Thursday, December 31, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 44 -- Legends of the Dark Knight, #1

written by Dennis O'Neil

Started: Dec. 31
Finished: Dec. 31

Notes: As it's the last day of the year, I don't want to jump into a longer work just yet, so today I thought my reading material would be this comic book, originally published in 1989. I read it back then, and continued with the title for about 50 issues or so before I thought it lost it's original vision. At the time this comic was quite unique, taking a rather adult look at Batman, though that's old hat nowadays. Also, this particular issue was interesting in that it took a different approach to the events which gave birth to the Batman figure, offering something of a Native American myth and viewpoint.

Mini review: The story and art remain strong while Bruce Wayne is out in the hinterlands of northern Alaska, but once it journeyed to Gotham and he became Batman, it all felt a little silly and contrived. Maybe I'm just getting too old for Batman. Gosh, I hope not.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

At Nerdarchy.com: My gaming resolutions for 2016

My weekly article at Nerdarchy.com lists my 2016 resolutions as related to tabletop role playing games. The big gist is that I'll be looking to expanding my horizons by playing new games, unfamiliar roles, and with new players.

Books read in 2015: No. 43 -- The Night of the Long Knives

by Fritz Leiber

Started: Dec. 27
Finished: Dec. 30

Notes: I'd never heard of this novel from this famous sci-fi/fantasy author, so I grabbed it for free at Amazon when I discovered it. Apparently it is a post-apocalyptic novel and has nothing to do with the infamous events in German history that bear the same name as the title.

Mini review: Holy shit, that was a good book, the best I've read in a long while. And the weird thing is, when I stop and think about the story, none of it should work, but it does. It's kind of a Mad Max meets 1950s science fiction tale, but honestly, there's not that much action. There is a little action, but most of it is the main character's viewpoint thoughts or his talking with others. I realize that doesn't sound all that exciting, but I promise, here it works. And deep down, or maybe not so deep, this is a philosophical book with a moral, talking about murder and war and violence. I'm sorry I hadn't read this one years earlier. This might now be my all-time favorite work from Leiber.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 42 -- White Space: Episode 1

by Sean Platt and David Wright

Started: Dec. 24
Finished: Dec. 27

Notes: These authors have worked together before to publish episodic fiction, much like an ongoing television show. I've read some of their work before and enjoyed it, so I thought I'd give them another go.

Mini review: These guys definitely know how to write like it's for television, slowly building an intense plot until it reaches a solid cliff hanger. Here a tragic event in a small town seems to have some rather unusual, perhaps supernatural repercussions.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 41 -- Inspector Zhang Gets His Wish

by Stephen Leather

Started: Dec. 23
Finished: Dec. 23

Notes: Yet another thriller writer I've been meaning to check out.

Mini review: I can't say I found the writing particularly strong in this locked-room mystery set in Singapore, but the characters and tale did have a certain goofy charm that made up for a lot. Not bad.

Books read in 2015: No. 40 -- 1000 Yards

by Mark Dawson

Started: Dec. 20
Finished: Dec. 23

Notes: Here's another thriller author I've been meaning to check out.

Mini review: This tale of an MI5 agent sneaking into North Korea to assassinate a group of officials didn't resonate with me, but that's okay as not every book is for everybody. The writing was decent enough, but I never grew to care for any of the characters, nor did I ever feel a real sense of tension, more of a feeling of a guy just going through his daily job.

At Nerdarchy.com: 'Twas the Night Before Gaming

This week over at Nerdarchy.com, I get a little silly with the holiday spirit and post "A Visit from St. Cuthbert," my D&D version of "A Visit from St. Nick." FYI: Cuthbert is a god in the D&D World of Greyhawk setting, as well as actually having been a saint in our real world.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 39 -- Jet

by Russell Blake

Started: Dec. 13
Finished: Dec. 20

Notes: For the last few years this indie thriller author has been tearing up the Amazon sales ranks, the New York Times charts, and all kinds of bestseller lists. This is the first book in his series about a Mossad agent who fakes her own death to escape her former life. Sounds interesting enough to me.

Mini review: The Jet character is quite intriguing, even more so in the end than the beginning, and the writing here is solid, but most of the side characters felt generic to me and little here ever felt real, more like I was in on a joke with the author while we were watching a spy movie together. If that made sense. Still, not bad and it did entertain.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

At Nerdarchy.com: 2015 gift guide for gamers

Okay, maybe not a full gift guide, but this week's Nerdarchy article does offer up 5 suggestions of gifts for tabletop gamers this holiday season. Chocolate dice, anyone?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 38 -- Thread of Hope

by Jeff Shelby

Started: Dec. 8
Finished: Dec. 12

Notes: I've heard good things about this thriller author, so I thought I'd check out his work.

