Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Books I want to read

Below is a list of books I'm wanting to read. This list is mainly for myself, but feel free to comment. I'll probably mark items off this list as I get to each book. This list is in no particular order, and I am not necessarily planning to start reading any and all of these books soon. I'll get to them when I get to them. And I'm sure there are other books that should go on this list, I just haven't thought of them yet.

The Cloud of Unknowing -- by Anonymous
The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology - by Viktor E. Frankl
Preparation for the Next Life -- by Atticus Lish
Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich -- by David Kenyon Webster
The Woodsman -- by Craig Hansen
Gone Girl -- by Gillian Flynn
Why I am an Atheist who believes in God -- by Frank Schaeffer
California -- by Edan Lepucki
The Magicians -- Lev Grossman
Heaven - by Randy Alcorn
Lexicon -- by Max Barry
The Croning -- Laird Barron
The Well of the Unicorn -- by Fletcher Pratt
The City & The City -- by China Mieville
North American Lake Monsters -- by Nathan Ballingrud
The Devils of Loudon -- by Aldous Huxley
The Storytelling Animal - by Jonathan Gottschall
The Family -- by Mario Puzo
On Becoming a Novelist -- by John Gardner
Absolute Magic -- by Derren Brown
By the Sword -- by Richard Cohen
Playing at the World -- by Jon Peterson
Legend of Hell House -- by Richard Matheson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry -- by Rachel Joyce
Proof of Heaven -- by Eben Alexander III
Rennie's Way -- by Verna Mae Slone
Cloud Atlas -- by David Mitchell
This is Not the End of the Book -- by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere
The Land of Laughs - by Jonathan Carroll
Meeting Evil - by Thomas Berger
Whom the Gods Would Slay -- by Ivar Jorgensen
Charlotte Sometimes - by Penelope Farmer
Thieves' World Gazetteer - by Lynn Abbey, for D20
Shadowspawn's Guide to Sanctuary - for D20
Thieves' World Player's Manual - for D&D, for D20
The House Next Door - by Anne River Siddons
Ring (Ring Series, Book 1) - by Koji Suzuki, translated by Glynne Walley
The Woman in Black - by Susan Hill
The Wealth of Nations (complete version) - by Adam Smith
The Mysteries of Udolpho - by Ann Radcliffe
High Plains Drifter - by Ernest Tidyman
Who Goes There? - by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Primitive Christianity - by Alan Knight
Logan's Run - by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
Don't You Forget About Me - anthology about Hughes movies
Black Prometheus: A Critical Study of Karl Edward Wagner - edited by Benjamin Szumskyj
A Boy and His Dog - by Harlan Ellison
The Snow Leopard - by Peter Matthiessen
The Living Dead - by George A. Romero
Joan of Arc - by Mark Twain
The Making of an Atheist - by James S. Spiegel
Valley of the Dead - by Kim Paffenroth
Technologized Desire - by D. Harlan Wilson
The Yiddish Policemen's Union - by Michael Chabon
Jesus, Interrupted - by Bart D. Ehrman
Bulfinch's Mythology - by Thomas Bulfinch
The Invention of Morel - by Adolfo Bioy Casares
Valis - by Philip K. Dick
The Shape of Things to Come - by H.G. Wells
Nine Stories - by J.D. Salinger
You Do Not Talk About Fight Club - by Mercer Schuchardt
Don Qixote - by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Les Miserables - by Victor Hugo
Anna Kerinina - by Leo Tolstoy
Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend - by Stephen Davis
The New Dead - edited by Christopher Golden
Abandon - by Blake Crouch
Run - by Blake Crouch
The End of the Trail: Western Stories - by Robert E. Howard
The El Borak Adventures - by Robert E. Howard
Day of the Stranger: Further Memories of Robert E. Howard - by Novalyne Price
Melmoth the Wanderer - by Charles Robert Maturin
The Last of the Mohicans - by James Fennimore Cooper
The Red Badge of Courage - by Stephen Crane
Pride and Prejudice - by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibilities - by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
The Grapes of Wrath - by John Steinbeck
The Black Tulip - by Alexandre Dumas
The Last Cavalier - by Alexandre Dumas
The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion - by Sir James George Frazer
Collection of fairy tales - by the Brothers Grimm
Collection of fables - by Aesop
The Monk - by Matthew Gregory Lewis
One Thousand and One Nights collection
Bloodstone - by Karl Edward Wagner
Dark Crusade - by Karl Edward Wagner
Captain Blood - by Rafael Sabatini
Ender's Game - by Orson Scott Card
Pawn of Prophecy - by David Eddings
Lord Foul's Bane - by Stephen R. Donaldson
A Game of Thrones - by George R. R. Martin
The Guns of Avalon - by Roger Zelazny
The King's Daughter - by Nathalie Mallet
The Last Chronicle of Barset - by Anthony Trollope
Kushiel's Dart - by Jacqueline Carey
Elegy Beach - by Steven R. Boyett
No Country for Old Men - by Cormac McCarthy
Midwinter - by Matt Sturges
The Grand Guignol: Theatre of Fear and Terror - by Mel Gordon
Ramban - by Chayim J. Henoch
The Theology of Nahmanides Systematically Presented - by David Novak
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash - by Jean Shepherd
Evidence of the Afterlife - by Dr. Jeffrey Long
The Servant of Two Masters - play by Carlo Goldoni

Monday, December 22, 2008

No.1 (for 2009), No. 43 (for 2008) - McTeague

by Frank Norris

Started: December 22, 2008
Finished: January 1, 2009

Notes: This is one of those forgotten novels of classic literature, written in 1899 if my memory serves correct. This novel was made into a 1924 silent movie called Greed, and I'm a fan of this movie (as I'm also a bit of a silent movie buff). This is a dark tale of a man who wins the lottery and the horrible fate that ensues, with one of the most bleak endings to a story I've ever seen on film (and I've read elsewhere the book has the same ending).

Mini review: Slow and pondering at first, though somewhat interesting, this tale really kicks in during the last 60 or so pages. Yep, the ending is as dark and bleak as I had expected. I won't say this novel blew me away, but it was definitely worth reading. Though it doesn't hit you over the head throughout, this is basically a morality tale about greed, but personal greed, not the anti-corporate greed stories that are so common nowadays.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In Middle Earth, I'd be a dwarf

Your result for The What Middle Earth race do you belong to Test...

Dwarf

You scored 0% Size & Strength, 59% Morality, 71% Aggression, and 53% Intelligence.


You're a Dwarf! You scored high on everything to get here, so congrats on that. Though maybe you should have that temper checked out, huh? That much aggression can't be good for you. Anyway, the Dwarves are one of the primary races of Middle Earth, along with Elves and Men. Known for their great mining and crafting skills along with having tremendous might in small packages, the Dwarves are highly suspicious of anyone that's not a Dwarf. And why shouldn't they be? They've been run out of all their ancestral homes through the years by Orcs, Dragons and Balrogs, making them Middle Earth's largest collection of dispossessed people. So hey, you'd be grouchy too. They also have an unfortunate tendency towards greed, and can become obsessed with obtaining precious materials. Despite all that, the courage of a Dwarf is never to be doubted.

FYI, your polar opposite is the Warg.


Take The What Middle Earth race do you belong to Test
at HelloQuizzy

Friday, December 19, 2008

Two firsts in one publication

I received in the mail today my October 2008 issue of Beyond Centauri, and boy did I have a couple of surprises!

First, my name and the title of my story, "A Dragon's Tale," actually made it on the cover. This is a first for me!

Second, my story was the first one, leading off the magazine. Another first for me as a writer!

If you'd like to order a copy, go here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No. 42 - Legend

by David Gemmell

Started: December 15
Finished: December 22

Notes: This is a pretty well-known modern author in the fantasy genre, and unfortunately I only discovered him once he had passed away last year. I have only read one book by him, but I was impressed enough to forge ahead into another. This book apparently was his first published novel, kicking off his career back in the 1980s.

Mini review: One of the best siege stories I've ever read. This was even better than the earlier Gemmell novel I read. The first 40 or so pages I found a bit slow, but it picked up fine and continued to speed along through the end. I'll be looking for more Gemmell novels.

Monday, December 15, 2008

30 things I like

Since I have a tendency to gripe and complain on my blog (hey, who doesn't? Isn't that what blogs are for), today I thought I'd do something a little different and list things I like. This will be a very general list, just stuff as it comes to my mind. In no particular order, here are things I like:

1.) Playing with bunny rabbits.

2.) Sleeping with a gently snoring beagle.

3.) Sipping really good beer.

4.) Hiking to the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm, then under the shade of branches, smoking a fine cigar.

5.) My other half's cheesecake.

