June 29, 2009

Book Review: "When You Are Engulfed In Flames" by David Sedaris

Title: When You Are Engulfed In Flames
Author: David Sedaris
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company (Hachette Book Group)
Published: June 2008
Pages: 323
Genre: Non-Fiction; Humorous Essays
ISBN-10: 0-316-14347-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-316-14347-9

To have heard some harsh critics talk about David Sedaris, I—with my plentiful ignorance—thought him to be a pretentious prick passing himself off as a humorist. The east coast liberal elitist. You know, that old chestnut. This was years ago, before I ever heard the man read his work aloud or read it for myself. I know better now.

It's not that I used to hold any real disdain towards the guy. I merely adopted the opinions of talking heads I foolishly assumed knew what they were talking about. To hear them describe Sedaris' work, I figured there'd be little reward in reading it for myself. It's an old, dispicable habit of mine, which I've put an end to and rarely fall back on. It can creep back from time to time, when I form preconceptions on someone else's work before reading it—just ask me about Lauren Conrad or Joe the Plumber each writing a book ... allegedly.

My opinion of Sedaris' work is my own nowadays, and I must wholeheartedly disagree with those who claim he's devoid of literary talent. Sure, he might come off as a little prudish, but it's by his own admission through his writing, and it's not like he revels in it. He seems to chastise himself constantly for his bad habits and irritable attitude. A self-deprecating wit can do a lot to endear a person, as far as I'm concerned.

The collection of essays in this book have, for the most part, appeared in previous publications. But, since I don't read The New Yorker or GQ, then it was all fresh ground for me. Each on their own, these essays are more anecdotal and quaint than anything else. Together, they provide a portrait of a man I found myself inexplicably identifying with on more than one level. It seems he and I are both irked to no end by passersby who say the stupidest crap, yet we can't get enough. He also feels far more comfortable writing and being a fly on the wall than participating in a social setting like a dinner party or something similar—what the heck am I going to contribute this chat on foreign policy?

I didn't laugh uproariously while reading this book, but Sedaris' skill at weaving a story is clear and he knows just how to stack up the unfunny bits to create one very funny one. The favorites I took from this collection included "That's Amore," in which I got to know his old neighbor Helen and her unparalleled callousness and vulnerability, and "Crybaby" with Sedaris' admission and amusement with a fellow airline passenger's grieving, coupled with his own spontaneous fit of tears. That last one I had previously heard recited in a podcast from either Simon Says or the Guardian Book Club, and it's as funny now as it was a year ago.

For the loyal fans of the man, I doubt they felt like they were exploring a lot of new territory with this collection of previously published works, aside from Sedaris' journal from Japan on his quest to quit smoking, titled "The Smoking Section." For someone that hasn't read his work or even heard of the man, it is a wonderful glimpse into the life of a guy with as much neuroses as Woody Allen could ever dream of having. He's not all bad, though. He did manage to quit smoking.

June 26, 2009

Head Over to Mrs. Magoo Reads

Have you entered the giveaway contest to win one of three copies of M.E. Breen's Darkwood, courtesy of Mrs. Magoo Reads?

Well, you should. Time's a wasting, and she is going to announce a winner as soon as there are thirty entrants. So, get over there and visit her blog, read her reviews, and take a chance on winning a book.

I did.

Want to see the video review for Darkwood? Check it out below. You can also read Mrs. Magoo's review of the book by clicking HERE.

June 25, 2009

Writing Like Crazy in June '09

I finally got a response back from my second short-story submission. Rejected. It comes with the territory, but it's still disappointing. I like the story, and I think it's worth publishing, but so far I'm alone in that opinion. A problem comes from the fact that I'm the only one casting eyes on it before I send it to publications for consideration. Chances are entirely likely there's something in the story holding it back, and I just can't see it because I'm too involved. I think I'll put it up for an online critique with one of the message boards I'm registered with. Maybe I'll get a better handle on where the story is at, once I hear some varying opinions on it beyond, "It's just not what we're looking for at this time."

My Shadows of the Emerald City short story is nearing completion. Whether it fits in with what the editor wants for his anthology, that'll be up to him. I did enjoy writing an origin story (of sorts) for the Scarecrow, though.

I'm still only halfway through my first draft of "An Insurrection" for the Esquire Fiction Contest. Once I'm finished with "The Scarecrow," I'll have to focus in on this one and get it shipped out. And thank goodness for online submissions, I'd be beyond broke if I was paying postage for all of these submissions and entries.