Mini review: A cop's young daughter goes missing, and years later he's a private investigator returning to his old stomping grounds to help a pal in trouble. From there opens up some old wounds and some old friendships, as well as the seedy side of a wealthier section of the San Diego area. All in all, I have to say this was a damn fine read, almost too clean, reminding me a bit of a young Dean Koontz, back before all of Koontz's books started reading the same. I'll have to look into more from this author.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

At Nerdarchy.com: Precision dice from Gamescience

Among serious war gamers, board gamers, and tabletop role players, the subject of dice is often a weighty issue. Sometimes literally weighty. But over the years one company has consistently put out not only great dice for gamers, but precision dice, the type of dice used professionally by casinos. That company is Gamescience, and this week at Nerdarchy I interview the man behind the dice, Louis Zocchi.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 37 -- There's Snow Time Like Cookie Time!

by Suzanne Heins and Andrew Blackburn
Illustrated by Mike Esberg

Started: Dec. 8
Finished: Dec. 8

Notes: I'm not much of a reader of children's books, but this one has personal significance for me. For the last 12 years, Hallmark each Christmas has released a plush singing snowman (about 12 inches tall) with a short children's book. While she was living, my wife collected all of these snowmen, though she didn't have all the books. After her passing, I have continued the tradition. This book is the one for 2015, and below you can see and hear the accompanying snowman.

Mini review: I'm also not much of a cutesy kind of person, not normally, but I have to say this was definitely a cute tale of a snowman and his family and a little situation they find themselves in concerning holiday cookies. Young kids should like this one.


Books read in 2015: No. 36 -- The Case of the Demure Defendant

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Started: Dec. 4
Finished: Dec. 8

Notes: Having just finished reading my first Perry Mason novel with mixed feelings, I now give the author another shot at winning me over.

Mini review: Not as bad as the earlier Perry Mason novel I read, but it's still quite clunky. These books shine their best once the criminal trial begins, but the stories leading up to the trial are often rubbish. Also, this one was one of the most complicated mystery novels I've ever read, but not necessarily in a good way. It's impossible for the reader to work out who the true villain happens to be because there is always information that's not provided until the ending when someone usually confesses. Kind of glad I read a couple of these novels as I always like to study different writers, but I doubt I'll be returning here anytime soon.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 35 -- The Case of The Foot-loose Doll

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Started: Nov. 29
Finished: Dec. 4

Notes: I've a couple of these Perry Mason paperbacks left behind by my late dad, who wasn't a big reader of fiction, though when he did dip into fiction it was usually detective related. As I've never read any works from this author, this should be a new experience for me.

Mini review: I felt an extreme dislike for the first half of this novel. The writing was so amateur, I had to wonder how this series and the Perry Mason character had ever become so popular. "Repetitive" is the word I used to describe the first half of the book. In one chapter and character will discuss actions he is going to take, then in the next chapter he will take those actions, and finally in another chapter he will go into excruciating detail about the actions he has taken. And this happened more than once. However, the second half of this book was an actual pleasure to read, the portion of the novel which included the courtroom scenes. So, I guess I now see the appeal, though I can't say this author is someone I want to read religiously. That being said, I do have one more of these novels, and I will now turn to it in order to give the author another shot at winning me over.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

At Nerdarchy.com: Music for your tabletop role playing games

This week over at Nerdarchy.com, I list some of my favorite soundtracks I've used over the years during role playing game sessions. Ennio Morricone and Basil Poledouris are some favorites, but there are others.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 34 -- Fuzz

by Ed McBain

Started: Nov. 25
Finished: Nov. 29

Notes: As the year winds down, I realize I've not read an 87th Precinct novel since January, so it's time to rectify that. This one is from 1968, and it seems the Deaf Man will be returning as the villain.

Mini review: Yes, the Deaf Man makes an appearance, trying to extort thousands from the city before carrying out the murder of local officials. And as is usually the case, there are other crimes which take up the time of the 87th gang. Unusually, however, all the crimes in this one run smack into one another near the end of the tale. I wouldn't say this is one of the best 87th books, as it felt a bit generic in places, but it did have a fine ending to it. Also, this is the first time I've read an 87th novel in digital format, and I don't believe I'll do so again; McBain's 87th books have a certain cadence to them, and I didn't feel it worked as well in digital as it does in print.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

At Nerdarchy.com: Giving Thanks

Since it is Thanksgiving this week, my Nerdarchy article offers thanks for those in the role-playing community who have been friends or influenced me over the years. I'm sure I missed some people, so if you think you're one of them, I beg pardon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 33 -- How to Launch a Christian Best-Seller Book

by Lorilyn Roberts

Started: Nov. 21
Finished: Nov. 25

Notes: I've no plans to take up writing Christian fiction, but if I were ever to turn near such a direction, it would likely be in the non-fiction field, possibly apologetics. However, I figure it never hurts to get marketing advice from all quarters, and I might learn a few new things.

Mini review: The gist here is basically networking, specifically through the John 3:16 Marketing Network for Christian writers. Other elements of marketing and success are covered, but the big emphasis is on the power of a networked group of writings working to help one another. Not sure I learned anything new here, but it never hurts to hear about positive points of view.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 32 -- Inherit the Wind

by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee

Started: Nov. 20
Finished: Nov. 21

Notes: I'm not much one for reading plays, but from time to time I do like to expand my horizons. So, here I turn to this McCarthy-era play concerning the 1925 Scopes Trial.

