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.