Why Writing Nonfiction Feels Wrong, But Isn’t

 

quill

My uvula is forked, but not my tongue. That little dangly bit at the back of your throat? Yeah, mine has a bifurcation in it (likely the result of my palate closing late-on in my mother’s pregnancy). The kindest way to describe what this looks like is to say that it resembles a sort of upside-down heart. The way I end up having to describe it, inevitably, is that it basically looks like a tiny ballsack in my throat.

I know about the forked-uvula thing because I was told about it by my family doctor literally every time I visited him when I was growing up. We’d have almost the exact same conversation every visit, verbatim.

Doc: “Say ahh.”
Me: “Ahh.”
Doc: “Hey, did you know you have a bifurcated uvula?”
Me: “Yes.”
Doc: “How did you know?”
Me: “You tell me every time I come in here.”
Doc: “Well, it’s a pretty rare thing. Pretty neat, Michael.”
(an awkward pause)
Doc: “Hey, it’s better than having a forked tongue!”

And every time, this cheered me up. Even when I was sick. Maybe my mood lightened because of the humor of my doctor’s confusion (though certainly not his corny joke); maybe I felt better because of the sheer familiarity of the routine. Most likely what lifted my mood was something different, something bigger than all of that.

Most likely what lifted my mood was the doctor’s sincere interest, his wonderment, at a part of me (even such a small thing as a uvula that no one ever sees, that has no effect on anything, really, whatsoever). As if something about me was worthy of note.


I grew up a good Christian boy, regularly attending church as many as three times a week, listening as patiently as I could to sermons and Sunday School lessons. From the age of nine until the age of twenty-five, when I left the faith, I was relatively diligent in my beliefs. What I’m saying is that I heard a lot of sermons and talks and testimonies and messages. Understandably, plenty of these talks get lost in time, and it’s interesting to note the ones that I remember.

One such moment from my religious past that has stuck with me is a talk that was given to my youth group by our youth pastor, Brad. The talk concerned humility. Trying to drive home the fact that remaining humble is a constant process that requires serious dedication, Brad gave us this little quip that I think has some profound implications: “If I were to give out a trophy to the most humble person in the room, I’d have to snatch it back the minute someone came up here to take it.”

Obviously Brad’s point was that humility is one of those slippery qualities that put you in a Catch-22 situation. If you think you have it, you probably don’t. And this was meant as a way for us young folks to start to think about our actions and our attitudes, to strive even more toward behaving in healthier, kinder ways toward other people. It was meant as a sort of admonishment and encouragement to us, a command to esteem others above ourselves. And this, of course, is a good and noble purpose.

However, I have grown up to be a writer. I have discovered that I feel most comfortable and alive when I am crafting some kind of written work. It is, to borrow jargon from my religious past, my calling. And one of the most important lessons to learn about writing is that the most powerful pieces resonate on a personal level. As all of my teachers hammered into me in college: write what you know.

But I don’t like writing too much of what I know. I don’t like writing creative nonfiction about my own past. For one, it feels less revelatory than my fiction (which, paradoxically, often winds up showing me something true about myself that I wasn’t even aware I was writing toward). Yet I think the worse issue with nonfiction, at least for me, is that it feels terribly unhumble. Writing fiction feels like I’m creating something new, making a thing that wasn’t there before. Perhaps I’ve been trained by an upbringing that urged me to join in the work of the Creator, that told me art and creation were things that proved I was made in the image of God, and perhaps for this reason fiction seems much holier, much safer. With fiction, I create whole realities out of thin air.

Writing nonfiction feels like screaming at the world LOOK AT ME, THESE ARE THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO ME, READ THEM AND BOW BEFORE MY WORDS. It feels uncouth, somehow almost dirty, in a way that writing fiction simply doesn’t. It feels like esteeming myself before others.

It feels like sin.


But it is not.

Writing nonfiction can be poignant or aphoristic; it can be a way to categorize your own life, even only for yourself (like a journal); it can be useful in finding others who have had similar experiences, useful in helping them through those experiences when needed, useful in bonding. Even if it weren’t important in all of those ways, writing nonfiction would still be important simply for the reason that it often does feel less safe, less holy than writing fiction. What better way to stretch yourself in your art than by doing that which is difficult for you to do? What better way to learn?

Above all that, writing nonfiction is important and good and righteous for this reason: it affirms that everyone has some feature that is interesting and worthy of note.