Mini review: The writing style is definitely dated, but the story is as relevant as ever. Hard to believe we're still arguing about this stuff after all these years. I'm not sure the pro-Darwin argument here is as strong today as it was when written, but it still makes sense.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 31 -- Crawl

by Edward Lorn

Started: Nov. 19
Finished: Nov. 19

Notes: Reading Stephen King always reminds me of Edward Lorn, and having recently read King, I now turn to Lorn. For me, it's a natural.

Mini review: As always, Lorn turns out a clean tale with little to no fat in it, one that keeps the veins pumping with excitement and offers a chilling ending. Budding horror writers could learn a lot here.

Books read in 2015: No. 30 -- Black House

by Stephen King and Peter Straub

Started: Oct. 30
Finished: Nov. 18

Notes: Still trying to catch up on my back log of King works, the handful which I've not read. This one is a sequel of sorts to The Talisman, also by this pair of authors.

Mini review: Not King's best, and I felt Straub's work here weakened King instead of helping. Predictable, reading like a primer for half a dozen other King novels, but that is likely because this is another one related to the Dark Tower. Still, as is often the case with King, the characters are likable, and when the writing works, it works, and it is still better than many an author out there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

At Nerdarchy: Playing against character types

This week my Nerdarchy article suggests playing across types for characters and classes. Basically, this means playing a fighter like a thief or playing a wizard like a fighter, etc. It might sound a little crazy, but it can be done with the proper planning, and it can breath some life into a game.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

At Nerdarchy: Has Chaotic Neutral gotten a bad rap?

My Nerdarchy article this week takes a look at the D&D Alignments system, specifically the Chaotic Neutral alignment.

If you don't understand alignments and Chaotic Neutral, now you know how gamers feel when you're talking sports.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 29 -- Demon's Night

by Guido Henkel

Started: Oct. 28
Finished: Oct. 30

Notes: With Halloween in a few days, I thought I'd turn to some darker material. I have not read this author before.

Mini review: A 19th Century private detective (of sorts) finds himself teaming up with a Chinese martial arts master to tackle a demon stalking the streets of London. Didn't this one star Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson? Just kidding. The writing here is pretty good, though it does show signs of inexperience. The story itself is interesting enough to keep me reading, and the ending is strong without being fully expected. Not bad.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

At Nerdarchy: Armored Instinct

This week over at Nerdarchy, I interview Andrew Dunn and Kyle Roberts, the founders of Armored Instinct, a new armored combat sports organization that plans to have its first bout next month.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 28 - The Medieval Longsword (Mastering the Art of Arms, Volume Two)

by Guy Windsor

Started: Oct. 20
Finished: Oct. 27

Notes: This book is apparently a more up-to-date training manual for the longsword than the one I read earlier this year from the author, with more historical research having been done. If you're wondering why this is a "volume 2," it's because the first volume focuses upon the dagger, a subject which I'm not ready to tackle at the moment.

Mini review: As with the Windsor book I had read earlier, the focus here is upon the Italian tradition, mainly from the 14th-15th Century fencing master Fiore. I've come to the conclusion that I might prefer to study the German longsword tradition, mainly because I'm thinking the Fiore tradition focuses more upon wrestling and holds than I would prefer. That being said, Fiore should definitely be studied by longsword fencers as he offers some unique moves, especially blows that might catch the unfamiliar off guard. My next studies will probably be in the German tradition, and from there I will decide which general school I will stick with.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 27 -- Devil's Lair

by David Wisehart

Started: Oct. 12
Finished: Oct. 20

Notes: It's time to get back to some fiction reading, so I thought I'd ease myself in with this historical novel that kicks off in 1349 A.D.

Mini review: Not a bad book. Not great, but not bad. There were a few signs of a lesser experienced writer, such as numerous passive sentences, but over all the writing was easy to read though still with a good vocabulary. Not an action-oriented novel, the intrigue helped with the flow of this tale about a group of adventurers (sort of) who follow Dante's footsteps on a quest into Hell itself. Those who are fans of Dante and Medieval history will likely find some things to like here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

At Nerdarchy: Duke University houses gaming collection

My Nerdarchy article for this week takes a brief look at the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Pulp Culture at Duke University. This collection has thousands of comic books, role playing games, card games, memorabilia, etc.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 26 -- Stray Bullets, Volume One: Innocence of Nihilism

by David Lapham

Started: Oct. 10
Finished: Oct. 12

Notes: Back in the '90s when indie comic books came into their own, I followed this one, Stray Bullets, for some little while. I remember it being a great noir story told across multiple timelines with some goofballness to it. Well, I ran across this collection of the first half dozen or so issues, and thought I'd check it out again, especially as I've been reading so much serious non-fiction of late and needed something of a break from it.

