I just read: East of Eden

East of EdenI first read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden about ten years ago, and at the time I declared it my favorite book. That was also about the time that I started formulating the first plot to my novel Idyll, and the sibling rivalries, daddy issues, and love triangles in East of Eden were (and still are) big influences on that book.

Upon second reading, I was surprised by how much of the book I’d forgotten in just ten years. In fact, there were only two things I remembered about the book. First, the story involved ‘light’ and ‘dark’ brothers, who are stand-ins for Cain and Abel. Second, the brothers’ mom was a sociopath with a beautiful face and a soul that is 50 shades of cruel, empty blackness.

That’s all I remembered, which means I forgot a hellalot! East of Eden is truly sprawling, and it’s like 4-5 novels rolled into one. It’s like the ‘A Day in the Life’ of novels, or AWOLNATION’s ‘Knights of Shame.’

It’s a grand retelling of the Cain and Abel parable. If there’s one thing you should know about East of Eden, it’s that. And after the black-sheep brother, Cain, kills his favored brother, he leaves his father, Adam, in shame to go live ‘east of the Garden of Eden.’ The Cain and Abel analogies are presented twice, through two generations of brothers in the Trask family: first Adam and Charles, then Aron and Cal. (Get it? A & C initials?)

It’s a semi-fictional history of Steinbeck’s family on his mother’s side. Steinbeck’s maternal grandfather, Samuel Hamilton, plays a major role in the book. He was indeed a real person, but it’s hard to say how much of what is presented about him is true. Some of his sons and daughters meet tragic ends in the book, and it was interesting to think how much of that actually happened—and if it did, how it happened.

It’s a hard-boiled, murder-plot pulp story centered around a sociopathic woman who becomes a madame/dominatrix/extortionist.

It’s a memoir of the Salinas Valley, and a sort of oral history of America following the turn of the twentieth century: the optimistic rootlessness of Californians, the advent of the automobile, and loss of innocence brought on by World War I.

Here’s the things that struck me:

Who knew that such a popular book, written in the 1950s, would deal with such dark issues: abortion, pedophilia, and S&M. And boy, is there a good deal of prostitution.

Who knew that people love to fry chicken in tiny farm houses in the late 1800s. For some reason I only see fried chicken as an invention that came around at the same time as Spam. But one brooding, hermitic Trask brother fries chicken so much that a scum of grease develops on the ceiling of cabin. Gross!

Steinbeck has a lot of disdain for his golden-child, Abel characters. Those ‘light’ brothers are real douches. They are real Luke Skywalker-types, in that they are kind of petulant and have their heads stuck up their asses. The ‘dark’ brothers are the Han Solos of the story. And it’s been well established that Han is cooler. Case in point: When a movie of East of Eden was made in 1955—three years after the release of the book, James Dean played Cal.

Steinbeck is obviously a master, and it’s amazing at how deftly he can get away with flouting that old bit of writing wisdom, ‘Show don’t tell.’ There are many portions of the book where Steinbeck seems to be ‘telling’ for 2 or 3 pages straight. But is language is so lyrical and his insights so engrossing, that it is a beautiful, intimate thing.

This book is still one of the bests, and still one of my favorites.

Past Tension

Past tenses seemed so much simpler in the past
I slapped ‘e-d’ on a verb, and did it fast

But then complications arised (or ‘AROSE’)
From certain verbs that I choosed (actually ‘CHOSE’)

Instead of meaned, I MEANT—instead of sleeped, I SLEPT,
Is it ‘PEEPED’ or ‘pept?’ It’s not ‘keeped’ but ‘KEPT.’

More inconsistencies CREPT in and made me shout
“All these inconsistencies have me feeling CREEPED out!”

The inconsistencies were inconsistent—or they weren’t
Some verbs go both ways, I LEARNED—and LEARNT

For these words, it’s all good–For me, not one bit

Driven insane by past tenses, I just LEAPED from a cliff
Wait, or have I LEAPT? Whatever, you get my drift…

past tension james derry

The World’s Crappiest Synonym

Stephen King is among the most talented authors to emerge in the last 40 years (and certainly one of the most popular). But in my mind, he is also the progenitor of the world’s crappiest synonym.