6.) Cruising down the highway during the summer with the windows down and a really, really cool song comes on the radio.

7.) Anything written by Alexandre Dumas.

8.) Minor league baseball.

9.) Playing paintball with U.S. Marines.

10.) Having a person you love telling you they need you. I don't mean generally, in some vague kind of way. But in a specific fashion, like when you come home from after being gone for a long time, or something similar.

11.) Discovering a fantastic book for the very first time.

12.) Eating pretty much anything from Katzinger's deli in Columbus, Ohio.

13.) Greg. For all he's done for myself and others, and for all the great gaming and yacking sessions. Other than my father, probably the finest human being I've had the pleasure and honor to know. If you know him, you get what I'm talking about. Miss you, dude. I still owe you big.

14.) Movies that touch my soul. There are a good number, so I won't list them.

15.) Excited e-mails from "my" editor. He knows who he is.

16.) Talking religion with my dad.

17.) Anything my mom cooks or bakes. Literally, anything. She's the best chef in the world, and I'm not the only one who says that.

18.) My wife's laugh, especially during one of those goofy TV shows or movies we like to watch together.

19.) Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels. In my opinion, quite likely the finest piece of English literature since Shakespeare.

20.) Lyrics by John Lennon, Adam Duritz or Kurt Cobain.

21.) Really good episodes of Saturday Night Live. I still miss Phil Hartman.

22.) Writing until four in the morning, then sleeping until afternoon.

23.) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

24.) Firing a fine weapon at the shooting range. It's not a power thing. There's just something about shooting a truly fine piece of mechanical ingenuity. You can feel it in your hands, and see it on your targets. Beretta is my favorite maker so far.

25.) Walking long distances, but with a purpose, not just walking to be walking. Nice weather helps, too.

26.) Video games from the 1980s. I love these things, whether the at-home game systems or the arcade versions. Atara, Intellivision, Colecovision ... I love that stuff. It reminds me of Christmas when I was a kid.

27.) Samples at a cheese shop.

28.) Renaissance fairs.

29.) Beer samples during Oktoberfest.

30.) Reading.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

General rambling and complaining about the prices of books from major publishers

A couple of nights ago I wandered my way into one of my favorite bookstores. I hadn't been in there in some time, at least six months, and was surprised by the price of the books.

See, for the last couple of years at least I've been a cheap bastard when it comes to books. I read all the time. But I don't think I've actually paid cash for a book in longer than a year. I've received free books for doing reviews, free books at one or another of my newspaper jobs, I've been given books by friends and family, I won a contest and got a free shopping card to a bookstore and I've actually found ... yes, found ... tons of books. I found one book at work and no one claimed it. I found another book at a restaurant and no one claimed it. And I found a whole box full of books outside an apartment building with a little sign reading, "Free books to anyone who wants them."

And let me add that for the last couple of years I've spent most of my book-buying time in used bookstores. There are five or six used bookstores within a few blocks of my current residence.

So, I've not actually bought a new book in a good while.

The prices of the new books shocked me. Okay, I can understand $25 for a new hardback. But it sure as heck better be written by a big-name author with whom I'm familiar. No, wait, the big-name author's hardbacks are selling for $45. It's the nobodies who have hardbacks selling for $25.

And paperbacks? $7.99. Are ya freakin' kidding me?!?

Okay. So call me out of touch. Call me naive. Call me cheap.

But I'm not going to pay those prices. Especially in this economy.

I'm sorry, but there's no way in hell a paperback should cost more than the minimum wage. Even back in the '80s when I was making $3.35 an hour at my grocery store job in high school, I could still pick up a new paperback for $2.50 or less.

Call me a communist. I don't care. Book prices should not be that steep.

I'm not blaming the writers or the publishers or editors, at least not entirely. I realize paper is expensive. I'm in the newspaper business after all, we use the cheapest paper you can get, and it's still pretty expensive even in bulk. I understand people have to make a living. I understand it takes a lot of work and time to get a book from the writer's computer all the way to the shelves of my local bookstores.

But ... come on, folks. Somethings wrong here. Major publishers are always griping about how they never make any money, and now they're restructuring and laying people off and maybe even some of them folding. Major bookstore chains are always complaining that they actually lost money on the latest New York Times bestseller. The majority of writers and editors I know aren't making a lot of greenbacks, and neither are the small publishers.

My guess? It's distribution and printing that are the biggest costs.

But someone somewhere is making money. And not all of them are named Stephen King.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

No. 41 - Flashing Swords! #5: Demons and Daggers

edited by Lin Carter

Started: December 9
Finished: December 15

Notes: I wasn't blown away by Flashing Swords! #4, which I read a while back, but I didn't hate it enough not to give another book in the series a try. Here is a collection of tales by Roger Zelazny, C.J. Cherryh, Diane Duane, Craig Shaw Gardner and Tanith Lee. Lee and Cherryh I am familiar with, the others not so much.

Mini review: This book in the series was quite a bit better than the one I read earlier. My favorite tales were by Roger Zelazny and C.J. Cherryh. I was especially thrilled with Cherryh's tale because she was one of the original Thieves' World authors, and this tale definitely had that kind of ring to it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Don't argue with a woman who reads

Yes, my wife e-mailed this to me:

One morning a husband returns after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap. Although not familiar with the lake, the wife decides to take the boat out. She motors out a short distance, anchors, and reads her book.

Along comes a Game Warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside the woman and says, 'Good morning, Ma'am. What are you doing?'

'Reading a book,' she replies, (thinking, 'Isn't that obvious?')

'You're in a Restricted Fishing Area,' he informs her.

'I'm sorry, officer, but I'm not fishing. I'm reading'

'Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up.'

'For reading a book,' she replies.

'You're in a Restricted Fishing Area,' he informs her again.

'I'm sorry, officer, but I'm not fishing. I'm reading.'

'Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up.'

'If you do that, I'll have to charge you with sexual assault,' says the woman.

'But I haven't even touched you,' says the game warden.

'That's true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment.'

'Have a nice day ma'am,' and he left.

MORAL: Never argue with a woman who reads.

Another short story coming soon

My fantasy short story "Ogre" is scheduled to appear in the Feb. 16, 2009, issue of The Absent Willow Review.

Thanks to editor Rick DeCost. Glad he liked the story.

Also, check out Rick's Tripping the Muse site for advice for writers.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Oh no, the sky is falling on book publishers!

In case you haven't already heard, several major book publishers are making drastic changes this week. You can find out the basics here.

But, in case you don't want to follow the above link, here's the gist of things:
  • Simon & Shuster has announced layoffs
  • Random House has announced layoffs and a major structure changes
  • Thomas Nelson Publishers has announced layoffs
  • It appears as if the Bantam Dell Publishing Group and Rubin's Doubleday Publishing Group will no longer exist as they are to become parts of other Random House divisions

And I'm sure there's more that I'm forgetting.

Sad times, indeed, and scary.

But there's a silver lining for us writers. What silver lining? Well, in a nutshell, less competition. That's right, less competition.

Yes, I'm sure with all the changes and cutbacks it will be harder than ever to get a book published, especially at one of the big publishing houses. But, that also means if you get published by a smaller publisher then your small publisher has less to compete with when it comes to the big guys. These tough economic times might not level the playing field, but they'll surely lean a little less toward one side.

Oh, you're worried book sales are down. Get over it. Book sales are always down. The larger publishers have been screaming all my life (about 40 years) that no one reads any more and books aren't selling. It might be true now, it might not. I don't know. And I'm not going to believe anyone's so-called facts or numbers. Why? Because those facts and numbers from publishers always spellout doom and gloom, even when major writers have been making millions for years.

And remember that these tough times mean that some wannabe writers will have to give it up because of money or time restraints. Bad luck for them, but good luck for those staying in the game. Sorry to be mercenary about it, but I'm calling it here as I see it.

You want to get published? You want a career as a writer? Then stick with it. Write the best you can and keep learning to write even better. And persevere. My belief is that perseverance is at least 75 percent of what it takes to become a professional novelist.

The other 25 percent? An editor.

And maybe a tad bit of luck thrown in.

(And let me add here, since I sounded flippant above, I am truly sorry for those who've lost their jobs. I've been there and know how tough it is).

Monday, December 01, 2008

No. 40 - The Ox-Bow Incident

by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Started: December 1
Finished: December 9

Notes: This 1940 Western novel was made into a 1943 movie starring a young Henry Fonda. The movie is relatively well known for an older Western, and it's no shoot-em up. This is not an action story, though there is some violence involved. I'd seen this movie, liked it, then ran across the original book, which now I'll read.