Mini review: Fine writing, but not quite as good as I remember, though I'm now looking at this tale with the eyes of a 40-something instead of a 20-something. The oddball aspects still worked for me, though sometimes I felt they streamed over into melodrama, sort of trying to be cool just for the sake of it. Also, whereas I had remembered these stories as flying along, now they seemed a bit slow to me; maybe that's because of my having read this before, or perhaps it shows my level of attention now in the Internet age. Still, over all, yeah, I could recommend this. Anyone wanting to get into some noir comics, this would be a great place to start, but be prepared for adult material.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 25 -- 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

by Eric H. Cline

Started: Oct. 2
Finished: Oct. 11

Notes: The author's proposed subject matter here is that early civilization collapsed in the 12th Century B.C. and this created a dark age that lasted at least a few hundreds years until Greek civilization rose in a form of renaissance, followed up by Carthage, Rome, etc. The author also seems to suggest this time in history has a lot of co-relations with our modern world. I find all this fascinating. I guess that's why I'm reading the book, and probably why I minored in ancient history in college.

Mini review: The author does a fine job of outlining multiple possible causes for a general collapse of Bronze Age civilization about 1177 B.C., but he concludes there is no real way of knowing (at least not yet) what caused this collapse, though he tends towards a mixture of reasons such as famine, internal strife, wars, mass population shifts, etc. He also brings up complexity theory and does a brief comparison of the modern world to that of the Bronze Age, and I have to admit there are more things familiar than I would have thought.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

At Nerdarchy: 1st AD&D video game from 1982

My Nerdarchy article this week looks all the way back at the year 1982 when the first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons video game was released for Mattel's Intellivision home gaming console.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 24 -- Waking Up

by Ted Dekker

Started: Oct. 2
Finished: Oct. 2

Notes: Subtitled "How I Found My Faith by Losing It," this short book is apparently the spiritual journey of bestselling thriller author Ted Dekker. It's not often you see a popular fiction writer talk about such subjects, at least not personally and in depth, so I thought I would look into it.

Mini review: Throughout this book the author kept asking, "Can you relate?" Unfortunately, my answer has to be, "No, I cannot." This isn't a bad thing. The writer and I are simply on different spiritual/emotional/mental paths, at least at this point in my life. Really this is a teaser e-book for a longer, more informative, book, but I feel no need to go there after reading this. Other readers might find something here that strikes upon them, and I wish them well.

Books read in 2015: No. 23 -- Man's Search for Meaning

by Viktor E. Frankl

Started: Sept. 28
Finished: Oct. 2

Notes: After the wife passed and I was going through her computer, I found a note to herself to read this book. To my knowledge she never had the opportunity, but I thought I would. The author is a psychiatrist who survived Nazi death camps, and here he apparently shares his experiences as well as his own philosophical theories. The wife being part Jewish, perhaps her own background drew her to this man's writings, or perhaps it was something else. Perhaps, in her dwindling months, she was looking for meaning to her life, as most of us do when confronting death. If she had asked, I could have given her some answers.

Mini review: A little more than half of this book are the author's accounts of his three years in concentration camps, and this is the most interesting part of the book, speckled here and there with some personal insights and opinions related to psychoanalysis. The later part of the book is a little drier and mainly an explanation of logotheraphy, a school of psychotherapy created by the author. In a lot of ways I found much to approve of in the author's philosophy and approach to psychoanalysis, especially how down to earth it was (which struck me as quite culturally Jewish), but I also saw some drawbacks in that it could be utilized in a simplistic fashion to give a patient "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" psychology, though I do not believe the author intends for this. I'll also add, yes, I found this book somewhat helpful in thinking about some things in my own life currently, though I didn't have a eureka moment or anything such. Anyone having existential difficulties might find this book a good place to start for working on their issues.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

At Nerdarchy.com: YouTube channels for Nerds

My article this week over at Nerdarchy takes a look at non-gaming related YouTube channels that could still be of interest to Dungeons & Dragons players and fans of other tabletop rpgs. Swords, martial arts, and humor make up the list. Enjoy!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 22 -- How to Know God

by Deepak Chopra

Started: Sept. 15
Finished: Sept. 28

Notes: This was a book left behind by my father, no doubt part of his eternal search for truth, a search not unlike my own though his was more desperate and even disturbing. I admit I'm highly skeptical of these New Agey, feel good spiritual books and their gurus, but since I'll read about anything, I thought I'd give it a chance. Besides, one can learn from just about anything, and as a writer I'm always willing to search for story ideas while stretching my boundaries.