June 23, 2009

Book Review: "Afraid" by Jack Kilborn

Title: Afraid
Author: Jack Kilborn
Publisher: Grand Centrall Publishing
Published: April 2009
Pages: 346
Genre: Horror
ISBN: 978-0-446-53593-9

I was starting to have my worries when I started to read the first few pages of this novel. A small Wisconsin town with only one road in or out sets the scene, but when an aging shariff is introduced, just weeks away from retirement, a little alarm went off in my head. A writer may as well throw in an Ensign Jones and a smart-mouthed cheerleader, as long as they're breaking out the cliche cannon fodder. But, Sheriff Streng turns out to be more than a generic smalltown sheriff, after all. In fact, as the pages went by, I started to like the guy quite a bit.

Safe Haven feels like a familiar kind of small town, since I've lived much of my life in a small town. Volunteer fire department, minimal police presence, and everybody knows everybody. The key difference is my smalltown has never had to contend with a group of vicious, homicidal maniacs before. Knock on wood.

A reader needs a character or two, in a story where everyone is in the proverbial cross-hairs, he/she can really root for. For me, it was Sheriff Streng and a little boy named Duncan. They're two of countless residents of Safe Haven, Wisconsin who are put through the ringer after a helicopter crashes just outside of town, unleashing a small band of sadistic and seemingly indestructible killers on the local population. Heck, the wildlife isn't even safe.

Early in the novel, I half-wondered if would be a by-the-numbers slasher story. It's deceptively taught, however, and I was sucked in within the first fifty pages. Not even the sentient monkey named Madison could throw me out of the story, though it was a curveball from the author, and the little critter makes a sizeable contribution to how the story unfolds. He's a welcome bit of brevity, though.

The nature of the terror was unexpected, as the reasoning behind why this town is suffering such an onslaught is not what I had expected at all. I won't delve into details, but I will say two of the villains, Santiago and Ajax, were especially effective with a kind of Of Mice and Men meets Jekyll and Hyde. Brief bits of back story were a welcome addition too, because there were moments while I reading I wondered just what in the heck made these killers tick.

Relentless: it's a one word summation of this novel that I think is apt. The story does not stop, it does not let up. There is a body count that's innumerable, and the twists and turns in the third act are rewarding. The backstory and origins of the bad guys are, at the same time, proposterous and plausible. Suspension of disbelief comes easily, or at least it did for me.

While I won't be ranking this tale of terror as one of my favorites, I was entertained, and consider it a great "first" outing for Kilborn in the genre. His next novel, Trapped, is due out early next year. I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

June 22, 2009

Wag The Blog #3: It's In Revelations, People!

Came across quite a few interesting articles and blog posts over the last couple of weeks. Everything from news that there is a movie in development based on Cassandra Clare's "Mortal Instruments" series, to an author's tale of nearly being arrested for researching a novel, all the way to raining tadpoles—yes, you read that right. Enjoy.

Jenny at Wonderous Reads posted about an article from SciFiWire concerning the news that Cassandra Clare's City of Bones could be a motion picture in the near future. I am optimistic about this. The book came off as very cinematic as I read it, and I think the story and vibe of the whole universe would translate well to film. The big questions, though, are: Who will direct? Who will star? And can it compete with Twilight?

Author, Ed Gorman, provoked me into adding yet another title to my wish list when he gave his thoughts on one of his favorite vampire novels. Live Girls sounds like the kind of story that would put just about every new vampire story to shame. I'm gonna have to see what else I can find out about this novel and it's author.

As an aspiring author, I make mistakes. And I make my fair share. Well, Suzette Sexton posted a great list over at Querty Tracker of mistakes writers make. It's a very good read, and I think I've committed each of these in some form or another in my drafts. It's originally from editor, Pat Holt, who has her own blog here. I'll be checking that blog out this week.

Speaking of writing, research can be a pain in the behind sometimes. I usually groan about it when there's something particularly obscure I'm trying to find, or something so regional that I really need to know where to look. But that's mild peevishness compared to nearly getting hauled off to jail. Tess Gerritsen posted a funny story, about her close call with the law, in an entry on Murderati.

Even more writing related stuff. Bella at A Bibkiophile's Bookshelf has a recurring blog category called Around The Web, which gives assorted anecdotes about authors and writing. The 20th one is one I especially liked because it showed what an accomplished author's—Jime Hines is his name—second draft looks like. It's not pristine, and it's not pretty. It looks inspiringly like my second drafts. It's always nice to see how the pros do it.

