Our guest reader for May is also our guest speaker at CRRL Con. Come listen to Steve's lively talk on making it as an artist in the game industry and as a comic writer on Saturday, May 19, 2:00-3:00 at Howell Branch. Steve will also be signing copies of his books.
Steve Ogden has been a professional artist, animator, and writer for almost 40 years. He’s worked for a variety of game companies, including Cyan (maker of the 1990s hits Myst and Riven) and currently works for Sid Meier’s Firaxis (Civilization, Railroads, and X-COM) just north of Baltimore. He is the creator of several comics: Croaker’s Gorge; the award-winning graphic novel Moon Town; his most recent, Madigan’s Guide to Acting Human; and Magnificatz, which is syndicated through Universal/Andrews & McMeel.
He also wrote Headstones and Monuments, which he terms “a slightly bone-chilling collection of short stories”—tales from a haunted childhood—based on his experiences growing up in a haunted 200-year-old house in Fredericksburg, VA.
When he’s not making computer games or comics, he can usually be found running or biking with his wife and three sons through Maryland’s horse country.
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
This collection of short stories is engaging and sort of terrifying. The stories range from tiny to sprawling, but all pack a punch. The best of the collection— "Bitter Grounds"—may qualify as literary fiction. Fragile Things is one of two books that made me want to write Headstones and Monuments. Neil Gaiman made me want to try my hand at creating a collection of tales, like this one, that hung together but were separate.
Just After Sunset by Stephen King
This is a collection of horror-themed short stories Stephen King wrote about ten years ago, and much like Gaiman’s Fragile Things, it is a collection of disparate stories that nevertheless hangs together extremely well. Just After Sunset is the other book that inspired me to write Headstones and Monuments.
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
This is a masterpiece of fantasy, the tale of a magic ring that can destroy civilization in the wrong hands and the heroes who want to save the world from that fate. You may have seen the movies, and I certainly do love them. They did justice to the books in ways that are rare in movie adaptations. At over 1,000 pages, the book is a deeper experience and a big, whopping, generous read. It is one of the first book series I read and made me want to write epic stories of my own.
The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A Heinlein
Heinlein’s sci-fi collection is his “Future History." I love the way Heinlein saw the world, hopeful and forward-looking, yet with an eye to the past, a lens softened with nostalgia and a love of humanity.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Asimov was not only a writer, he was a great scientific mind and a great explainer as well. He is the kind of science and science fiction writer who never makes you feel dumb. In fact, he inspires the reader to want to know more. Asimov, most notably, in this book develops a series of laws of robotic behavior upon which AI can be built to protect humans from these new mechanical beings. Many of Asimov's ideas are finding their way into practical tech applications. Not bad for sci-fi.
The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The bizarre, comedy sci-fi Hitchhiker’s Guide began life as a BBC radio production and was adapted into a variety of formats. The Ultimate novelization collects most of the disparate stories together, chronicling the adventures of a human who, seconds before the destruction of Earth, is rescued by a researcher for the revised Guide. Together, they rocket through galactic locales far and strange and have many hilarious and extremely British adventures.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I love the mystery here, a murder mystery told from several points of view with several narrators, each more unreliable than the last. As an Anglophile, I loved the entire British-ness of it, too. And it kept me guessing through to the end.
The Wool Trilogy by Hugh Howey
Dystopian fiction that veers between hope and authoritarianism, turns into an action adventure for a while, switches to a new character, and ultimately tells a wonderful story of human survival, sacrifice, and redemption. This one began life as a NaNoWriMo project. I find that inspiring.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Science fiction with the emphasis on science, Andy Weir tells an extremely believable story of an astronaut stranded on Mars and his attempt to survive for 550 days on just 300 days of food. Luckily, he’s an engineer… and a botanist. The book is brimming with adventure, suspense and more than a little humor. And you will learn some science along the way, too.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Old Gods and cultural figures (think Odin, Bast, Johnny Appleseed) are being replaced by New Gods (Technology, Black Helicopters, Media) because humans have stopped worshipping the old in favor of the new. An Old God recruits the human drifter Shadow Moon to go on a road trip to recruit other gods in a battle to restore the old ways. Appropriately, this is a pretty big read (550 pages) and a sweeping narrative, and it (just as LotR) makes me want to write something huge and sprawling. Neil Gaiman is an ex-comic book writer, and, as a guy dabbling in comics, I find that inspiring as well.
11-22-63 by Stephen King
I was never a Stephen King fan as an adolescent when all my friends were greedily snapping up his every book. I only found him upon reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which sent me to the library to research his other books. More on that in another entry. I thought Stephen King was all monsters and gore and The Bizarre. Occasionally, he does something deep and noteworthy like "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" (which became the movie The Shawshank Redemption), The Green Mile, The Body (which became the movie Stand by Me) among others, in which deep, character-driven storytelling shines, devoid of heavy sci-fi and horror trappings. 11-2-63 is one such story, the tale of a man who goes back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The characters are as compelling as the story in this book, and it is another long book—880 pages—but it never feels sluggish. King fans may debate, and that’s one of the great things about being a reader, isn’t it, but I think this is King’s crowning achievement.
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
This eight-volume set of graphic novels chronicles the adventures of a young girl who finds a magic amulet in her great-grandfather’s house. Characters imaginary, fantastic, mechanical, magical and human weave in and out of this tale among compelling narrative threads. I recommend this series because it’s great. But Kazu is also a friend of mine, and I’m proud to see his creation take flight this way.
Bone by Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith began selling 22-page floppy black-and-white home-made comics out of the trunk of his car 20 years ago. Now, the series is a 9-volume, full-color collection that delights readers of all ages. Smith’s style harkens back to comic strips such as Walt Kelley’s Pogo, and the story is as sweeping as The Lord of the Rings. But funnier.
Rice-Boy by Evan Dahm
Evan Dahm drew this massive graphic novel in his spare time while at college. While this early book quite understandably doesn’t show the artistic polish of Dahm’s more recent work, it nevertheless is a feast for the eye (dramatic colors and bizarre, creative vistas and out-of-this-world characters) as well as a fine example of a Reluctant Hero’s Journey through a fantasy landscape. As a writer’s first attempt at writing, it’s not bad. But as a massive, incredible artistic undertaking, it is a testament to hard work and perseverance. Very inspiring.
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant and Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff
These two volumes are historical fiction as graphic novel. The illustrations are lovingly, painstakingly crafted, and the stories are deep, rich and full of engaging characters. The first book finds Dirk saving the life of the titular Lieutenant, which leaves him duty-bound to follow her across Turkey to repay his debt to her. The second finds Dirk framed for a crime she didn’t commit. These are great books full of fun and adventure.
Goliath by Tom Gauld
The story of David and Goliath told from Goliath’s point of view. British cartoonist Tom Gauld’s trademark droll style and deadpan humor shine through.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Odd that I went 40 years of my life without reading a single King novel or seeing a King movie. Then, a friend who knew I was attempting to write a book loaned me this one. Part autobiography, part writers’ instruction manual, On Writing speaks to many of the things beginning writers need to know—how to develop memorable characters, how to develop a Writer’s Work Ethic, how to battle self-doubt, how to develop a Writer's Toolkit and how to respond when people are critical of your work. There’s even a section on how to start getting published (though the book is 20 years old now, and a lot in the business has changed). Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book for any would-be writer, whether you’re a fan of Stephen King or not. As I say, I wasn’t a fan when I started reading it. Twelve years later, I list three of his books in a short list of books I recommend. I guess I’m a bit of a fan now.