Mini review: Truth be told, the first half of this book seemed like a mess, even juvenile. It reminded me of those COEXIST bumper stickers, like a form of spirituality created by an under grad student with good intentions in which all beliefs are equal and true, including atheism. I'm not promoting one version of faith over another here, but I've always felt uneasy about these can't-we-all-just-get-along versions of religion and spirituality, if for no other reason than they seem more wish fulfillment than anything. Also, after reading the first half of this book, I found it quite disheartening the number of supposedly intelligent people who gave great blurbs at the beginning of the book. However, the second half of the book is somewhat better, and I found it of interest when it worked to reconcile faith and science and when it focused a little on how to work spirituality into one's daily life. Still, even here I was somewhat frustrated. My biggest frustration is that the author never, not once, offers any evidence or real arguments for any of the beliefs he is suggesting or even pressing. Admittedly there is not (or can not be) any empirical evidence for what might lie within spirituality, but there are philosophical arguments that can be made, and the author ignores all of them. He offers a few anecdotes, personal and historical, but otherwise, nothing. We are just supposed to believe what he tells us based upon ... what? Intuition? The author's popularity? The fact he wrote a book? Also, though this book starts off mixing all forms of religion, it eventually comes down to a version of Hinduism (the author's native religion, if I understood correctly) with a touch of quantum science. Maybe the author is correct, but it seemed a little convenient to me that the spiritual guidance he offers is at heart based upon the system of religion he had been exposed to the most. I'll admit I myself am approaching this from a Western and Judeo-Christian point of view, so I have my own biases, etc., but still. All in all I felt this was mostly feel-good popular spirituality at best, the kind of thing that gets promoted on all the daytime talk shows, but I did not find it overly deep or insightful. The likes of Kant, Kierkegaard, and Hegel would have had a field day with this simplistic material, probably with a few laughs thrown in.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

At Nerdarchy.com: Wizards of the Coast closing forums

Wizards of the Coast has announced it will close its forums for Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, so this week my article over at Nerdarchy takes a look at alternatives.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

At Nerdarchy.com: The power of Amazon Prime

This week my Nerdarchy article takes a look at the Amazon Prime program and all it has to offer for only $99 a year, such as unlimited movie and music streaming, one free e-book a month, free shipping on many products, and more.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 21 -- Medieval Romances

edited by Roger Sherman Loomis and Laura Hibbard Loomis

Started: Aug. 13
Finished: Sept. 15

Notes: I've read some of the material here before, such as "Tristan and Isolt," or at least one version of such tales. However, being a fantasy writer, I think it a good idea for me to occasionally delve into early material related to the genre. Besides, though I consider myself fairly well read in ancient Western literature, I always feel as if I'm not well-enough familiar with Renaissance and Medieval literature. Also, I picked this one up at a used book store some years back for only a nickel, so you can't beat the price.

Mini review: Despite being originally written down during the Medieval period, translated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then edited and published in the 1950s, most of the text here reads pretty smoothly and pretty modern. Some stories are better than others, and most focus around the Knights of the Round Table. I'm glad to have read this. Anyone who wants to study Medieval literature without getting overly deep into the subject should find this a decent read.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lily pics to save





Lily

Early this morning my beagle Lily passed away after suffering a seizure. I am devastated. She was my baby. I might talk more about her eventually, but for now ... I just can't.


Nerdarchy article: Review of Revolution: Virtual Playspace

This week over at Nerdarchy, I review Revolution: Virtual Playspace, 3-D virtual tabletop software for all you role players out there. Below is a screen grab from Revolution.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Another Nerdarchy article: My favorite fantasy artist, Daniel R. Horne

Yep, it's Wednesday, which means I've another article over at the Nerdarchy site. This time I write a little about my favorite fantasy artist, Daniel R. Horne.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nerdarchy article: How gaming (and Nerdarchy) helped save me

Yep, it's my second article over at the Nerdarchy site. This time I get a little personal and talk about my last year, though I try not to get too somber.

Friday, August 21, 2015

If it seems like I've been slacking, well ...

Anyone observant will notice I've not published anything new since last December. That's far too long. But that doesn't mean I've not been writing. I have been. Just not a whole lot.

Sorry. Totally my fault.

But there is some new fiction available from me. Sort of. See below.

Also I have been busy.

For one thing, I've been doing some editing work for other writers. I'm currently finished with that and, honestly, glad of it. Editing drains far too much from me for me to want to do it all the time.

For another thing, I have been working a little here and there on the third novel in my Walking Gods Trilogy, titled "Whom the Gods Slay." I'm maybe half finished with it, and I hope to have it ready for publication in coming months.

I've also been writing articles for a local church bulletin, and recently I've submitted articles for the Nerdarchy site.

And then there's the new cover I've done for my literary horror novel, 100 Years of Blood. I've done several covers for this book, and I've not loved any of them. This latest is probably my favorite. We'll see how I like it in months to come. (As an aside, I always find it amusing readers come away thinking they have discovered the "secret" within this novel ... so far, no one has, though they think they have ... the novel is meant to play with readers' expectations, to make people think and not jump to conclusions).

Now about that new fiction


To tell the truth, it's not really new fiction. In fact, some of it's really, really old. Like some of the earliest fiction I've written, from 25 and more years ago. But a good chunk of it is fairly new, from the last few years.

Only it wasn't published under my name, but a pen name. I've scraped the pen name and decided to republish all this material under my own name.

Why?