King was one of my favorite authors growing up. I have a theory that The Stand is the most influential genre book written in the last 30 years. Think about the boom in post-apocalyptic books that followed a dozen years later. A lot of those authors probably read The Stand in their formative years. I think the Walking Dead has more in common with The Stand than with Night of the Living Dead.

I have another theory that Stephen King’s voice is the closest any author comes to ‘speaking’ in the way that most people think. In his 2001 treatise on writing, called…wait for it… ‘On Writing,’ King describes his craft as a type of telepathy, and I think that sums up his writing style perfectly. If you try to write in a style that is as relatable and ‘unobstructed’ as possible—and if you often intersperse 1st-person inner dialog into 3rd-person POV narrative—then I think you’re writing in Stephen King’s style.

Take a look at this suggestion from ‘On Writing,’ in which King illustrates the point that a writer should never let a fancy (or stiff) vocabulary come between the writer and the reader:

“…never say ‘John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion’ when you mean ‘John stopped long enough to take a sh_t.’ If you believe that ‘take a sh_t’ would be considered offensive or inappropriate by your audience, feel free to say ‘John stopped long enough to move his bowels (or perhaps ‘John stopped long enough to push.’)”

Push it real good

Push it real good

Ew. Excuse me a moment while I try to ‘push’ that quote out of my head.

Ah. I can’t do it. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is one of the best writing-advice books out there, and I gathered many great insights from it. But this particular passage, King mixing tautology with scatology, has always stuck with me. In some ways, it’s embedded a more enduring, disturbing image in my head than anything I’ve read in Pet Sematary, Carrie, or It. I guess, to me, ‘push’ is one of those words (like ‘moist’) that apparently has an inherit ickiness to it.

Perhaps Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, the writer-creators of The Venture Brothers also read ‘On Writing.’ In their episode “What Color is Your Cleansuit,’ they wrote this scene involving the series’ primary antagonist, and his ‘anti-villain’ girlfriend.

The Monarch: Excellent! Then we drop in our mutant henchmen, as if taking an evil, mighty push!
Dr. Mrs. The Monarch: That is so foul! Can you say “movement” instead of “push”?
The Monarch: Okay, movement. I don’t even know why I said push. It’s really gross when you think about it. Push…

Again, ew.

I guess the ultimate lesson would be, there’s no good way to chronicle the ‘act of excretion.’  Maybe writers should just avoid the subject altogether.

For other writing tips that traumatized me, click here. Or here.


10 Statements – James Derry

James Derry:

Thanks so much to Karen at mytrainofthoughtson.wordpress.com for allowing me to contribute my 10 Statements!

Originally posted on My train of thoughts on...:


I’ve been writing or drawing stories since the day my parents let me borrow a ballpoint pen. A few years later I created my first magnum opus in blue ink: a comic-book parody of Ghostbusters called ‘Roastbusters.’ Hey, I was ten. I studied art in college, hoping to become an illustrator. But eventually my aspirations shifted, and I became a graphic designer (living in Atlanta). I returned to writing ten years ago when I met my wife. Since then I’ve spent large chunks of my free time writing (and rewriting) my manuscripts. LINE OF DESCENT is the first of my books to see the light of day. I hope to release a Space Western, IDYLL, before mid-year!

Find me…

Website:  james-derry.com
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/derrywriter
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/James-Derry/508342985941322?ref=bookmarks
Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13527973.James_Derry
(just started that one!)

My personal motto:

“Bend. Don’t Break.

10 statements
  1. A typical work day begins with… breakfast for the kids, then…

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Series Condition: Invincible

invincible_coverThis is my attempt to start a new feature on this blog, showcasing my appreciation for sequential art (i.e. comic book geekery). With Series Condition I want to give my overall impression of an entire comic series, from its first issue to last (or most current) issue. I figured why not start ambitiously with a title that has been running for 117 issues?

That title would be Invincible. You know, that other long-running comic series that Robert Kirkman writes…the one that doesn’t feature ambulatory corpses. Kirkman started Invincible in January 2003, ten months before he launched The Walking Dead.