Mini review: Boy, it took a long time for this one to get rolling, at least 140 pages, but it finally came to a fine ending. I wasn't impressed enough to want to search out more of this rare author, but he turned out a decent store with morals. The morality bits nearly slam you over the head sometimes, but for the most part it wasn't too bad.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

No. 39 - The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

Started: November 29
Finished: November 30

Notes: This is one of those books (by one of those authors) that no one had heard of two years ago. Now, suddenly, the book and the author are the hottest thing. I'm giving them a shot.

Mini review: I didn't hate this book, but I felt somewhat underwhelmed. I expected something more, especially for a Pulitzer winner. The writing is pretty good, reminding me of Hemingway though not quite that sparse. The characters are ... hmm, well, they could kind of be anybody, though they're not bad. There's next to no back story. No history. No future. Just the here and now (not that there's anything wrong with that ... it was a nice change of pace in a lot of ways). The plot is practically non-existent, though there is one. I wasn't exactly bored reading this novel, but it didn't excite me either. I kept waiting for something to happen, and it never really does (it sort of does in the very end, but it's pretty much expected). One element that was very nice was the non-glorified realism of a post-apocalyptic world; this isn't an adventure story that turns the end of civilization into just a background for a shoot-em-up. No, this is pretty gritty in most ways (as far as I can tell, I've yet to live in a post-apocalyptic environment). So, I don't know. Didn't hate it. Didn't love it. Not really glad I read it, other than maybe to tell others "Hey, I read that." It's supposed to come out as a movie soon, but without a major rewrite I find it hard to believe this will make a good movie. All that being said, there's either a lot going on in this story that went over my head, or it's a post-apocalyptic version of Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea." I might, after a few years, turn to this one again to see if I pick up anything new from it. Or I might just see the movie. Weird. I'm not really split on this book, I'm just not real clear about my reaction to it. Maybe that's a good thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sword and Sorcery lives!

It's out! That's right, the second edition of "Return of the Sword" has been published. For those who might not know, this collection of Sword and Sorcery short stories contains my tale, "Deep in the Land of the Ice and Snow."

But wait! There's more! This second edition has a new book design, and this is the first official publication from Rogue Blades Entertainment. Expect more in the coming year from RBE, much more.

I know the editor/publisher, Jason, is quite excited about all this, as am I. "Return of the Sword" was formerly published by another company, but Jason Waltz took the big leap of his own and started RBE. His first anthology publication as an editor is now his first anthology publication as a publisher!

Congrats, Jason! And congrats to all the fine authors who have stories in this one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

No. 38 - Battle Royale

by Koushun Takami

Started: November 21
Finished: November 29

Notes: Though almost unknown in the U.S., "Battle Royale" has been quite the phenomenon in Japan the last ten years. I've seen the Japanese movie, and thought it brilliantly disturbing in its portrayal of violence, especially violence among young people (mainly 15-year-olds). So, this story obviously isn't for everyone. The plot is sort of a government-enforced "Lord of the Flies" story, but it's much more sinister than that, pitting junior high students in a death match against one another in which there will be only one winner/survivor. Yes, it sounds outlandish. But it's also very pulpish and very Japanese (I mean that in a good way). I like the movie so much, I was quite thrilled to snag up the original novel upon which the movie (and its sequels and the manga series) is based. This is an English translation, of course.

Mini review: Overly violent. Deeply disturbing. Yet a masterpiece of modern pulp fiction. By far and away the most entertaining novel I've read in some time. Definitely not for everyone, but writers of horror and other dark materials should read this and study it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No. 37 - The Shack

by William Paul Young

Started: November 14
Finished: November 21

Notes: Christian fiction isn't normally my thing unless it's also historical fiction, but the blurb on the back of this book caught my attention. Without giving too much away, the story concerns a man who has suffered an awful tragedy to his family, then one day he receives a note from God. The note says God wants to talk with our protagonist. There's more to it than that, more elements that pulled me in, but I don't want to give away any major plot points. And let me add, I also am interested in reading this book because it was self-published (not something I'm considering) but still has made it onto the NY Times bestseller list.

Mini review: Not a bad story, but I wasn't blown away. The writing is decent, but it was fairly obvious this was a first novel. The biggest problem I had from a story-telling point of view is that I felt the plot was a bit weak, especially in the middle; the idea behind the plot is excellent, in my opinion, but it could have used some strengthening. Now, from a spiritual standpoint, there were a few other problems I had with this tale. First, and mostly, I felt the religion in this story suffered from being overly simplistic. I don't, however, necessarily blame this on the author, or upon his religious beliefs or the story; I freely admit that it might just be I who am not emotionally or spiritually capable of understanding at this point in my existence. That being said, I have experienced a few moments of "eureka" or "revelation" in my life about something that seemed quite simple but turned out to be otherwise (or sometimes not) from my perspective. There can be great insight gained from what sometimes seems the most simple of ideas. Still, I generally expect more in my religious-oriented reading. Secondly, I felt the version of God shown in this tale was a bit too liberal for my liking. No, I'm not a fundamentalist or a Bible-thumper or even a hell-and-brimstone kind of guy, but I don't think of God (or the Trinity, if you prefer) as being all touchy feely and kissy huggy all the time. Sometimes, maybe, but not all the time. Again, maybe I'm wrong and it's just my own inability to accept. All that being said, this was an okay read, and there were a handful of very touching scenes. This novel is not something I'd suggest for the casual fiction reader, but my Christian friends might find something here for them. Overall, though, if I'm in the mood to read about man questioning God, I'll turn to one of my favorite books in the Holy Bible ... the Book of Job; God's answers to Job might seem simplistic, but there's a whole lot going on in that tale if you dig deep enough.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

No. 36 - Velocity

by Dean Koontz

Started: November 9
Finished: November 14

Notes: Something like twenty years ago, I had aspirations to be a horror novelist. To some extent, I suppose I still do, but I tend to think of myself as more of a dark fantasy writer nowadays. Anyway, back then I read as much horror and dark thriller fiction as I could, and that included pretty much everything Dean Koontz had written, probably 20 or so books at the time ... I'm talking the late 80s and early 90s. Eventually, I tired of Koontz. He was a good writer, but his characters started to seem too familiar to me and most of his plots started to sound the same. So, I gave him up, even though I'd been a pretty big fan of his and was well read in his material. Now, it's been at least 15 years since I've read anything by him, and he seems to be a bigger author now than he was then. So, I thought I'd give him another shot and I'd try out one of his more recent novels. Here goes.

Mini review: Not as good as some of the earlier works of Koontz's I've read, but overall not too shabby. The plot is interesting, though it stretches the believability factor sometimes, and after the first hundred or so pages the pace is nice and brisk. The one real problem I had with the story was that I never cared all that much for the protagonist; I didn't hate the guy, and sometimes I even rooted for him, but mostly I just sort of felt ... "If the guy dies, if the guy doesn't die, so what?" The ending, the last 50 or so pages, were quite nice, Koontz at his best. Hope I'm not giving anything too much away here, but what I liked best about the ending was the sort of no-fuss attitude the protagonist had when it finally came down to dealing with the antagonist; there had been some introspection (though not tons) throughout this novel by the protagonist, but when he had to do what he had to do ... well, he just did it and got on with things. I liked that. It was a nice change of pace from overly-thoughtful protags who have to ponder their every little emotion, especially after they've gone through a rough time.

Friday, November 07, 2008

No. 35 - Shane

by Jack Schaefer

Started: November 7
Finished: November 9

Notes: If the title of this book means nothing to you, then you're obviously not a great, in-depth student of films about the Old West (not that there's anything wrong with you not being such a fan of the movie genre). This 1949 novel became a pretty famous Western movie in 1953 starring Alan Ladd and Jack Palance. The film is probably best known as sort of the first "quiet stranger comes to town and turns out to be a former gunman and now he has to set things right even though he would rather not have to get violent" Western. Yes, I know that's a long description, but it's also a Western genre nearly in itself. There's probably a shorter title to this subgenre, but if so, it's not one of which I'm aware ("Shane" is not a Spaghetti Western, nor is it really a modernist or post-modernist Western; it fits in well with the Western movies of the 1950s while also precursoring the coming realistic, often violent Westerns of the 1960s and early-to-mid 1970s). Anyway, I haven't read a Western novel in a long while, ran across this one (which is for a movie I like -- can you tell?), and decided to give it a try.

Mini review: Was a little slow the first 50 pages, but picked up nice. Also had a good story without it being just another shoot-em-up. In fact, I think there are only 2 or 3 shots fired in the whole novel, and that's toward the end. Glad I read this one. Gave me even more appreciation for the movie, because I was glad to see the film's creators pretty much stuck with the book.

My only political post now that the election is over

According to the modern, U.S. political spectrum ...