Well, that's kind of hard to explain, though I suppose there are several reasons for it. First, I was beginning to feel like I was doing a disservice to my regular readers by not providing them access to all my works. And then there was the financial factor, because my own name sells better than any pen name I've used.

One reason I hesitated so long to make this switch is because the material published under my pen name has a vastly different style than my own. Admittedly some of the earliest short stories are probably not up to snuff, but even the more recent material will not read like my usual writing voice, the one I utilize for the majority of my novels. In other words, it won't sound like me, or it might sound like a different version of me. Some might even argue it reads like a lesser version of my "regular" writing, but I'd argue otherwise, that experimentation is the lifeblood of writing for me, and if all I'm expected to do is churn out the same old works over and over again, I can guarantee those works are going to gradually become weaker and weaker.

Anyway, what are these new-but-not-really books?

There's 20 Tales of Horror and Fantasy, a collection of some of the earliest stories I've written.

Then there's Guns 'n Money, originally a 5-part e-book series that was eventually collected into a single book. This series was my taking a stab at crime fiction in the mafia vein, but also an experimentation in style, fast writing with little background or other exposition, just characters with dialogue and action, action, action. Some won't like this style, but some seem to.

And then there's my 5-part e-book horror series Bible Camp. Eventually brought together in a collection, this is an homage (or "total ripoff," as some would call it) of 80s slasher horror movies, especially the Friday the 13th flicks. I'll admit the first part is definitely reminiscent of such films, but the rest of the series goes off into other territories, some familiar, some not so much. I'd like to think this series added a little something to this genre.

So, there's kind of new fiction from me, and kind of not. Anyone who checks out this material, I hope you find something to enjoy.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

For Tabletop RPG Gamers: Article at Nerdarchy site

As some of you probably know, this past year I've gotten back into tabletop and online role-playing games, specifically Dungeons & Dragons, though I've been playing lots of Deadlands of late (think Western with zombies, some magic and the occasional mechanical monstroid).

Anyway, as part of that, I've become a big fan of the Nerdarchy crew, especially their YouTube channel but also their website and other online outlets.

So how stoked was I when a while back one of the crew contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in writing for their main site? Uh, hell yeah!

I submitted three articles, and the first is now available. It's focused upon Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons and is titled, "The Warlock: Are You Playing it Right?"

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 20 -- Ulysses

by James Joyce

Started: May 2
Finished: Aug. 13

Notes: This novel might be the epitome of overly literary, long-winded, erudite, pedantic novels. Yet I've been meaning to read it for some time, as I have an appreciation for Joyce's sentence structure and some of his allusions (at least the ones I get ... and if you don't get them, don't feel bad about it because there are so many and most readers aren't going to get them all).

Mini review: It is difficult to describe this book. For one thing, it's not a novel, and least not by traditional standards. There isn't really a plot, though there are events that follow along a main character throughout a particular day in 1904 in Dublin, Ireland. However, the main character does not appear in every chapter, and often when he does, he is not the viewpoint character. This is a book about style, not storytelling, and each chapter focuses upon a different style of writing. There is a chapter written as a play script, a chapter without punctuation, multiple chapters written in the styles of other authors, etc. Not a book for most readers, but I can understand the genius of it when originally published in the early 20th Century; however, today it strikes as self-indulgent and downright snobbish, as in an oh-look-what-I-can-do fashion. Literary grad students and professors, and other with a strong literary bent, will be interested, but I have a hard time imagining anyone caring much for this material. If it sounds like I hated this book, let me state that that is not true, though I do see what I believe would be considered its failings for the modern reader. I did not exactly love this book, and for long stretches it drags on and on with impossible-to-understand situations, but I did enjoy the occasional humor and some of the more beautiful phrases, which were rare but are there. I'm glad I read it, but I can't imagine doing so again. Nearly all this material will be over the heads of the average reader, those not steeped deeply into history, philosophy, religion, and pre-20th Century literature, mainly because there are so many allusions and allegories. Each chapter here is meant to represent a chapter from Homer's Odyssey, but most readers will not pick up on this. And no, I'm not suggesting today's readers are stupid, but that this particular book was written for earlier audiences and the literary crowd, not your casual novel reader.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 19 -- Dream of the Sphere: Volume One of The Sphere Saga

by Jay S. Willis

Started: May 2
Finished: July 19

Notes: I don't make a habit of reading books in progress, especially from those not already established as authors, but I do make the occasional exception, especially when the book comes from someone whom I've read in the past and know they're a decent enough writer. That is the case here. Willis started as a gaming friend from back in my newspaper days, but I've read some of his fiction before and know he is a solid beginner who handles characterization quite well. This is the first book in a new trilogy which he's been working on, and I'm glad to get a shot at it.

