want to give your creative work a shot, though, I want to offer you a piece of advice: don’t leave it to chance. Don’t be content with a vague idea that you’ll do it when you’re in the mood. If you take that approach, you’ll never be in the mood. Instead, schedule time every day for it. Make it the time of day when you are brightest and most alert. It may be difficult to get going at first, but your mind and spirit, your creative core, will begin to realize on a subliminal level that you are making time for it, and in response it will begin to throw out thoughts and impressions and ideas. That’s when you’ll really be able to hit a higher gear and get flying.

In conclusion, you know that somewhere inside you’re already an artist. During these tense days of worldwide waiting, rip open the cocoon and let out the butterfly.

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Rereading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

In these days of lockdown, with the library and physical bookstores inaccessible and even books delivered by post under suspicion, I find myself groping for reading material, as I relate in my recent post “How to Find Books During a Pandemic.” One solution is to grab something off my shelf, which I indeed did in this instance. I’ve had this copy of On Writing for a long time; I read it for the first time when I was still living in Greece. Still, because I hadn’t read it since then and I recalled it favorably, I picked it up for a second read.

Two pieces of memoir serve as bookends for the practical writing advice in this book. The first section titled “C.V.” is over one hundred pages long. It starts at King’s youth. He and his brother were raised in relative poverty by his mother. He tells of his first ventures into writing as a child and as a high school student, his early sales to men’s magazines, his marriage to his wife Tabitha, and making it big with the publication of his first novel Carrie. Then there is a dark stretch in which he describes his addiction to drugs and alcohol and the intervention that saved him.

After this section, King writes about the writer’s toolbox, by which he means mainly the basics of vocabulary, grammar, sentences, and paragraphs. I could just as well have skipped this part; it’s meant mainly for beginning writers. After that, there is another section on various facets of writing such as the importance of reading to a writer, writing about what fascinates you, following inspiration rather than preset plotlines, characters, description, dialog, theme, making revisions, and the importance of having a first reader go over your work before you send it off to a publisher. This is all interesting, although after publishing twenty-five books I have my own ideas on most of these topics. This section also was written mainly with beginning writers in mind.

And then there is the postscript, called “On Living.” King was in the midst of writing this book and was out for his daily walk when he was hit by a van that veered off the road onto the shoulder. He was rushed to the hospital in critical condition with multiple broken bones and a collapsed lung. After several surgeries he was able to go home and, although in considerable physical pain, resumed work on this book. The description of this harrowing experience brought tears to my eyes. It is very well-written.

In conclusion, this time around I most enjoyed the two memoirs that comprise the first and last sections of this book. In fact, what I would really like to see from Stephen King is a comprehensive autobiography. Instead of a few brief snippets, I’d like to read the story of his life told with the same verve that has made his fiction so popular.

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Book Review: The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple

Until I left my birthplace and took to the road in earnest, seeking adventure and my voice as a writer, I had no idea that the Indian Subcontinent would become so important to me. I hitchhiked up and down the West Coast of the United States, across the United States from west to east, and around the countries of Europe. It was only when summer had passed and I realized that I had been traveling over roads already well trod by other writers that I set my sights further east. Via cheap passage on trains and buses I made my way across the Middle East and explored Pakistan, India, Sir Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. I ended up staying for ten years on the Indian Subcontinent, and I grew to love it so much that for a long time I never wanted to leave; I supposed that maybe I would spend the rest of my life in that place so far away from the city I had once called home.

You can read about many of those early road adventures in India and other places in my memoir World Without Pain: The Story of a Search, and you can see how I adapted some of my experiences of those days into fiction by reading the collection The Dragon Ticket and Other Stories, which contains speculative fiction mostly set on the Indian Subcontinent.

Because of my personal connection with that part of the world, I am fascinated by writings that deal with it. I particularly enjoy the short stories of Rabindranath Tagore, and I have also read an excellent biography about Tagore.

Thus I was intrigued when I heard about Dalrymple’s new history of the East India Company. Dalrymple has been writing about the Middle East and India for decades, and he lives for most of the year on a farm outside Delhi. He brings great scholarly skills and a love of the region about which he writes to his work.

The story of the East India Company is a tale of corporate greed, corruption, and violence. It is incredible that from nondescript offices in London a stockholding company could raise armies and overthrow empires, all for the cause of corporate profit. This pillaging took place with the sanction of the British Crown and never had any other objective than exploitation of the local people and the siphoning of valuable goods and resources from India to Great Britain. The cost to the local peoples was intense. They were subjugated by the East India Company as if by a conquering army and forced to pay exorbitant fees and taxes, which made great fortunes for company personnel and furnished the British Empire with a significant percentage of its income.