I have no faith in government, so I can't be a liberal.

I have no faith in business, so I can't be a fiscal conservative.

And I have no faith in organized religious institutions, so I can't be a Christian conservative.

I don't even have faith in other humans to police themselves, so I can't even be an anarchist.

So, what the heck does this make me?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Curses!

Some writers like to curse. I'm one of them. There's probably not been a day in my adult life where I've not said "damn" at the very least.

And some writers like to curse in their writing. I'm generally not one of those, though I won't shy away from it if I feel it's important to a character and/or the story.

But why not throw in lots of F bombs in your stories? Doesn't it make it sound more realistic? Doesn't it make it sound more gritty?

Um, no. It generally makes the writer look pretty silly and immature.

Now, there can be a place and time for cursing in fiction, sometimes even a good amount of it. But it shouldn't be overdone. Why? Because even just a little cursing in writing can go a long way.

There are real-life situations where there could easily be a lot of cursing. I'm sure soldiers in the field don't worry about their language being salty. Heck, spend some time at an adult sporting venue, and you're going to hear all kinds of stuff.

But, again, in fiction, a little goes a long way. If you don't believe me, go read a book or story by an author who is known to use salty language from time to time. Stephen King, for example. Yes, King uses some curse words, but not as many as you might think. He doesn't need to. Why? Because that F word on page 113 is strong enough to remain in your subconscious for at least another 20 or 30 pages. If every single page had strong language, it would grow silly and eventually stale.

Also, for you short story writers, it's quite difficult to sell your tales to magazines if those tales have lots of strong terms. There are some magazines who don't care if you use curse words, most of those being smaller publications and quite often the darkest of horror mags (at least in my experience). But most zines and such aren't going to publish your story if it's got all kinds of strong language, mainly because they don't want to drive away any readers, but also because some editors feel strong language shows a lack of maturity in the writer.

So, I'm suggesting cutting back on the curse words in your fiction. I'm not saying to never use them, but to use them sparingly and only when appropriate. And, for you fantasy or history writers, if you have to use curse words, at least make them sound appropriate to the time and place of which you are writing; Conan didn't go around spewing F bombs. It would've sounded stupid.

Friday, October 31, 2008

No. 34 - From a Buick 8

by Stephen King

Started: October 31
Finished: November 7

Notes: Barely in time for Halloween, I decided to turn to some horror. This is one of the few I have not read from the master.

Mini review: One of the best of King's I've read in some while. This is another novel where you won't get all the answers to the mystery, but if you've read King's Dark Tower series, you can probably guess at the truth behind the veil here as this seems to be yet another of his novels with vague links to the DT series. It was nice that this novel was the last first-draft of any novel King finished before his accident back in 1999, and ... well, I hate to say this because of how it sounds ... but I believe King's work has suffered some since then. But still, even his more modern works are good, they just don't seem quite as good as his earlier material. But maybe it's just me reading too much into.

Friday, October 24, 2008

No. 33 - Money Money Money

by Ed McBain

Started: October 24
Finished: October 31

Notes: I have not finished my last novel yet, nor had I planned to read another by Ed McBain so soon, but I've been on the road the last few days and I forgot to bring along my current reading material. So, I popped into a used bookstore and picked this up. This one should be a bit different because it's supposed to deal with terrorism, not a subject I'd normally associate with hard-boiled police procedurals.

Mini review: Definitely the most complex of McBain's 87th Precinct novels I've read so far. And though this is one of the more modern tales, it worked fine with characters who had been around for 50 years. The terrorism in the plot here is quite slick, really barely making it into the story, but playing an important part to the overall tale. Things start off looking like a relatively simple story about drug runners, but then counterfeiting becomes involved, multiple murders, hit men (and women) ... and it gets more complex from there. But it all winds up in the end with a fine story.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No. 32 - Flashing Swords! #4: Barbarians and Black Magicians

edited by Lin Carter

Started: October 21
Finished: October 30

Notes: Another classic collection of Sword and Sorcery stories I've been meaning to get to for some while, though I've read a couple of these stories elsewhere. Here there are stories by Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock, Katherine Kurtz, John Jakes and Poul Anderson.

Mini review: Some decent reading here, though a couple of tales that didn't do much for me. As could be expected, Moorcock's tale was the best, though a close second was John Jakes' story of Brak the barbarian.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

100 things about me

Other folks have done this on their blog, so I thought it was time I did too. All of this is random, as it comes to me:

1.) I have eaten squirrel.
2.) My favorite drink is Kroger skim milk.
3.) My favorite liquor is bourbon. But it has to be good bourbon.
4.) I have been shot at.
5.) I consider myself a Christian and I like Jesus. But that probably doesn't mean what you think it means.
6.) My favorite beer is probably Sam Smith's Pale Ale. I say "probably" because there are so many fine beers out there.
7.) I do not like cheap beer, though I will tolerate it if it is free and it is all that's available.
8.) I've been writing fiction since I was about 7 years old.
9.) It once took me five years to get over a woman.
10.) And now, 17 years later, I can barely remember her name.
11.) I think most people get way too worked up over politics. It's not that it's not important, it's just that no matter which side you come down on, the whole country isn't going to fall apart overnight. These things take years. Ask the Romans.
12.) I believe a balance in all things will make others better, saner and happier individuals and the rest of the world a better, saner, happier place.
13.) But I could be wrong.
14.) I love rabbits, and have three of them as house pets.
15.) Beagles are my favorite breed of dog, and I have one. She gets along fine with the rabbits.
16.) My wife is Jewish. I'm not. It has never caused any problems.
17.) At one point in my life I was so poor I sold everything I owned except my vehicle, a few clothes and one junky computer.
18.) I only kept the computer so I could keep writing.
19.) I try to get along with everyone. The operative word is "try."
20.) I do not have children, and coming up on 40, am not likely to have children.
21.) It doesn't bother me. Though my mom continues to hint at grandkids.
22.) I once won a trophy for a sermon I preached at church.
23.) For the life of me, I can't remember what I preached about.
24.) I have never been outside the United States.
25.) That doesn't bother me much either. As I've gotten older, travel has lost most of its allure. I do enjoy experiencing other cultures (especially the food!), but to spend all that money and time to go somewhere far away just so I can tell people I went to someplace far away seems kind of silly.
26.) I initially grew my beard at the age of 27 because I became too lazy to shave every morning.
27.) I have not seen, spoken to or corresponded with my best friend in the world in nearly a year.
28.) I know it won't matter. Whenever we see one another again, it will be just like old times.
29.) I have lived in a haunted house.
30.) I have written a screenplay of a spaghetti western.
31.) I am afraid of heights, but only as long as I can see the ground. In my younger days I often went mountain climbing, but once I was above tree level I was just fine. The same goes for spelunking ... once I got high enough that the floor was in darkness, I was fine.
32.) I also have a fear of violence. But not of being hurt myself. I have a fear of what I would do to the other person. I've been on both ends and it's never pretty.
33.) I once stared down the barrel of a .44 magnum revolver. No, I wasn't cleaning the gun at the time.
34.) I have hunted a few times in my life, but it has never been for food or sport. I hunted to protect the livestock on my family's farm from predators. Climbing into a treestand at 4 a.m. on a cold morning does not appeal to me. Especially when I know there's a Burger King somewhere down the road.
35.) I can talk just fine with good ole boys.
36.) But I can also talk philosophy and literature with intellectuals.
37.) I once herded cattle with a rock. That bull never knew what hit him between the eyes. But he and the cows were soon enough back in their pen.
38.) I have lived roughly half my life in cities and half my life in rural areas (small towns or farms). Each has its benefits. I like them both.
39.) I can play two strings on a guitar.
40.) My hair has started to thin out just in the last couple of years. Drat.
41.) Three times in my life I have had hair down to my shoulders.
42.) I enjoy smoking cigars and a pipe, but have not done so in years for health reasons.
43.) For vacation, I'll pick mountains over beaches every time.
44.) I believe life, existence and humanity in general are far more complex than most of us give credit. Because of this belief, contradictions do not astonish me. While it might not seem to make sense at the time, whenever someone does something out of character ... it isn't.
45.) I'm often quite disgusted with viewpoints that see the world in only black and white. Each of us has had our own experiences.
46.) I love Grand Theft Auto video games, especially "GTA: San Andreas."
47.) I think country music died sometime around 1990. Garth had a few decent early songs, but since then it's all been crap. Give me Johnny Cash any day of the week. And to add, none of these idjits singing today are real outlaws or cowboys; they're Nashville outlaws at best, marketed to sell a whole bunch of albums mostly to people who only wish they were real cowboys.
48.) I believe the written word is the most important invention of all time. Even more so than speech itself. And fire. Though pizza comes close.
49.) I believe the afterlife is going to be a complete surprise to darn near everyone.
50.) I am a fan of silent movies, in general. I say "in general" because they are just like modern movies ... some are good, some suck.
51.) I hate jewelry. I don't wear a watch or a wedding band. Though every now and then I do wear a cord necklace with a cross made of three nails.
52.) I hate to sound bigoted, but there's something I just don't trust about ... Mormons.
53.) Because of gift cards or presents or freebies from reviewing books and my newspaper jobs, I have not had to shell out cash for a book in nearly two years.
54.) I read, on average, about 40-50 books a year.
55.) I have a condition that causes the insides of my ears to be dry and itchy a lot.
56.) I once went 10 years without cable television. And I didn't miss it. I still wouldn't have it if it weren't for the wife.
57.) I am not a "car" guy. I don't even like having to put gas in the damn things.
58.) Speaking of which, I prefer SUVs or pickup trucks over cars. And I hate vans and wagons.
59.) I have never owned a vehicle that was not made by an American company. That was not on purpose, just how things turned out.
60.) The wife and I just put money down on a Volvo wagon.
61.) I know of and have done some amount of business with at least four different book or magazine editors named "Jason." It sometimes makes reading and sending off e-mails a bit difficult.
62.) The only things I miss about being single are sleep and money.
63.) The most firearms I have owned at one time in my life was 17.
64.) I currently don't own any. Though several of my old guns are in the hands of family and I could probably get them back if I wanted to.
65.) As I've gotten older, I've become less and less interested in sports.
66.) I once worked for a major league baseball pitcher. Yes, you would know his name. You would probably also recognize his face. Even if you're not into baseball. No, I won't say who it is. I can't. It was in the contract. He seemed a decent guy.
65.) I stopped recognizing nearly all the names on the Top 10 lists in the back of Rolling Stones magazine about ten years ago. I guess that means I'm getting old.
66.) I'm a pretty decent chef.
67.) I played football and soccer in my teens. And bowling.
68.) I have spent a night in jail.
69.) I don't remember most of it.
70.) It was half a lifetime ago.
71.) I have played roleplaying games since I was 12 years old, but not in the last 6 or 7 years.
72.) I have a heart condition that causes me to have to watch how much fluid I drink every day. Basically, I have an enlarged heart and fluid tends to build up around it, pushing in on my lungs and making it hard for me to breath. But I have extremely clean arteries.
73.) My cardiologist once told me "I have been in medicine for 27 years, and you have the largest human heart I have ever seen. It's the size of a full-grown pigs'." Great.
74.) I used to collect stamps. And coins. I sold them. Remember me saying I was really, really poor at one point in my life?
75.) I never kissed a woman until I was 21. We dated for one week.
76.) I had a fencing class in college. I sucked at it, mostly because my size (6' 1", 200 pounds, at that time) made me an easy target. At least I learned the fundamentals.
77.) In college, I earned minors in philosophy and classical history.
78.) I cried the first time I watched "Saving Private Ryan." It was the scene where the officer and the minister climb out of the car and the mother collapses on the porch.
79.) I like both hair bands and grunge. Anything with a squealing guitar.
80.) I think The Animals are one of the most unrecognized rock bands of all time. They did a heck of a lot more, and had a lot more influence, than just their cover of "House of the Rising Sun."
81.) I have seen Hank Williams Jr. in concert three times.
82.) I have seen author R.A. Salvatore on tour three times.
83.) During my college days, initially as part of a class but later on my own, I experimented with lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences. I cannot definitively say I experienced either of those two sensations, but I had some vivid dreams while I was study this stuff.
84.) I can't stand poetry other than some pop songs and ancient Greek tales. I don't even care enough to try and like poetry. But I don't think less of you if you do happen to like poetry.
85.) I lived only six weeks in the city where I was born. I obviously don't remember it, and I don't care much for the place.
86.) I do not consider myself Liberal or Conservative, at least not by the usual U.S. political definitions.
87.) In high school I super-glued my Spanish teacher's coffee mug to his desk. While it still had coffee in it. He laughed about it and I didn't get in trouble.
88.) I do not like softdrinks, but I drink them quite often because they seem to be the only thing available almost everywhere I have worked.
89.) I have not been in the military. At 18, I went to join the army, met several times with a recruiting officer, but was turned down because my weight was way over the limit at the time. Instead, I wound up in college. I have high regard for those who have served, but honestly have few regrets that I did not. The military life and the mindset required are not for everyone, and the U.S. Army was probably best served by me not joining the ranks.
90.) I have played paintball with U.S. Marines.
91.) And got my ass splattered six ways to Sunday.
92.) I used to be a romantic. But now I'm not. Nowadays it just seems like too much work, and overly goofy.
93.) I once drove a car with a flat tire for a year. I just kept filling the tire up with Fix-A-Flat. Then I sold the car for $200.
94.) I have experienced what has been called a "runner's high." I used to run four miles a day, and eventually I got to this almost weird, spiritual state where everything seemed to click mentally and physically. My breathing was just perfect. My muscles were just right. My mind too. On those days, I felt like I could run forever. But the most I ever did during any one single run was 8 miles.
95.) My favorite season is autumn.
96.) If the money was there, I would take a back-breaking, outdoors labor job over this white-collar garbage any day of the week. Yes, I have worked both. I find much more peace of mind working a hard labor job than I do sitting behind a desk and/or managing a bunch of goofballs.
97.) Though I'd never want to work a factory job. The tedium would kill me.
98.) I used to be a pretty good oil painter, though I haven't touch a brush in more than a decade.
99.) I hate shopping. I know what I want. I go in. I get it. I leave. That's it.
100.) Unless I'm in a bookstore.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No. 31 - Jamie the Red

by Gordon R. Dickson with Roland Green

Started: October 15
Finished: October 21

Notes: I've long been a fan of the Thieves' World series of Sword and Sorcery anthologies. In fact, it's my favorite series. This character, Jamie the Red, was one of the characters from that series. So it's only natural I'd get around to reading this book from 1984, back when the original Thieves' World series was still going strong.

Mini review: A fine read, bringing me back to the not-so-dark Sword and Sorcery stories common to the early and mid-1980s. In this tale, a Scottish prince is exiled from home and becomes involved in the wars of France and the intrigues of Italy.

Yak, yak, yak about my recent reading habits

Just thinking about my reading habits of late ...

I've been reading a lot of stuff I've been meaning to read for some time, sometimes even years. A good bit of it has been fiction by classic genre authors, or classic genre books themselves (though I'm not talking about "classical" literature here, which is a very different beast). Sometimes I've been let down, but mostly I've enjoyed what I've been reading. I was definitely glad to discover author John Scalzi, and it was nice get back into some Robert E. Howard, who I still think is an underrated writer, often even by his own fans (the man could WRITE people, not just prattle off tales about heaving breasts and burly men wielding big swords).

I've also been going through a little phase with all the Ed McBain police procedural novels I've been plowing through this year. These things are like candy to me. Fast, easy reads that are also quite enjoyable. I love his dialogue especially, and the almost goofy way he describes what all his characters are wearing.

Thinking about all this got me to think about the way I read fiction, and the different ways there are to read fiction.

Of course, there's reading just for pleasure. This is usually the most fun.

Then there's reading something because you have to, for a class or because a friend has talked you into it, whatever. Sometimes this can be fun, but often it isn't. I still hate Charles Dickens to this day.

Then there's reading because you are trying to learn something. Remember, I'm still talking fiction here. Writers, or potential writers, will often read a novel or short story while trying to figure out just HOW another writer does something. How does Robert E. Howard write such great scenes? How does R.A. Salvatore write his melees? How does Alexandre Dumas work out his plots? It's all in there, if you're willing to read and to take the time to study. Sometimes this is fun reading, too, but sometimes it can be tedious.

And for writers, often it's hard to break out of the habit of reading another's work without that critical eye. Sometimes you just want to read for fun, and it's hard to do because you keep thinking things like "oh, so that's how she uses those adverbs so cleverly" or "ah ha! now I'm beginning to understand how he paces his scenes."

That can be annoying. Which is one of the reasons I've turned to Ed McBain so much lately. It's simple, straight-forward writing that I can decipher (from a writer's view) fairly easily. I'm not saying I could write what McBain did, or how he did, or as well as he did. I'm just saying I've got as much figured out about his writing as I want to for now (though I'm sure I could delve his depths further, and may do so at some point). For now, while I'm busy editing novels for myself and other people, it's nice to take a break and just read something for fun.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

No. 30 - Heat

by Ed McBain

Started: October 11
Finished: October 15

Notes: Yes, I'm retreating into another 87th Precinct novel from McBain because I'm feeling sick right now with either sinus problems or an early flu, and something as simple and straight forward as McBain is about all my head feels like tackling at the moment.