See, you may not have some harrowing drug-recovery story that you think will sell a lot of books. You may not have met tons of famous people or traveled to exotic locations. Hell, I went out of the country one time over a decade ago and I still try to milk those stories as much as I can. But even so, you have something within you that can serve as a story, that can and must be told. As the great Flannery O’Connor once said: “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

You have important things to say. You are interesting and worthy of note.

As for me, my name is Michael Candelario.

My uvula is forked, but not my tongue.

10 Cloverfield Lane–A Brief Review

10cloverfieldlane

Good science fiction—well, wait, hold on. I’m not going to start this review by wildly generalizing about an extraordinarily varied genre. So I’ll be a bit more specific: good creature-based, invasion-type science fiction plays up its own fantastical elements to discuss what it means to be human. Examples of this kind of story are Alien (which showcases, among other things, the indomitable human spirit), Avatar (which flips the script and discusses humans as the invaders in order to get at an underlying theme of corporate greed), and even John Carpenter’s The Thing (which, as I see it, pinpoints just how solipsistic our inner lives are—we don’t truly know each other). These stories have staying power with us—we engage with them and carry them with us, reflecting on them, for quite some time—because they hit on subtle truths that we all feel, even if we haven’t worked through them intellectually.

10 Cloverfield Lane fits comfortably (if such a word can be used for such an uncomfortable film) within this mold. It is exciting, visceral, thought-provoking science fiction backed by a delicately worked script in which each line seems to flow naturally from the last, peopled with characters played to an astounding level of professionalism, and lit with perfect imagery that somehow stays fresh and new while simultaneously reinforcing the starkness of the film’s world. For me, the film was a refreshing take on alien invasion if solely for the fact that the aliens are basically tangential. The story reminds us that there is already plenty to be afraid of here among just us humans. Moreover, I think it makes an as yet unstated point about apocalyptic-type disaster films: perhaps, in order to survive, one would need to “doomsday prep.” And yet the propensity to prepare for a forthcoming doomsday—the ability to obsess over problems that haven’t arisen just yet to the point of building an underground shelter complete with water and air filtration systems, multi-locked doors, and several years’ worth of food—might in itself signify a bit of a mental disconnect from “normal” humanity. I’m not saying all doomsday preppers are super weird, and I don’t think the film is saying that either. But I do think there is an interesting conversation to be had—that has been started by the film—about what kinds of pathological issues might coincide with such behavior. Seriously, it is an amazingly well-done film. I have nothing negative to say about the performances or the writing—though I think that, in other actors’ hands, some of the lines could have been disastrous.

So that’s it. If you want to avoid spoilers, stop here and know that the film is really good.

From this point on, I assume you’ve seen the film. Serious spoilers ahead.

I want to talk about the plot for a moment. Okay, I won’t insult your intelligence by saying that I had no problems with the narrative. It does seem a bit strange (but not entirely impossible) that advanced alien technology wouldn’t be able to detect lifeforms bunkered underground (especially when we piece together that the “car” Michelle hears early on is actually the alien ship doing a pass over the area. But what bothered me the most is that Howard, a man who has been utterly meticulous about cleanliness/orderliness/preparation, somehow overlooked the scratched message of “HELP” and (more importantly) the brooch that his “daughter” left. I know it’s necessary to advance the plot, but I just don’t buy that Howard would neglect to clean that up. The only answer I can fathom is that he hadn’t gone into that area during the time since “Megan’s” death, but I don’t think someone like Howard would abstain from daily maintenance of a filtration system that, once the apocalypse he’s been preparing for comes, will be responsible for keeping him alive. I think the plot would have worked just fine with Michelle seeing the “HELP” carved into the window from the inside, talking to Emmett about it, and then having a separate moment in which the two flip open to “Megan’s” picture and Emmett realizes that she was the missing girl from his high school.

Regardless of one or two minor issues with the plot, what absolutely makes this film amazing is the strength of the actors’ performances. John Goodman plays the kind of creepoid character I love—epitomized in one of my favorite recent scary movies, Creep. Honestly, this performance is up there with my favorite Goodman roles of all time. Mary Elizabeth Winstead should have to swim in film opportunities after her stellar portrayal of Michelle. John Gallagher, Jr. had the unenviable job of being a third wheel both in central-film-relationship sense and in importance-to-the-plot, but he found a way to make Emmett both hilarious and deeply endearing (which, of course, is absolutely essential to the film “working”). I would hazard that, had a single one of this trio failed to perform, the entire film would have fallen apart. When you have such a small cast of characters, each and every one of them has to shine. And they did.