Mini review: This is quite the unique story with strong characters and a fairly tight plot which revolves around a world where people occasionally vanish, supposedly taken off to join their gods in an afterlife. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say things aren't quite what they seem, and the story here goes into those details while setting up potential for other books in the series. There was still a roughness here, not bad writing but inexperienced writing, though Willis is growing stronger with each project he undertakes. It took me a good long while to read this one because I've also been reading other, long works, and because I was editing and offering pretty extensive notes while reading. I think it'll make a good book when it hits the market, though I don't know when that will be.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cold Steel Hand and a Half training sword

Having recently gotten back into longswording, I decided I needed a practice sword. Not yet sure I wanted to fully commit to this sport, I decided to go cheap in price. What I got for $30 was this hand and a half training sword from Cold Steel.

It's 44 inches long with a 34 inch "blade," in the area of the shorter longswords. The entire thing is made of black polypropylene, basically a hard plastic. It weighs about 2 pounds, which is about right for the lighter longswords. The balance point comes about 4 inches along the blade from the cross guard, which is more or less about right for a longsword.

I've enjoyed using this practice sword for drills. I wish the 10-inch handle was a couple of inches longer, but I've not had any problems with it or the sword, and besides, I've got pretty big hands. To add, I do like the shape of the handle quite a lot.

I've seen a number of negative reviews online concerning this practice weapon, and while I've understood from where the reviewers were coming, I also felt they were being rather harsh. You get what you pay for, after all, and a traditional, steel practice longsword can cost anywhere from $250 to $600 or more (I've got one coming in the mail, by the way).

The complaints usually point to the fact this sword is made of plastic, and that it is hard and has little give in the blade, meaning it is not necessarily the safest choice for sparring. Again, I understand, but personally I don't think of this as a sparring practice weapon, but one specifically for drills and the like, maybe slow practice fighting. Sure, I don't want to be hit by this sword because it would hurt, but I'd never use this sword for actual sparring, and I'd likely not face off against an opponent using one.

But that doesn't mean this is a bad practice sword, just that it shouldn't be used for sparring. For guard positions, movement, drills, etc., I found this Cold Steel training sword a fine tool.

The only reason I'm ordering a steel practice sword with a safety tip is for sparring, fencing. That doesn't mean I'll no longer use my Cold Steel sword. It simply means I'll use the Cold Steel sword for drills and the like at home, but in actual classroom situations or fencing, I'll use my other, steel practice sword.

Anyway, I like the Cold Steel training hand and a half for what it is. It's cheap, meaning it's good for beginners, but beginners who stick with fencing should be prepared to spend more money later on. They're eventually going to have to buy safety equipment, after all, and a sharp sword for cutting exercises, and that stuff's not cheap.

This might appear to be the flat of the blade, but it's actually seen from the side, which shows the width.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Beagle nicknames

As my beagle, Lily, just turned 16 a while back, I was reminded of all the different names and nicknames she has been called over the years. Probably only of interest to me, but I thought I'd list as many as I can recall. A word of warning, however, as not all of these are politically correct, though don't blame me as most of these weren't mine.

Lily
Lily Bean
Bean
Beanbug
Beanerbug
Beaglebug
Boogerbug
Booger
Lily Bean Junebug Johnston
Baby
Baby Girl
Good Girl
Pretty Girl
Pretty Girl in a Pretty World
Piggy Wigg
PeePee Pants
Monkeyhead
Monkeyhead Wilson
Helen Keller
Pain in My Butt
Pain in My Ass
Wobbly Girl
Wobbly Wobbly
Freakie Deakie
Freakshow
Freaktard
Tard Tard
Booful Baby Beagle Princess
Farty McFartfarts
Little Miss Wet Paws
Little Miss Poopsalot

If others come to mind, I'll add them.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Friday, May 01, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 18 -- The Art of Fencing, or The Use of the Small Sword

by Monsieur L'Abbat

translated by Andrew Mahon

Started: April 26
Finished: May 1

Notes: After recently reading one book on swording, I was in the mood to read another, though this book from 1734 concerns the small sword, a weapon with which I've no particular interest. Still, I figure fencing is fencing in a very broad, general fashion, and I might be able to learn a few things here not only to help my own drills, but perhaps even to help with my writing.

Mini review: This would not be a very productive book for the modern swordsman, but for the historian there can be found some interesting topics, especially in the last few chapters which are more general than mechanical (concerning fencing). An author wanting to study historical fencing masters could also learn a few things here, especially how such characters might have written and possibly spoken.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 17 -- The Swordsman's Companion

by Guy Windsor

Started: April 15
Finished: April 26

Notes: I am by no means an experienced swordsman, though I did have some little longsword and rapier training while in college back in the Stone Age. Back then we did not have HEMA or ARMA, though the SCA and Renaissance festivals were around. Recently while cleaning my collection of swords, I took out a bastard sword and went through a few of my drills for the first time in ever. I decided I was not only out of practice, but that I was also out of shape, and I thought it time I corrected both situations. To that end I purchased a waster, a practice sword, mainly because it is too dangerous to practice with the real thing and because it would be rather foolish and expensive of me if I should damage one of my swords. I also watched tons of YouTube videos on swording to kind of catch me up, and I purchased this book as a refresher and perhaps to learn a few new things. The author here appears to approach longswording from the Italian tradition, and my limited training was from the German point of view, but I don't think that will matter much (especially as it's been so long since I've had any training). Unfortunately, I cannot take part in sparring or drills with another person because of my health, mostly because of my heart implant, which could easily be damaged or even destroyed if it were struck (to the point of potentially being deadly to myself, at least according to my cardiologist). So, solo drills it will have to be. Now I'll get to reading and training, maybe even lose a few pounds.