Mini review: Yet another fun read. This one was a bit different, with more of a personal story about one of the police detectives worked into the tale. But none of the action was lacking!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Anthology's cover

Below is the cover for the "Deadlines" anthology by Comet Press coming out in November 2008. My dark Appalachian short story "The Death of Lester Williams" will appear in this anthology. I love, love, love this cover. So, thought I'd share.

No. 29 - Neuromancer

by William Gibson

Started: October 3
Finished: October 11

Notes: This is a sci-fi classic originally published in the early 1980s. Though I was around back then, and reading, this one never made it into my reading pile until recently. So, it's off to another supposed classic. I'll let you know what I think.

Mini review: Okay, I didn't care much for it. This is far from the worst book I've ever read, but I was not overly delighted with anything here. The writing was a bit bland, mixed with lots of faux techno-jargon that didn't help. The plot was somewhat interesting once you figure out what's going on. And none of the characters were really worth caring about. Maybe if I had read this 15 to 25 years ago, I might have found it breathtaking in the way it foreshadowed the Internet before the Internet went public, but reading it now felt a little stale.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

John Dee rides again

A story about the early days of my John Dee character (when he went by a different name), "The Unconcquered Mage," is now available over at Static Movement. It's sort of a Sword and Sorcery story, or at least the closest I've come to having John appear in one, and it takes place in Gaul in 321 A.D.

Enjoy. Or don't. Then tell me it sucks. And I'll get all defensive and tell you what an idiot you are.

See how the circle works?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Story places third in contest

I recently submitted my short horror story, "Day Trip," to the guys over at Demonic Tome. And I placed third! It's my first contest, so I'm excited. The prize is a gift certificate at B&N, so that's always handy.

The story is scheduled to be published in October, so stay tuned and I'll let you know when it's available.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

No. 28 - The Last Dance

by Ed McBain

Started: September 27
Finished: October 3

Notes: This is my third 87th Precinct novel. The first two were published in the 1950s, but this one came out in 2000, so I'm interested to see how McBain's style changed over the years. I'm a growing fan of this series of police procedurals.

Mini review: Another fast-paced read with lots of speedy dialogue and some decent action. It was a bit weird to read of characters I'm more familiar with in a hardboiled, 1950s environment who have been set in the modern day. And it was a bit weird with the hardboiled style for a story in the modern day. But it mostly worked, and was a fine read. I'll be getting more of McBain's works.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ramblings on Sword and Sorcery

Sword and Sorcery is a subgenre of fantasy writing. Typically the protagonist in such stories is somewhat self-centered, though not necessarily selfish, and tends to use weapons and brawn and sometimes brains to accomplish daring feats to save the day. It's rare for S&S protagonists to use magic to much of a degree, and often the oppenent they face or obstacle they must overcome is one of magic. This is all very general, because there are S&S characters who break this mode and the rules (Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone being probably the most famous ... or infamous). In many respects, at their most basic core, S&S stories are often about the idiocies of civilization, and often how barbarism can overcome civilization and maybe is even preferable to civilization in some instances.

Again, all of that is very general. There really isn't one definitive definition of Sword and Sorcery.

Another thing about Sword and Sorcery is that, being a subgenre, there aren't that many authors associated with it. Here are the most well known:

Robert E. Howard
Michael Moorcock
Fritz Leiber
Karl Edward Wagner
Andrew J. Offutt
C. L. Moore
Charles Saunders
Clark Ashton Smith

There are a handful of writers with styles similar to that of Sword and Sorcery, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, but their work tends more toward science fantasy or what has been called Sword and Planet. Also, there are a handful of writers who have written S&S stories or even novels, but they are better known for other works and not considered godfathers of the genre (so to speak).

I'm writing all this is to give a very basic background on Sword and Sorcery. The reason I'm doing this is to discuss the subgenre a bit further.

Specifically, I've been reading a good bit of S&S of late (and I've read it off and on throughout my life), and one of the S&S topics I fairly frequently see on Internet discussion boards is "the death of the genre" or something akin to "why aren't more of today's readers reading this stuff."

After thinking about this for a few weeks, I've come to a conclusion. Sword and Sorcery isn't dying. Readers are crying out for more S&S stories. The problem isn't with the readers. It's with the hardcore fans of this subgenre.

I can hear all the arguments now. Yes, I know, S&S can be difficult to find on the shelves of your local bookstore.

But that's not true. If you have a bookstore of any size, there's probably plenty of S&S, you (the hardcore fan) just don't recognize it as S&S.

Why do I say this? Because S&S has changed. It's not the same subgenre it was 80 years ago, or 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. This little subgenre of ours has moved on, while many of us fans have not.

Don't believe me? Then you need to check out the following authors: Steven Erikson, Glenn Cook and David Gemmell (though Dave is no longer with us, having passed away a couple of years back). While these novelists aren't entirely writing in the true S&S tradition, they are using S&S character-types and traits and tropes.

So, I'm now arguing that modern S&S is there. You just have to look for it and keep an open mind. Conan may no longer swinging his heavy blade, but characters like Erikson's Karsa Orlong are more than filling that role.

Besides, if you want the more traditional stuff, check out my links at the left. Rogue Blades Entertainment and Flashing Swords are just a couple of modern publishers who put out S&S, the more traditional stuff and the modern. And there's always Black Gate magazine, a fine publication that keeps S&S alive.

Oh, and for anyone who is interested, I don't consider myself an S&S writer. I sometimes write an S&S story, but when it comes to my fantasy material, I tend to mix things up a bit ... some S&S, some heroic fantasy, some epic fantasy, etc. To my way of thinking (and writing), I see no problem in mixing these subgenres. Heck, who knows? Maybe it'll eventually even become a new subgenre, mixing all the old ones together.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"I laughed at myself," he said.

After my recent gripings about the word "said," I had to laugh at myself recently while reading a couple of John Scalzi novels. I noticed this author used "said" quite often, not ranging into silly words (such as "stated" or "expounded," etc.), nor did he just do away with "said" in favor of action.

And it worked.

One school of thought is that "said" is a perfectly good word because the reader will sort of scan over it without really thinking about it. I'm guessing Scalzi is a member of this school of writing, though he might or might not even be conscious of it. Anyway, Scalzi is a pretty good writer, and it works for him to use "said" a lot.

I, myself, will probably continue to shun "said" for other forms of spreading my characters' dialogue, but I'll keep Scalzi's writing in mind. I could change my mind someday. Who knows?

No. 27 - Zoe's Tale

by John Scalzi

Started: September 22
Finished: September 27

Notes: I've just finished my first novel by this author, was quite impressed, so I wanted to try another book by him. This one should be most interesting because, if I understand the blurbs correctly, this novel contains the same story as the last book I read by Scalzi, "The Last Colony," but told from the point of view of the character Zoe. I can easily see how Zoe could have her own story, because she plays an integral part and goes off to do her own thing for a while.

Mini review: An excellent book. I feared this one might be a tad boring, since mostly it's a retelling of a book I had read before, but it turned out to give a fresh spin on the story from a different angle. Scalzi has definitely earned his place among today's fiction writers, and I predict even bigger and better things for him in the future. I will be reading more from him.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beretta 92FS


This 9 mm semi-automatic handgun is, without a doubt, the finest firearm I have ever owned. This piece of machinery is a genius in craftsmanship, durability, usability and so much more. I can fully understand why the U.S. military branches have come to favor this weapon for its sidearms, and many law enforcement offices, too.

This gun is big in the hands, but that's because it holds 15 rounds in the clip; but, I have pretty big hands, so that's not a problem for me. Others with smaller hands might find this weapon unwieldy ... maybe. Also, this firearm fitted into my hand perfectly, and had good grips on the side that helped it keep from slipping in sweaty hands.

Accuracy with this thing is top notch. In fact, it's a better gun than I am shooter, so I'm sure I never could put this thing to its full potential. Still, I loved shooting with this sidearm. Always hit my targets, usually with bullseye accuracy, and I don't consider myself any kind of expert shot, just a civilian who enjoys target shooting.

The cost for one of these new is pretty high, usually anywhere from $750 to $900 depending upon whatevers going on with the current gun market, but it's well worth it. Whether you use a handgun for just fun or for self defense (or, heaven forbid, a military operation) you couldn't do better than this 9 mm; if you can't afford one of these guns, but want a good semi-auto, I suggest just saving your money until you can afford it. It's worth it, believe me.