I think that’s probably all that needs to be said. The score is eerie and fitting, the décor is fantastic. I loved the movie, and I think most of you will too. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Reader Input Desired (bonus: progress report)

Hello there, readership. Audience. Tribe. Whatever you want to call yourselves. How has it been? Good. I’m glad to hear it.

As many of you are probably aware—I expect you’re awaiting the moment with clenched teeth and white knuckles—my deadline for getting my first novel out is fast approaching. Halfway through NaNoWriMo (and, incidentally, about halfway through writing the draft of my next novel), December is coming up fast. So let me fill you in on a few things I’m trying to work through currently. I need some input on this from you guys—the ones who will actually be reading this stuff.

First off, a progress update: the sci-fi novel has been shipped out to some readers for suggestions and input. Come December 1st, I’ll put aside my NaNoWriMo project and address these issues, make necessary corrections, etc. I’m aiming to have the sci-fi novel published and ready to be downloaded by December 15, though I’m giving myself an extra five-day window in case I have to make some serious adjustments. In the meantime, while my team of “alphareaders” is going through the sci-fi book with fine-toothed combs, I’m working on what will eventually be my second book—the first book in a fantasy series about a dwarf. If you follow me on Twitter (link is on the right-hand side of this blog) you will be familiar with my clever hashtag for this project: #dwarfstory. The goal with this project is to have 60,000 words written by the end of November. This will put me at 2/3 through the novel, if my estimates are correct. I currently have about 35,000 words written, and I’m going to have a bunch of time to write over Thanksgiving weekend. Things are looking up.

Alright, now that the progress report is out of the way, I need your help with something. Since my publication deadline is approaching, I’ve been stewing over how exactly I want to publish my novel. From the beginning, the plan has been to release the book through Kindle Direct Publishing. I’ve heard that the program is easy to use and has a lot of marketing tools. Plus you can get up to 70% of the royalties, which is unheard of in traditional publishing. I’ve been happy about this arrangement because it should serve as a good way for me to wet my feet in the publishing world while relying on a professional, global corporation as a bit of a safety net. However, some things have changed recently. I’ve been bitten by the “pay-what-you-want / give-stuff-away” bug. I think it’d be really cool to release the book for free and then just have an option to donate money if you so desire. Or, alternatively, set it up in such a way that you can just pay what you want—including the option of paying nothing. Basically the same idea, either way. This is more in line with my personal philosophy about art and about relating to people in general. However, let me just be vulnerable and say that I’m reluctant to do it.

Here’s why. First off, there is the obvious vulnerability of spending over a year working on a project and then just trusting people to compensate you. What if no one pays me anything? My wife, who works full time so that I can stay at home with the kids and pursue a writing career, has graciously told me that it’s okay if I never make any significant money off of my work, but let’s just be honest. Perhaps it’s a product of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent masculine/feminine dichotomies, or perhaps it’s selfish pride, or perhaps it’s even a good desire, but the fact remains that I do want to be financially successful enough to provide, on my own, for my family. I’d love it if my wife didn’t have to work. Not that she wouldn’t work. She enjoys her job. But just so that she didn’t need to work in order to pay the bills. That’d be cool. Of course, the go-it-alone mentality sort of rubs against the grain of the whole “marriage” thing—where we’re supposed to “become one flesh” and work through life together—but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to make wagonloads of money and be able to call myself a self-made man (a misnomer if ever there was one).

Secondly, I’m scared to release the book for free because I don’t know anything about computers. This is really the major problem, I think. I mean, I haven’t expected to really make any money off this first book. It is, after all, a first book. And I don’t have the vast marketing resources of a major publisher behind me, nor even a marketing team. It’s all just me and you, reader. And word of mouth. And, hopefully, some coffee-shop open mics or something. So my first fear in the preceding paragraph, though very visceral and real, is not that big of a deal. It’s a fear that will still be there even if I do release the book through KDP as originally intended. But this second fear is much more serious. I wouldn’t have the first clue how to set up this website so that you can donate. I know it’s probably very easy to do, but I don’t know how. And I’m not sure that I have time to learn with my deadline coming up in a month. Plus, I don’t have money to pay someone else to do it. So there’s that. Also, I want the eBook to look really good. Or at least to be formatted well. It’s my understanding that KDP is workable as far as formatting goes, and it helps you through the process pretty well. I don’t know that for sure, but Amazon seems to know what it’s doing. I’m worried about how the book will look if I just try to format it myself. I’ve been told that I can upload it as a PDF file, which is apparently readable on a Kindle, but I don’t know that it will look as good as if I used KDP. Again, I’m showing my ignorance of computers and technomajiggers.
Anyway, readers, I would greatly value your input on this. What do you think? Should I do a donation-only or pay-as-you-go model? Or should I stick with my original plan of using KDP to get my feet wet and then, later on down the road when I’ve become more acquainted with the process, start releasing books by myself? Let me know what you think.