Mini review: This is a good, solid book for beginners with the longsword. For those who can't attend classes or want to know some of what they'll be getting themselves into by joining a class on the subject, this book should be for you. Only the basics are covered here, but the author has other books which get into advanced longswording. Between the Italian and German schools of swording, I did not see major differences, though there were some; the biggest difference, obviously, was in the terms used, and a few of the guard positions. If you decide to read this book, I suggest getting the one that has the cover I've shown above as an earlier version is apparently out of date as knowledge of the old masters' works have grown over the years. Now if I can only keep up with my practice drills.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 16 -- Dungeon Master's Guide

by Wizards of the Coast

Started: April 10
Finished: April 15

Notes: Early on I didn't care for this new, fifth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game, but of late I've been doing a lot of online tabletop gaming, and I have to admit I've come to appreciate this version of the game. It does some things of which I'm not fond, but it also does a lot which I've found quite interesting and enjoyable within actual gameplay. Because of this, I've decided to go ahead and read the Dungeon Master's Guide for this edition. Traditionally this book is more than a rules book, but helps guide the Dungeon Master with the flow of the game, making him or her a storyteller of sorts. To this day I consider the original AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary Gygax to be a landmark piece of literature not only for tabletop RPG gaming, but for the fantasy genre in general. None of the versions of the DMG since then have quite had that impact, in my opinion, because they have been more game oriented, but we'll see how this one does.

Mini review: To be honest, most of the material here isn't necessary for the Dungeon Master as long as he or she is an experienced Dungeon Master. Someone new to the role of DM will find tons of interesting takes on the game here, with lots of potential, so much so that it might be overwhelming at first with all the variant rules, the open-ended-ness of some rules, etc. But you beginners, don't worry. The thing to keep in mind is that you are the DM and what you say goes, even including superseding the actual rules, if needs be. Always remember it's a game and everyone is there to have fun. As a DM, try to make if fun for everyone, all the players, but also yourself.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 15 -- The Book of the Dead

by Sir E.A. Wallis Budge

Started: April 8
Finished: April 10

Notes: Having just finished this author's The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, I thought I would go ahead and check out his text on the Egyptians' The Book of the Dead. The author had a chapter on this book in The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, but here he expands upon that. Basically, The Book of the Dead is a collection of rites and magic spells that are supposed to guide and help the soul in the afterlife. Another interesting thing is that the Egyptians never actually had a Book of the Dead, but what we call The Book of the Dead is really a collection of ancient Egyptian writings from across thousands of years.

Mini review: Roughly the last fourth of this book from 1920 is a repeat of information found in The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians. Still, the earlier chapters offered some insight into these ancient texts. Not necessary reading for those who have read The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, but it does expand a little on Egyptian beliefs concerning the afterlife, which were quite complex and did change from time to time during the thousands of years ancient Egypt was in power in one form or another.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 14 -- The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians

by Sir E.A. Wallis Budge

Started: March 23
Finished: April 8

Notes: For a long while I've been neglecting my readings of ancient history, so I thought I would try this 1914 publication from noted historian and member of the British Museum, Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, who spent much of his adult life traveling between Egypt, the Sudan, and Europe, all while penning numerous texts concerning Egyptology and other topics pertaining to the Far East. Obviously this text will be dated, but I read it not only for itself, but to see the ideas other generations had about the ancients.

Mini review: There's a little bit of everything here, from heroic stories, fairy tales, mythology, magic spells, poetry, funerary rites, and more. Admittedly not all of this is electrifying reading, but the author does a good job of paraphrasing in some cases, and he points out spots where the text remained in question due to a lack of translation; he also points out when part of a text had been lost or if in some of it the translation remained questionable (during his time, anyway, which means it's interesting to research now, a hundred years later, to find out if we've learned more ... and no, I won't be giving away free spoilers). Beyond any pure historical interests, I think this book and those like it should be important for other fantasy writers (and even Dungeon Masters). If you want some of your characters to have authentic-sounding rites and prayers and the like, this book gives solid examples of this from ancient times. You also can learn plenty of ancient names that could be used or reworked for characters.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 13 -- The Moon is Down

by John Steinbeck

Started: March 19
Finished: March 23

Notes: Probably been decades since I've read any Steinbeck, but that's a shame since I always found his writing quite enjoyable. Apparently this book about war became an underground hit within Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII.

Mini review: Like much of Steinbeck's work, this is a gentle story, but here it is also a polite one. A polite story of war and murder set within a village conquered by outsiders. Steinbeck wrote this to be a piece of propaganda for those trapped behind enemy lines, and I can understand it's popularity. A good tale. I wish I could write like this.