Since this weapon is only a 9 mm, there are some shooters who will grumble about the weakness of the round, which is roughly equivalent in power to a .38. I can't argue much with them about the power issue, but Beretta does make similar handguns in the .40, so that should help a little. However, the lighter recoil of the 9 mm does help with accuracy, and since I mostly shoot for enjoyment, power usually isn't my main concern (not that I wouldn't use a gun in self defense, but it's not my main reason for owning guns).

To end, this weapon is a sheer joy to own and shoot. Save your money and buy one. I expect you'll love it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

No. 26 - The Last Colony

by John Scalzi


Started: September 19
Finished: September 22

Notes: This writer has been pretty popular these last few years, especially with his military science fiction. I've read enough of his bloggings to have some respect for him already, but thought I'd actually get into one of his novels. Here goes.

Mini review: This was a great, fun read. I fully understand why this author is making it big. Most of this particular tale was more political and full of intrigue than straight out combat, but there was never a dull moment. A lot of this tale is told through dialogue, which reminded me a bit of the Ed McBain school of writing. I'll definitely read this author again. In fact, I'll do so right now.

Robert E. Howard quotes

Some of these are from short stories, but most are from personal letters writer Robert E. Howard sent to acquaintances. I've not identified exactly where the quotes came from out of sheer laziness. You can look up specifics elsewhere on the Web.

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing."

"Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph."

"I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."

"I think the real reason so many youngsters are clamoring for freedom of some vague sort, is because of unrest and dissatisfaction with present conditions; I don't believe this machine age gives full satisfaction in a spiritual way, if the term may be allowed."

"Money and muscle, that’s what I want; to be able to do any damned thing I want and get away with it. Money won’t do that altogether, because if a man is a weakling, all the money in the world won’t enable him to soak an enemy himself; on the other hand, unless he has money he may not be able to get away with it."

"Come, my friend, let us cuss things in general."

"Hell, the world isn’t worth reforming or even aiding as I can see. Men are swine and most women are fools"

Monday, September 15, 2008

No. 25 - The Dying Earth

by Jack Vance

Started: September 14
Finished: September 19

Notes: Yet another fantasy book I've been meaning to get to for a while, specifically because the magic system in this one has gone down in gaming history as the source for the original Dungeons and Dragons games' magic system.

Mini review: Not bad. Sort of light science fantasy, reminding me a little of Lord Dunsany and Andre Norton's writings. Not hardcore, but there's enough action and mystery to keep things going. I'd read this author again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New story available

My short story "A Dragon's Tale" can now be found right here. Check it out, and tell me what you think.

Thanks!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Story to appear in anthology

My dark Appalachian short story "The Death of Lester Williams" is coming out in November this year in trade paperback in "Deadlines: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction." The anthology is being published by Comet Press, the print division of the webzine Crimson Highway.

My Dragon story published soon

My short story, "A Dragon's Tale," has been accepted and is supposed to come out soon at the webzine Aphelion.

As I've said elsewhere, I'm quite proud of this story. It's one of the oldest, if not the oldest, story I've written that I've still been trying to sell. This tale is about 15 years old, but I've always felt it would find a home. Now it has.

No. 24 - Bran Mak Morn

by Robert E. Howard

Started: September 7
Finished: September 14

Notes: Okay, so I'm back to Sword and Sorcery stories again. This is a collection of short stories about the Pict charecter Bran Mak Morn written by the grandfather of S&S writing, who also happens to be the creator of Conan the Barbarian (and if all you know of Conan is the movies or TV show, then you don't know Conan).

Mini review: Man, I'd forgotten just how well ole Howard could write. Really, some of the short stories here really blew me away. One tale even included Bran Mak Morn, Cormac Mac Art and Kull (all three Howard S&S characters). The only thing that would have made that tale more interesting would have been if Conan or Soloman Kane had showed up! Always worth reading. Robert E. Howard is a god among writers.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"My current pet peeve," he said.

I've decided I hate the word "said."

Early in my writing career, the idea of writing dialogue bothered me. There was so much advice, and it was difficult to know who to trust. Some authors and writing gurus suggested never, ever using the word "said" because it's boring. Other idjits said to only use the word "said" because anything else looks silly.

I've come to the conclusion that both are right, in a way.

Yes, readers don't want line after line of dialogue that reads like this ...

"I love you," Jane said.
"I know," Jim said.
"No, I really mean it," Jane said.

But readers also don't want something like this ...

"I love you!" Jane exclaimed.
"Do you?" Jim questioned.
"Not really," Jane lied.

Get the idea. And here's another that pretty annoying ...

"I love you," Jane said exasperatedly.
"I don't believe you," Jim said sarcastically.
"You hurt me," Jane said tearfully.

See those -ly words at the end. Those are adverbs. They also happen to be annoying. Adverbs can be used well, but usually in limited use. Generally, kill your adverbs, and a lot of your adjectives too. If you don't know what an adverb or an adjective is ... well, not to be harsh, but you probably shouldn't even be trying to be a writer. At least not until you've studied some more.

But back to hating "said."

After 20 years of writing, I've decided that all the gurus out there can go shove off. The best way to write well is to read well, to pay attention to what authors you like are doing in their text.

When I do that, I don't see the word "said" a whole lot, though I do see it some. I definitely don't see hardly any of those silly adverbs in goofy places.

What I do see is action, action, action.

Example ...

"I love you!" Jane darted across the room and grabbed him by the shoulders.
"I know," Jim said, bringing his lips up to hers.
After the kiss, she leaned away from him, staring into his dark eyes. "I always knew it would be this way."

Okay, so that's not great writing. Sue me. It's not like you're paying me for this blog. But I think you get the idea. Writing the action in with the dialogue works. It might not work well if you did nothing but that (as I did above), but mixing things up a bit never hurts.

I'll keep on using "said," but now I hate it. Which means I won't be using it nearly as much. Which I think will make my writing stronger.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What time and age are you?

Which time and place do you belong in?

Paleolithic Ages

You belong at the dawn of man, you are strong and innovative, and love the outdoors (Possibly enjoy spelunking as well)

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.

No. 23 - Swords Against Darkness III

edited by Andrew J. Offutt

Started: August 31
Finished: September 7

Notes: I was delighted to find this 1978 collection of Sword and Sorcery stories recently. The editor is quite probably my favorite S&S author, and I'm familiar with a good number of the writers who have short stories in this one. This should be a fun read. Another great thing about this book is it contain's Poul Anderson's article on S&S writing, "On Thud and Blunder," a great read any aspiring fantasy author should look at.

Mini review: This was a fun read! In fact, this might be the most fun reading I've had all year. Sword and Sorcery tales from the 1970s and early '80s are often my favorite because there is often a non-serious side to them; I don't mean by this that the stories or characters themselves are comical (though sometimes they are) but that the heroes tend not to take themselves quite so serious as in earlier S&S tales and even the more modern stories. There's almost a feeling of comedy, but not quite, and there's definitely a sense that one's own life is worth giving up for the paltriest of purposes when the time is right. I don't know. It's hard to explain. Still, I loved this book. I'll have to find me some more Sword and Sorcery stories!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Book store fire news worsens

The fire that slammed Book World in Chillicothe, Ohio, was possibly arson. After the blaze was put out, one of the owners or managers found the cash register and it had been broken into and emptied. So, the thinking goes that some idiot broke into the place, busted up and cleaned out the register, then either intentionally or accidentally started the fire.

The fire that destroyed at least 10,000 books.

That's right. 10,000 books.

Now, you might be thinking ... "this is just a used book store. It was probably full of junk." But this is not true. Book World did have plenty of used books, but they also had new books. And either way you cut it, 10,000 books is a huge loss. How many favorite novels, forgotten treasures or just downright entertaining reads were destroyed? Thousands.

I curse the name and spit on the grave of the idiot who caused this fire.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Book store fire has got me thinking

Book World, an independent bookstore in the small town of Chillicothe, Ohio, has been damaged by fire, possibly quite extensively. I only know this because I used to work in Chillicothe, for seven years, and I keep up with the local news there through the town's newspaper's Web site.

Check out that Web site for the most recent story on the fire.

As a writer, this bothers me. I haven't been to Book World in nearly a decade, but when I lived in Chillicothe it was the only real bookstore in town. The only other places to buy books (that I remember) were K-Mart, Wal-Mart and a couple of comic book shops. Book World had new books, but they also had a pretty good selection of used books.

Small towns need their bookstores. Often it is the only way for local readers to peruse and/or purchase new books, and sometimes even older books. It's also a great way for writers to spread their audience.

All too often, because of sheer numbers and marketing, writers and publishers (and all other businesses, for that matter) focus only on urban areas; that's where the most people are, that's where the readers are, so that's where the money must be.