Ever heard of Neil Gaiman? Good, then I don't need to explain. In case you didn't know, he has a blog and it's magnificent. The latest jawdropper he shared comes from the northwest of America where some wingnuts sued for the rights to burn a library book because it offended their hyper-religious sensibilities. Ugh. There's also a link to the Guardian's take on it. I feel guilty if I get a coffee stain on a single page of a library book, and those neanderthals want to be able to burn them? Sometimes I hate people.

Curt Purcell, over at The Groovy Age of Horror, has a series of posts about "torture porn." You know the stuff. Movies like Hostel, Saw, and a dozen other copycats. I'm not a big fan of the subgenre, aside from Saw, but Curt isn't either and he takes the time to really explore it's merits and demerits. Whether you're a fan or not of that kind of horror, I'd say these posts are worth a read for a more thoughtful perspective on it.

Josh at Hunting Monsters just made me aware of radioactive wasps. Thanks, Josh. Like I wasn't paranoid enough about the world going to heck in a handbasket. Good lord. I think I need to build a bunker. But first, I'll have to read those three articles you linked to.

Io9 is a great site/blog with numerous articles that I find thought-provoking and, at times, mind-numbing. The latest one to snag my synapses was this post about Japan experiencing raining tadpoles. Tadpoles, along with small fish, have rained from the sky on more than one location in the country. Are you kucking fidding me?! I'd dimiss it as pure hoax if not for the fact that several blogs have been reporting about it, and now io9 points out the mainstream media like the Guardian have reported on the phenomena. That's some messed up mother nature, right there.

June 21, 2009

Has A Movie Spoiled A Book For You?

This occurred to me as I've had a chance to read a few books recently that have been adapted into movies. Dracula, Out of Sight, and No Country for Old Men being the three I refer to.

In each case, I've seen the movie before reading the book it was based on. In each case, I really liked the movie. Heck, let's say I loved the movies. It's possible I could have gotten around to reading these titles eventually—Dracula especially, since it's practically required reading for aspiring horror writers—but the movies really helped me look forward to opening the books.

But, what about those movies, adapted from books, which are just absolutely terrible. Movies so bad, you simply cannot imagine you could ever read the novel without envisioning the retched movie it inspired. The film has soured you utterly and entirely on the author's work. That ever happen to you?

I has for me. The Big Bounce is a film that springs to mind immediately. I'm a mark for Elmore Leonard movies and books. Sadly, however, I don't think I'll ever read the book that inspired what is possibly the worst movie to ever star Morgan Freeman. Speaking of which, I was tepid towards the movie, Dreamcatcher, so will likely never bother reading the Stephen King novel.

I suppose it doesn't even have to be limited to movies. Television is another great way to kill readership. I was never the target demographic for Gossip Girl, and it's just as well because the show is an abortion in expensive shoes. I'm told it's based on a series of books. Well, I can honestly say I will be sure to avoid those books from this day forward.

It's not a good stance to take, I'll admit. It's dismissive and just a tad ignorant on my part. I can live with that, though. And, it's not like it's a rule of law with me either, as I've seen some terrible trailers and movies, and am still open to the idea of reading the book that it's based on. I mean, the trailers I've seen for the first Twilight movie look horrendous—Holy Crap! That movie looks awful!—but I still want to read the novel and make up my mind on what it has to offer.

So, what about you? Ever seen a movie that's been such a disappointment that you've given up any inclination to read the book?

June 20, 2009

Book Review: "The Glory Bus" by Richard Laymon

Title: The Glory Bus (part of the Richard Laymon Collection Volume 18)
Author: Richard Laymon
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Published: 2005
Pages: 371
Genre: Horror
ISBN: 978-0-7553-3186-4

"Stephen King without a conscience," is how author Dan Marlowe describes Richard Laymon. And I'm not one to argue. This is the kind of horror novel that may well have you wondering just what the heck goes through Laymon's mind on any given day.

Pamela's just had her world burned to the ground, literally, as a psychotic secret crush has killed her husband, burned her home, and abducted her. Rodney is one sick son-of-a-gun, but he doesn't last long. It's the guy who saves Pamela, a guy named Sharpe, that may be an ever greater threat to her ... if that's even possible.

While hell in a desert plays out for Pamela, Norman has his own problems. In a parallel storyline, the college kid is driving his daddy's car through the same wasteland, heading home, when he ends up with an unwanted passenger named Duke while at a gas station. Norman's a docile young gent, but Duke's going to do just about all he can to change that. And Boots, a teen hitchhiker with a moral compass as askew as she can have, plays an integral role.