Invincible’s alter ego is Mark Grayson. (And yes, his super-hero code-name is Invincible. I know. I know.) Mark is essentially an Peter Parker archetype. He’s a regular high-school student, except…wait for it…his father is basically Superman. Actually he calls himself Omni-man, which is pretty lame, but still better than Invincible. Omni-man is a super-powered alien, and since half of Mark’s DNA is alien, he begins to develop his own, lesser super-powers when he hits puberty.

This is the direction of the series, which is quite entertaining for six or eight issues. Then Kirkman smacks the reader with his first of many jaw-dropping paradigm shifts. I won’t spoil the twist for you, but if you want to try out a modern take on super-hero comics, I recommend you try out Invincible up to issue 12 and see if this shocker grabs you. After this turn, the tone of the book shifts, and the series is truly off to the races. Kirkman is also a master of changing the status quo of the comics he writes, while also keeping the essence of the saga intact. Any twelve-issue run of the series feels fresh and different than the others, and yet fundamentally familiar

What do you get with 117 issues of Invincible? You get lots of modern teen issues. Girlfriends, growing pains, parental issues, sexuality. The book even deals with abortion. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, then you know that Robert Kirkman is a genius at creating fully-realized characters never fail to react realistically—yet unexpectedly—to the insane problems with which they are confronted. And like Walking Dead. Invincible can get very dark at times. Secondary characters are routinely killed off or maimed. Friendships and alliances are broken. Most of the characters (even the heroes) do shameful things, sometimes even when their motives are good.


But Kirkman does a good job of balancing the dark stuff with jaunty (or just plain goofy) comic fun. Invincible is a pretty weird code-name, right? Well how about the awesomely dorky names like Dupli-Kate, Atom Eve, KaBoomerang? How is it that Kirkman can create a character named Rex Splode, then build him up until the reader feels emotionally invested in his story?

Finally, I want to give kudos to Ryan Ottley, who has pencilled Invincible for ten years. Ten years! That’s insane! Ottley has a sort of classically ‘clean’ style, and yet he is capable evoking subtle (and convincing) character acting with just a few lines. Ottley has amped up his style with more detail and dynamism as the years have gone by. And when the story erupts up into Dragonball-Z-style mega-battles Ottley truly shines.



My book is published! Now the hard work begins.

Line of DescentMy novel, LINE OF DESCENT, finally went live last week on Friday 13th. Woo-hoo! Honestly, after three days of toiling over the enigmatic (and wonky) art of ebook formatting, I was just relieved to be done with it for a while. Maybe after I publish my second book, I’ll write a post on formatting through Word and Calibre because I haven’t found a concise guide on the topic—and because I’m pretty sure Calibre’s user manual was written by Franz Kafka.

Wait, did I say I was done with the book? Put that thing down, flip it, and reverse it! I’m nowhere near done:

I have to plan my Kindle Store strategies regarding pricing, product description, and keywords. Apparently Kindle Spy and Kindle Samurai are good resources for finding effective keywords, which help readers find your book when you stuff the keywords into your book’s meta-data, description, title, and tagline. According to some opinions, I should probably change the name of my book to ‘A NEW BARGAIN LINE OF PARANORMAL HORROR DESCENT THRILLING NEW ADULT PSYCHIC VISIONS STEPHEN KING.’

I have to recreate header graphics for my Facebook and Twitter pages. I have to start USING my Facebook and Twitter pages. I have to create a Goodreads Author Page. I have to create an Amazon Author Page. That means taking another crack at the dreaded author bio…and an author portrait. Argh!

I have to investigate promotional and reviewer sites like NetGalley, Story Cartel, BK Nights, KND, and Pixel of Ink.

I have to weigh the pros and cons of signing with KDP Select. I have to figure out what the heck is a ‘Kindle Countdown Deal.’ Kboards.com has been a tremendous help for getting up to speed in the indie-publishing world, but it can also be a huge (and intimidating) time-suck.

All of this, and I have to keep writing. I’d love to have my next book out by mid- to late-spring.

It’s a lot to take in. And a lot of complicated and non-creative work to get done. And I’m really excited to trudge through it!

Here’s a few links to LINE OF DESCENT. For a limited time I’m selling at a 99¢ promotional price!

Amazon U.S.
Amazon U.K.
Amazon Australia
Amazon Germany