And thank you. For your input and for your support. It’s all very much appreciated.

Work Schedule: A Life Update

Hey there, readers.

It’s been eons. And I apologize for that, but not too profusely. See, things have been afoot in the life of ML Candelario. My wife gave birth to our second son, I got a job selling timeshare, and now I’m staying at home watching the little stinkers while Megan does her Speech Language Pathology wizardry at a couple of local schools.

I didn’t forget you during all this, though, potential audience. All this while, I’ve been working on my first novel—a science fiction story that’s been labored upon under the clever working title “Sci-Fi Story,” but which will probably be called Marionette when it launches. I finished the first draft, did a cursory edit on my laptop, and now am handwriting edits and revisions on the printed-out pages. Initially, the novel weighed in at around 85k words. But it has become apparent that I’m going to lose a lot of those words after revision. I’m told this happens.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop up on here and give you all an update. Here are the projects in which I’m currently engaged:

• Marionette—current release date = December 2013
• first novel of Dwarfstory series—first draft to be written during NaNoWriMo = November 2013
• collection of poetry—ongoing, no set release date
• unnamed sci-fi/possibly YA project—doing concept work, will write after Dwarfstory (2015?)

I’m also planning to redesign this website. It worked for a bit as a sort of blog, but now that I’m going to be publishing things in the near future it has become apparent that better organization is necessary. But Megan will probably do that. She’s better at the computahs.

We’re taking a trip out to Texas this week, but I hope to post a poem on here in a few days. I want to get back to regular posts, even if they’re only little updates.

Thanks for your support, and I’ll (hopefully) have something out for you to read pretty soon!

-Mike

Life Update: Housespouse

It is a quarter after one in the afternoon right now, and the house is finally quiet.

Well, the dryer’s running, I can hear the heat pumping through the vents, and the whirring of electronic devices is pretty much incessant. But what I mean is that Netflix is off and Asher is in bed. Sleeping. Wait, scratch that; I just heard him mumble a little to himself. I guess what I mean is that he’s down for a nap and I can finally relax.

I don’t know how women did this back in the eras in which it was socially unacceptable for them to have careers. It is exhausting. And the biggest thing that makes it, in my opinion, even more exhausting than an office job is that no real progress is ever made. You can clean the house all day and do every possible load of laundry, but you’ll soon have it all to do again. It is a mentally stressful job, being a housespouse.

So here’s the news: I was going to write a review of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but some things have changed in my life this week and so I thought I’d rather write about that. Basically, through a series of overly optimistic decisions that we made, it has come about that we aren’t really financially stable enough to have a babysitter. So from now on I’m just a stay-at-home dad – there aren’t any more days for me to leave Asher at home and go write for eight hours. It just didn’t work. On one hand that’s a bummer (because it means I can’t go out and just focus on writing for long periods of time), but on the other hand it’s pretty cool (because it means I get to spend a lot of quality time with my son before his little brother arrives). From here on out, the plan is that I’ll try to slip in some writing time while Asher takes his naps, maybe go to Starbucks for a few hours on the weekends. I’m still really hoping to have the first draft and a few edits and re-writes done by the time we move (if, that is, I get into grad school this fall). This goal is becoming increasingly difficult – and not just because I can’t go out and write anymore. I’m also going to need to get a job this summer so that we can afford to move if I do get into grad school. Which will significantly cut into my writing time. One of the problems I’ve had in the past with writing on a consistent basis while working a full-time job is that by the time I’ve finished working, I’m usually too tired to really immerse myself in the story and write well. So what comes out is drivel. Granted, most authors tell me that drivel is necessary on a first draft, but that’s a difficult pill for me to swallow. I tend not to write because I am a perfectionist and I know that my first draft is going to suck – especially if I write it while trying to work a full time job and thereby being in a perpetual state of tiredness. But this is something I have to just get over. This book is getting published this year.