Through the first half of the novel, you find yourself questioning why we're being told Norman's story. There's no conceivable connection between him and Pamela. They're just two people having extraordinarily bad experiences. As the story continues it's runaway train progression, you realize these two are inevitably going to cross paths, and likely bring their cast of macabre supporting characters with them. The question you will keep asking is what the hell is going to happen when those two proverbial trains meet.

I'm not about to spoil any of that for you, but I'm willing to bet the climax won't resemble anything close to your early predictions. I could call this story gritty, debauched, and gruesome. But, I don't think that quite covers it. I think the best way to put it would be as Dan Marlowe put it: Stephen King without a conscience.

June 18, 2009

I'm Joining My First Reading Challenge

Lord help me, I didn't expect I'd be joining one of these things, but here I am.

I stumbled across this one through J. Kaye's Book Blog. She provides a link to Beth Fish Reads, which is holding a Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge. Those who sign up have about a year to read all of the "Sookie Stackhouse" novels, in time for the release of the newest one.

This is a series I've heard about, thanks in large part to the critical praise of True Blood. But, before seeing a series or a movie, I like to read the book. So, since I just reserved a copy of Dead Until Dark at my local library, I figure I may as well sign up for this little doodad.

June 17, 2009

Fave Five: Science-Fiction Novels ... So Far

More often than not, I love watching sci-fi movies. I've always been a fan of Star Trek, even though you will never ever catch me wearing a pair of Spock ears, nor keep an English-to-Klingon dictionary on my bookshelf. I believe there's something about the realm of sci-fi that taps into our childlike wonder about the universe around us. How can we not imagine what awaits us in the starry skies or in a future we can't yet see?

When it comes to science-fiction literature, however, I'm not nearly as familiar with the genre. I've long had an aversion to sci-fi books more than most other genres—chick lit and memoirs being the only two genres I can think of that I avoid with greater effort. A few I have read have been dull and bogged down with blather about the science, while ignoring what matters most ... the fiction. I have a healthy suspension of disbelief when I'm reading, so I don't need the characters in a story blathering on about how the bloody gadget works—it works, I get it. When I thought about it though, several novels I've read and enjoyed could arguably fall into the category of science-fiction.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson could qualify, as could Stephen King's Cell. Dean Koontz's Watchers is another tale of terror that deals heavily with some science-fiction elements. There's something interchangeable between sci-fi and horror. It may be humanity's fear of the unknown. What would you say?

In any event, I thought I would try to come up with five novels I've enjoyed that would qualify as sci-fi more than anything else. So, here it goes ...

#5: Man Plus by Frederick PohlA man is basically rebuilt into a pseudo-Martian in order to participate in a long-term mission on Mars. His personal life is in turmoil, however, and there's the threat of it sabotaging the work of everyone involved. I liked this novel, as it was suspenseful in spots and evocative in others. This was an obscure pick, as I found it in a bargain bin at a used-bookstore, but I'm glad I took a chance on it.

#4: The Free Lunch by Spider RobinsonI once saw Robinson on an episode of Idea City, where he discusses his work on Robert Heinlein's last, unfinished novel. The guy's a character, so I wanted to try out his work after reading Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. Free Lunch is tuned more towards the YA crowd, but the whole concept of running away to a futuristic, Disney-esque theme park appealed to me. It was a quick, fun read that had healthy doses of humor and action.

#3: Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyLike Dracula, I like this classic tale in spite of the way the story is told. I'm simply not a fan of the correspondence-letters-from-Hell approach to storytelling. And Frankenstein is even more convoluted thanks to hearing an explorer write home to his sister about Dr. Frankenstein talking about the monster he created droning on with his own tale. It was like a Russian nesting doll of narration. But, the whole story of Frankenstein's monster and how he torments Frankenstein for years is riveting.

#2: Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardIf this book qualifies as straight-up sci-fi, then it's the best I've read so far. A young boy is whisked off to a futuristic, military training camp for children, so he can become one of Earth's defenders against an impending alien assault. This was such a good exploration of a coming-of-age tale, I'd dare say it ought to be required reading for school kids. They wouldn't regret it, and they might forget about Harry Potter for a little while. Side-note: OSC's verbal reaming of J.K. Rowling for her efforts to thwart an unauthorized HP Index being published is near classic. Look for it.