The company drained the economic life-blood of the people and gave back nothing but chaos and violence in return. The ravaging of an entire subcontinent full of hundreds of millions of people is historically unparalleled for its brutality and indifference to human life. Exploitation by the East India Company brought extreme deprivation and famine to local people, not to mention the horrific wars that were fought in the name of company profit.

After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British Crown took over direct control of the Indian Subcontinent. Even then the exploitation did not stop, of course. India and the surrounding countries that were born at the time of partition did not begin to truly prosper and grow into their own as countries until independence was achieved in 1947.

This is a well-researched, well-written, and fascinating book. I found it slow going in the beginning when there was so much background material to absorb. I also found it a bit irritating that Dalrymple repeats information first by describing events, and then by providing extensive quotations from background material. Usually I felt that since he had already paraphrased and summarized the details, it was unnecessary to include the often ponderous source texts. Overall, though, this is an absorbing, interesting, and almost unbelievable look at the horrific lengths to which a greedy and amoral corporation will go for the sake of profit.

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How to Find Books During a Pandemic

Who could have anticipated that things would escalate so quickly? Evidently there were a few strident voices, but none of them were given the platform they needed to shout the warning out loud and clear. Even if their voices had been heard before disaster actually struck, would anyone have listened?

Thursday evening a few weeks ago I received an email from the Seattle Public Library that as of Friday evening all branches would shut down for several weeks. I decided I would go down Friday morning and borrow a few books to tide me over. When I got there at about ten-thirty, it was a madhouse. The place was packed with people. Patrons on their way out were groaning under the weight of a dozen books or more each. There were long lines at the digital check-out machines and the desks of the librarians. Some of the shelves, especially those displaying new books, had been stripped bare. It was disconcerting and befuddling. I looked around a bit but I got so confused I couldn’t think. Besides, I had already read that people weren’t supposed to be jammed so closely together. When I heard someone coughing a few aisles away, I left the library without having acquired a single book.

I can’t not have books to read. That is totally unacceptable. Fortunately I had a few hundred pages left of a book I had already borrowed. Since I finished that, I have been reading the stories that are nominated for the Nebula awards in the short story, novelette, and novella categories. Those are digital, though, and I have to read them on my Kindle. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the feel of a paper-bound book in my hands as I read.

So where to turn next for reading materials? Due to my limited budget, I have not been buying books lately; I have been relying mainly on the library for my book fix. Inwardly sighing, I figured that this was an emergency and that I might have to order a few books from Amazon. Two things, though, gave me pause. One is that shipments of non-emergency items have slowed way down, as evidenced by a few household things we ordered that took almost a week to arrive. The other is that they have begun to find warehouse workers that are testing positive for the virus. The risk is low, perhaps, of a packaged book carrying it to our home, but there is a risk, albeit slight.

This is the time that having shelves of books all over the house pays off. We’ve got three shelves in the dining area, one in my bedroom, and one in the other bedroom that my son occupies. There are some titles I have never got around to reading, or I can choose some of my old favorites and read them again.

These are important considerations for those who crave intellectual repast as much as they crave food for their physical bodies. May you find, one way or another, plenty of excellent reading material. Speaking of which, have a look at my available books page for a great selection of exciting novels, short story collections, and memoirs.

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A Second Look: Writing as a Metaphysical Experience

Metaphysical Final (1)WebCover

This book is part memoir, part journal, and part instruction.  Here’s the back cover blurb from the print edition:

 From the author’s introduction:

 “For me, writing is metaphysical because it is inseparable from who I am and my conception of the universe and my place in it.  My interpretation of writing goes far beyond the definitions of hobby, job, or career – it is rather in the nature of a calling.  It is something that blossoms from within me and, though invisible to instrumentation, is as integrally a part of me as my flesh, bones, and internal organs.  How this transpired and how it manifests itself is the subject of this book.

 This is not a how-to book on writing, although in its course I offer many practical tips and suggestions.  It’s more like a travelogue, a story of the life’s journey on which my writing has led me.”

 This journey has led Walters on a decades-long quest from the United States to Europe to the Indian Subcontinent and back in the pursuit of voice, inspiration, and literary excellence.  On the way, he has written and published novels, short story collections, essay collections, memoirs, and numerous individual novellas, novelettes, short stories, and essays.

 If the “pursuit of voice, inspiration, and literary excellence” fascinates you, pick up a copy of the book, and you may find that you’re not alone in your creative struggles.  Writing, if pursued with sincerity, is an all-consuming passion.  Although it is not always an easy road to walk, for those who are called to the journey, it is inevitable.

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