So there it is. I’m currently a stay-at-home dad. Trying to write on the side. Whenever I get the chance. Which is rare. So I should probably go now, while Asher is asleep, so I can write some more in the novel. If I’m being totally honest, it’s coming along quite nicely, what with today being only February 21st and all.

Life Update 2/8/13

deardiary
(or: It’s Half Past Four and I’m Only Just Now Doing Anything Worthwhile)

So, internet, Mike is back in the writing game. Yes, I know you all missed me dearly and now here I am, ready to start once again doing regular blog updates. Rejoice, world.

Here’s the skinny: my wonderful wife Megan recently graduated with her Master’s degree. Since her degree is in Speech Language Pathology, this basically meant that she was on the job market for all of like five minutes before the openings and interviews started rolling in. Long story short, she now has a job in the school system of a local town. What this means for my family is that I was able to quit my job cashiering at the hospital and focus on writing. So here’s my schedule: three days a week, we have a babysitter come over to watch Asher and I go out to various locations (usually either Starbucks or my parents’ house – or both) and write. The other two days I stay home and play househusband. I say “play” because I lack the mystical quality of housekeeping that so many housewives I know inherently have. I mostly try to keep up with Asher and do laundry, and even that proves too much at times. But oh well. The point is that I am now able to write and get stuff done. So let me tell you about that.

I have made the unretractable vow that my first novel will be published this year on the Kindle store. This first one is going to be a science fiction novel. Current as of this blogpost, I have written about 22,000 words. This is roughly a third of my estimate for how long the finished novel will be (though I could be off on that estimate…). So things are getting done. Furthermore, I have mapped out an extensive plot outline and timeline as well as having short dossiers on my main characters. Guys and gals, I am super-excited about this story. It’s making tons of sense to me and is interesting. Hopefully it will be interesting to others as well. But if not, that’s cool. I’ll learn from the experience and approach the next project with new knowledge. By the way, that dwarf story I was tweeting about a lot last year is on the boards to be the next project after this one is published. It’s still looking like the dwarf story will be a trilogy of shorter novellas, but there is a chance I could combine them into one larger novel. It all depends on the scope of the story and whether or not I think the proposed trilogic segments will have the necessary climaxes/resolutions. Also, it depends on how the market goes for these shorter novellas. I know that recently there has been a spike in novella sales, but I’m not totally convinced that people are going to keep preferring them to novel-length stories. My plan is that after those two projects, and if people are buying my stuff and/or Megan is making enough money for it, I have a few more sci-fi/young adult projects that I’d like to finish. My plan is also to release at least one or two poetry collections or short story collections within like the next five years. Maybe.  Perhaps, after all of that, I will feel comfortable enough to start really trying to work on another project of mine – that environmental terrorism novel that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. That thing is like my baby (disregarding, of course, my actual physical children), and so I’ve been really reticent to start digging in and writing it until I feel my skills as an author are better. But, I also recently had the revelation that writers, y’know, write. You have to start walking if you ever hope to reach your destination. Or whatever trite aphorism applies here.

Something else that has changed recently: I just applied to graduate school. If I am accepted, I will be starting this fall with the goal of obtaining my Master’s Degree in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition. I think that this will do two things: firstly, it will allow me to better my understanding of the English language and thus hopefully will improve my writing; and secondly, it will give me the option of teaching at, say, a community college – and therefore will give me a way to actually make some money should it arise that my writing career doesn’t earn me millions. In any case, it will certainly be a good thing to do in this economy and in this job climate.

Okay, so those are the major changes in my life at this moment. Did I mention that here in about eleven weeks Megan, Asher, and I will be welcoming a fourth member of our family into the world? Because that’s happening (good lord, eleven weeks!). So life is really good right now and yet also really busy. Funds are tight, since Megan only gets paid once a month and so we’re kind of in no-man’s-land since I already quit my job. But it’s okay. For the first time in a while, I am actually happy with the direction my life is taking, profession-wise. I feel like I am working on a project that is worthwhile, that I am pursuing a goal that is both attainable and meaningful, and quite frankly that I’m doing something that is fun. Which is a new experience for me. I mean, I haven’t hated every job I’ve had, but I sure haven’t been doing anything that fulfilled me.

For you guys and gals out there (all ten of you who might read this blog occasionally), this also means that I am going to try to update this here blog at least once a week. I feel like it’s an important thing to do – that it offers an outlet for any future fans of mine to connect directly with the author of books they read. So I have to start providing that now, I think. Expect a review of Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash sometime in the following week.