#1: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyThis is one of my all-time favorite stories. I'm not a fan of the allegedly classic movie, though the ending was a nice touch. Maybe this novel counts more as "speculative" fiction than sci-fi, but it's in the same vein. Books are something we've given to the world which are uniquely ours. In the context of the universe, it's a pretty exclusive club we readers belong to. We're the only species that thought to immortalize our words—our language—for future generations. So, the thought of our greatest and most treasured pieces of literature being burned into oblivion is supremely frightening. If you ask anyone afraid of the digital age of books, they'll probably tell you the lack of a tangible, physical connection to the words is one of the factors that influences their emotions on the subject—it does with me, at any rate. Underneath it all, this story by Bradbury shows us that, no matter what, it is the stories that matter most, whatever medium they come in.

There are still more titles sitting on my shelf, which I think have the potential to end up on this list in the future. Probably the one sci-fi novel I'm most looking forward to reading some time is Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The movie was okay, but I have a feeling it didn't do the book justice, especially when you consider how much praise it's received over the years. Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is collecting dust on my shelf too.

There really aren't any science-fiction titles on my wish list, though. There's some that could be squeezed into the category, but they seem to be more closely associated with steampunk and young-adult (Stephanie Meyer's The Host and Scott Westerfield's Leviathan).

For any sci-fi geeks out there, what would you suggest as essential reading in the realm of sci-fi?

June 16, 2009

Book Contest Link: "Sweet Restraint"

I came across this contest thanks to Readaholic, which led me to Beth Kery's blog. It looks like an interesting book, and you can't deny that it's got a tantalizing cover. Check it out.

Book Review: "Odd Thomas" by Dean Koontz

Title: Odd Thomas
Author: Dean Koontz
Publisher: Bantam Dell (Random House)
Published: 2003
Pages: 302
Genre: Horror

Odd Thomas is a short order cook in sunny Arizona. He's dependable, friendly, and madly in love with his girlfriend, Stormy. Oh, and he can see ghosts. He's been able to see them ever since he was a kid, though he's kept it from most people because, well, it's just damned odd.

It's not all bad. The ghosts he sees are friendly enough, though tormented in some way that keeps them from moving on. Heck, even Elvis Presley is hanging around the town of Pico Mundo for some reason. And, the local sheriff sure appreciates a little clairvoyance in solving violent crimes, even though it can be a headache to keep it all from getting out in public.

But, there's a stranger in town who is attracting wraith-like creatures that seemingly feed on death--they're always around the people or places where the shit meets the fan. And the stranger is attracting more of them than Odd has ever seen in one place. Something bad is going to happen in Pico Mundo, and his only real clue is the date of August 15 ... and it's already August 14. So, Odd has less than twenty-four hours to figure out who the stranger is, what threat he poses, and how the heck he can stop it.

For me, Dean Koontz novels are hit-or-miss. I loved Watchers and thought Intensity was a great thrill ride, but Sole Survivor left me with a "meh" feeling at the end. Hey, nobody bats 1.000. I had a good feeling about this story though because a lot of people online and in-person put it over big time. They were right; this is a fine story.

There was a psuedo-surreal tone to the book that reminded me of the shows Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me. A dark undertone that was balanced with a hip, we-get-the-ridiculousness-of-this approach. And all the while, there is genuine suspense as Odd tries to save his town from a catastrophe he's not even sure will go down the way clues are leading him to think they will.

It's a bit like a detective mystery, bundled with a supernatural thriller, and a dash of satire. On paper, readers might see an ad for this book and turn their nose up at it, but it only takes a few pages to get sucked in. And with little more than three-hundred pages to tide you over, the action goes by quick.

Watchers remains my favorite Koontz novel, but I dare say this runs a close second.

June 15, 2009

Book Review: "Dirty Martini" by J.A. Konrath

Title: Dirty Martini (A Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels Novel)
Author: J.A. Konrath
Publisher: Hyperion
Published: 2007
Pages: 290

Genre: Detective Mystery

I'm not a huge fan of mystery novels, strictly as a genre. I enjoy a good mystery as much as the next guy, but I think I'm a little sour on the whole police procedural style thanks to being inundated by episodes of Law & Otder, CSI, and countless other crime dramas on television. Well, when a good story comes along I can at least maintain an interest long enough to see where it goes. I've wanted to sample a J.A. Konrath novel after reading his blog and one of his short stories in a 2005 edition of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine titled "The Agreement," so when I spotted this one at my local library I scooped it up.