But across the great big country that is the United States, there are thousands upon thousands of small towns with bookstores. Maybe we need to be paying more attention to them, not only for monetary reasons, but to help spread the joys of reading.

There was a time not so long ago, maybe forty years, when reading was available to all, but in the last half century reading has gotten a reputation as being a sort of snobby passtime, as if it's above or beyond the average jane or joe. There was a time when blue-collar workers carried around a beat-up paperback in their back pocket, but that doesn't seem to be the case today (for a variety of reasons, including the rise of electronic forms of entertainment and the fact your average paperback today costs a bundle of money when it used to be less than a dollar). Steinbeck, Hemingway and O'Henry weren't necessarily writing for the intelligentsia, and neither were Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber and Andrew Offutt.

I say it's time to change this way of thinking. Reading isn't something for just one type of person, or one so-called class of people. Reading can open doors and bring entertainment to all. If I think about it, I'm a white-collar worker, but I've worked blue-collar and red-necked jobs long ago and that's my early background.

Let's give reading back to the every-day person.

And I can think of one way to help, just a little. Keep abreast of what's going on with Book World through the Chillicothe Gazette site, or elsewhere on the Web. When this small-town bookstore begins rebuilding, and they will, maybe mail them a package of used books. Find a handful of old paperbacks you no longer need, and find out where to mail them.

Being a business, maybe Book World won't want or need our books. But I'm guessing they will need all the help they can get. Insurance money only goes so far.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Getting back in the saddle

I got back to work on my trilogy today, the first time in nearly a year (according to my computer files) that I have done serious work on the project. No, I haven't been lazy. The first book has been under consideration at a handful of places, as now too is the second book, while I've been writing short stories and dealing with life in general.

But now, today, I delved back into the third book of the trilogy. I've a handful of chapters that need some tweaking and a few scenes I want to add to help clarify a few things.

Most importantly, though, was I had a lot of fun. Yep, it was good times getting back into my fantasy world. I've at least a week or two's worth of work yet to do on the trilogy, then, hopefully, it will be finished (outside of any editor's wanted changes, of course).

I've been feeling the need to get back to writing a novel, and I'm moving toward that again. I've a few smaller projects to finish first, as I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, but then I'm getting back to novel writing.

I think the next novel is going to be mainstream, not speculative at all, and will stand alone, without being part of a trilogy. I'm not set on this yet, but there's a novel I've been wanting to write for my father, and I think it's time I get to work on it. He's no longer young, and I want him to experience this novel before he might pass on some day or his health turns bad and precludes him from reading.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sharp pointy things

If you are interested in weaponry, specifically bladed weaponry and unusual bladed weaponry, check out this blog:

The Realm of the Dark Blade

The author of this blog does a pretty good job of telling you what would work, what won't and what's complete garbage. And, regardless of whether a particular bladed weapon is practical or not, there are plenty of pictures of some cool looking knives, swords, etc. One of the things I like best about the blog is that it focuses upon the reality of bladed-weapon use, not video games or movies or fiction of any sort. One of my pet peeves in fantasy fiction is swords, and to some extent sword fighters, who manage to do the impossible or implausible, especially multiple times; I give some leeway for magical blades, and magical fighters, but sometimes things get ridiculous.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

No. 22 - Alexander of Macedon

by Harold Lamb

Started: August 23
Finished: August 31

Notes: This is a historical novel first published in 1946 by an author who comes highly praised in some fantastic fiction circles. I've read one or two of Lamb's shorter pieces, but never one of his novels. Here goes.

Mini review: Quite enjoyably, this turned out to be more partially-fictionalized biography than historical novel (if you don't realize the difference, that's fine, because I do). This was an informative read, despite my already being fairly knowledgable of the time period, and there's enough action to keep the interest level high. The author keeps his focus on the charecter of Alexander, and Alexander's possible goals, and doesn't focus so much on the many cultures Alexander ran into. I always enjoy books that give me a new way of looking at something, and this book did it for me; I came away with more of an appreciation of Alexander the Great as an explorer, and not just as a conquering figure, which is how he is usually portrayed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No. 21 - Sorceress of the Witch World

by Andre Norton

Started: August 19
Finished: August 23

Notes: Continuing my delving back into the fantasy genre, I figured it was time I got around to this series and this author, both of which I've not read before. Plus, after the very long book I just finished, I thought it would be nice to get into something fairly short.

Mini review: An interesting story, one of a young witch who has lost her powers and goes on a journey to retrieve them once more, but I did not care much for the writing style. It was all telling and no showing. I can't say I'd jump at the chance to read more of Norton's works, but I also wouldn't completely shy away from it.

My schedule

This is for me, here at the top of my blog as a reminder. Anyone else reading this is more than welcome, but I want this online so I can't just set it aside so easily. Anyway, I've several writing projects going on right now, and I wanted to prioritize them.

Here goes:

1.) RoTB short story finished, edited and sent off
2.) Re-editing three chapters for third book in trilogy
3.) Editing Shannon's novel
4.) Starting the new novel

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Hah! That's not even including the dozen or so ideas for John Dee short stories I have at the moment, but I'm pushing them off to get this work done. Other than some rewriting and editing for my trilogy, I've been working on short stories for about a year now, and feel it's time to get back into a novel.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Quoting myself

After a really long, tedious day of dealing with idiots, shopping (which I hate) and spending hours and hours washing my damn car, I had planned to write a rather lengthy post on the worthlessness of humanity in general.

But, instead, I thought I'd keep it short and sweet.

So, I'm quoting myself. Something I said to someone today.

"Jesus wept. I write horror."

You figure it out.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Steven Erikson quotes

Well, since I've got a quotes label on this blog, figured I might as well use it. Here are a couple from a Steven Erikson "The Bonehunters" I'm reading ...

"When wealth extends to a point where the majority of the poor finally comprehend that it is, for each of them, unattainable, then all civility collapses, and anarchy prevails."

"A civilization at war chooses only the most obvious enemy, and often also the one perceived, at first, to be the most easily defeatable. But that enemy is not the true enemy, nor is it the gravest threat to that civilization. Thus, a civilization at war often chooses the wrong enemy."

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ruger Vaquero

I owned one of these Ruger revolvers in .357 magnum, making it a powerful shooting iron and fine for target practice when I switched to .38 ammo.

This was a pretty good gun. I won't say it's one of the best I ever had, but I enjoyed it. I was a decent shot with it, but the relatively short barrel (something a little less than five inches, if memory serves) didn't allow for much range, but you can't expect great range with most handguns anyway.

Overall, the quality of this weapon was pretty good, but I wouldn't quite call it top-notch, though it didn't strike me as chincy. It had a good weight and feel in my hands, and was fun to do handling tricks (like twirling the gun around by the trigger guard, but only when unloaded).

A lot of fun for Old West collectors and shooters. This single-action revolver is the only revolver I've ever owned that had the firing pin not attached directly to the hammer, instead, the firing pin floating on a small block of metal which was struck by the hammer; regardless, this did not cause any problems, though it struck me as something that might break off (though mine never did even after hundreds and hundreds of rounds being fired).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Glock 26

Okay, I might tick off a few firearms enthusiasts with this one, but ... I hate Glocks. Yes, I realize they are made well and they shoot pretty good (even in my hands), but I can't stand them for many, many reasons, a few of which I'll cover below.

The Glock 26 was my first Glock. It's a compact, 9mm semi-automatic handgun mainly meant for concealed carry. Despite its small size, it fit well into my big hands. And, as I said above, I could should well with it.

There. I have nothing else good to say about this gun. Or Glocks in general.

Glocks, especially the 26, felt good in my hands only when I was NOT firing it. The second I got off a round, my hand started hurting from the recoil, especially in the area where my thumb connects with the rest of my hand/wrist. I mean, it was a LOT of pain. I've never experienced anything like this with any other firearm, ever.

And multiple shots was out of the question. I tried several times, but by the fourth round I'd have to quit firing or scream in pain.

This is not a good gun for me, obviously. But, I'll admit, it's probably just me. Enough people rave about Glocks.

Another reason I don't like Glocks is the ejection lever is painful to me. Call me a wuss if you like, but when I'm firing and reloading a semi-auto handgun it should NOT hurt my hands.

Yet another reason I don't care for Glocks is the external safety on the trigger. I'm sorry, but that's no safety. I don't care what the company says, or how many tests have been done, that little piece of plastic built into the trigger is no safety. I don't, and never will, feel comfortable with the external safety mechanism on Glocks.

So there. I've griped enough about Glocks. But let me add again, they are well-made firearms and plenty of shooters like them, including many members of law enforcement. Glocks just aren't for me.

And let me add, this isn't a weapon I would want to have to depend upon in a deadly situation.