Ooh, I almost forgot. At the same time that all of this is going on, a close friend of mine and I are co-writing a screenplay. It’s an adaptation of a short story that a more distant friend of ours wrote some years ago. Actually, it’s really more like my friend is writing and I’m just sort of helping out with the story, providing another brain for him to bounce ideas off of. I can’t reveal any more information at this time, but it’s pretty cool. I think the movie is going to be rad.

And… that’s it. Other than all that, though, life is simple. I guess. Thanks for reading, and get ready for my first published novel to be released!

Book Review: J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’

If I was only given one thing to say about ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ it’d be this: “Harry Potter it ain’t. But it kinda is. But it ain’t.” If that seems mixed up, convoluted, and indiscernible, then I have succeeded in describing my feelings about the book. Two days after finishing it and vowing to write a review, I’m still sitting here sort of at a loss on how to start this thing and explain exactly how it made me feel. But I think the best way is probably to go back to Rowling’s opus and describe the reasons why I think her writing style succeeded so very, very well in a work like Harry Potter. In this way, maybe I can figure out just what about her newest book I liked – and just why I think it ultimately fails to live up to the hype.

I could write theses on Harry Potter, and I am sure that that very thing has been done. But for your sake, readers, I’ll try to keep this brief. Rowling succeeded with her debut series for (more or less) three reasons: she is ridiculous at world-building, she is one of the best character writers I have ever read, and the genre of fantasy lends itself to these two attributes. Anyone who has read Harry Potter will tell you that, while you are reading the books, you feel like you’re in the world. Rowling’s world-building feels complete. She spends loads of time providing details whose sole purpose is to capture your imagination and create the sense that you could travel to England and visit Platform 9 ¾ , or roam around the English countryside until you found Hogwarts (I know, I know, it’s hidden by spells… but you get my point). The problem, as I have said in a previous piece about Neal Stephenson, is that when these expert world-builders apply their skill to the real world, the result is a book that tells me too much about stuff that I’m already too familiar with. In ‘The Casual Vacancy’ this problem, coupled with Rowling’s definitive writing style, leads to prose that feels too “flowery” (to quote my wife). It is as if Rowling tried to take the same approach to this novel that she took to the Harry Potter series, not realizing that what works for a children’s fantasy series will not necessarily work for an adult book about the suckiness of everyday people.

One thing that does work, though, is Rowling’s ability to write believable and relatable characters. Let me tell you something: I did not like the thematic elements of this novel. I didn’t like the arc of the story (SPOILER: absolutely nothing good happens in this story. It’s literally shit happens, shit happens, shit happens, the end. Which I found somehow lazy and lacking). And I didn’t like the writing style, for the most part. But I kept reading because of the characters. That’s how Rowling hooks you. Do you remember rooting for Harry, Ron, and Hermione? Do you remember being distraught when Dumbledore died? If so, then you know the power that Rowling has in getting you to buy into and root for certain characters. That quality of her writing is not lost in ‘The Casual Vacancy.’ You will find yourself reading on to find out what happens to characters you both genuinely care about and genuinely despise long after the story itself has lost you.

Even with the character development being as good as it is, it isn’t enough to outweigh the fact that the whole thing just feels like Rowling picked the wrong genre. When I originally started the novel, I hadn’t done a lot of research on exactly what kind of book it was. The cover seemed very noir-esque to me, and so I went into this thing thinking that it would end up being some kind of mystery. I liked that idea, because a mystery story would be a way for Rowling to showcase some of the things that made Harry Potter great (think Prisoner of Azkaban, and you’ll see that she can write a killer mystery) while still allowing Rowling to write a book with adult themes and a real-world setting. But it isn’t a mystery. It’s a straightforward novel about the politics of small-town life. If that sounds boring to you, you are not alone. Almost from the very first page, I was uninterested and unconcerned with the plot itself. Of course, the characters made me read on and sit on the edge of my seat regarding the next plot development, yada yada yada. But I didn’t care about the story all that much. Which is not good.

So I’m left with that weird one-liner from the opening paragraph: Harry Potter it ain’t. But it kinda is. But it ain’t. Because it seems like Rowling approached this book the same way she approached her first series, and the story of ‘The Casual Vacancy’ doesn’t lend itself to that approach. I understand that she wants to break free of children’s books and write stuff for adults (her original fans are almost all adults now, anyway). But please, Rowling, pick a genre that is suited to your strong suits as a writer. This one, as far as I’m concerned, missed the mark.

OVERALL SCORE: 6/10