It's the fourth book in a series, so I was hesitant of becoming lost in back story as I read, but Konrath spared me and focused the story on the present rather than focusing on a larger story arc. And what back story there was, involving Jack's mother, her partner Herb, or her boyfriend Latham, was balanced well, so I didn't feel lost as the characters interacted. Bonus points for helping a simpleton like me catch up with Jack's life story in the series so far.

Jack just got engaged to Latham, despite reservations of entering a second marriage in her forties. With this sudden change in her life, a domestic terrorist named the Chemist--a psycho with a penchant for lacing food with botulism and other toxins--arrives on the scene to twist the Chicago police force in knots, along with her personal life. A loved one ends up in the hospital as a victim of the Chemist's antics, her partner questions his ability to remain on Homicide, and--because Jack is a local celeb thanks to her heroic actions in the three previous novels--the Chemist takes a personal interest in her. Oh, and the father she thought died when she was a child might not be dead after all. No big deal.

Even though things become very hectic, and I was worried the story would get bogged down or overly convoluted, Konrath manages to make Jack seem ordinary and relatable during the extraordinary events unfolding--her father's alive?! I didn't even know he was dead, and that twist got me.

The story unfolds at a good clip, reading Jack's story in the first-person, and getting glimpses into the Chemist's demented delight through a third-person present-tense narrative. While I got a good sense of who Jack Daniels was, Konrath was charitable enough to branch out so the entire book wasn't through her eyes alone. Readers get a kind of shadowy over-the-shoulder look at how the Chemist does his dirty work.

The bottom line is that this was a good yarn, and has enough meat on the bone to make me want to read another novel in this series ... and, like I said, I'm not a big mystery fan. In the meantime, I am looking forward to reading his latest book, a horror novel titled Afraid under the pseudonym of Jack Kilborn. Plus, his novella Serial, which he collaborated on with Blake Crouch.

June 14, 2009

DVD Rental Reviews: Gran Turino, The Broken, Valkyrie

It's been a while since I have rented a movie—not a lot coming off the assembly line lately that's had me excited—so I checked out the shelves to see what I could see. I'm a small town boy, so beggars can't be choosers. The major new releases are usually in stock, though.

Valkyrie – Sometimes it can be hard to look at Tom Cruise and not envision him jumping on Oprah's couch, or pissing and moaning about psychiatry (or is it psychology Scientologists hate?). This movie had a brilliant, heavy-hitter cast, however, so I had no trouble just admiring the performances on the screen. I think I heard every accent in English imaginable through this movie ... except German. Go figure. The story was told nicely enough, and managed to keep some measure of tension even though any viewer with a vicarious hold on world history knew the assassination attempt failed. The movie was ultimately forgettable for me, I must admit, because I didn't feel any kind of emotional attachment to a single character. I should have given a damn about Cruise's character, or at least admired his efforts through the futility of the mission, but I didn't. I don't think people are missing out by avoiding this movie.

The Broken – Psychological thriller? Well, it was psychological, I'll give the makers of the movie that much. "Thriller" is not a word I would use for this movie, though. "Protracted" is a better word, in my estimation, as I couldn't wait for the big swerve to come around, which was telegraphed early on in the movie. I felt very little suspense, and every character came off as flat and uninspired. The most intriguing thing about the movie for me was trying to figure out if the lead actress is the same one who worked on The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I think so, but I don't care enough to Google it or check IMDB. If you liked this movie, good for you. Mirrors with Keifer Sutherland is a better movie (better than this anyway), so watch that.

Gran Turino – Very good movie. It's Clint Eastwood. Watching the trailers for this one, I thought it was like a Dirty Harry-meets-Grumpy-Old-Men. But, without the comedy. I was wrong—it was kind of funny in spots. The guy who played the priest was absolutely terrible, however, and I wanted to skip every scene he was in. Whoever that guy is does not have a future in movies ... though, if Shia LaBeouf can make it, anyone can. Aside from the red-headed scene-spoiler, everyone else in the cast did a good job. Two hours was a bit of a stretch in telling the story, but it worked towards the end as every loose string gets tied. I think there might even be a drinking game for this movie, as there were quite a few clich├ęd devices used through out the plot. Forgivable, though ... It's Clint Eastwood.

On my radar for future rentals: The Watchmen

Fox in the Penhouse

I have myself a solid first draft finished for my Shadows of the Emerald City short story. I wasn't sure if the initial concept for the story had legs when I first came up with it. But, as I started hammering out a rough synopsis, I liked it's potential. I still do. Revisions are needed, though. So far, so good on the second draft.

Whether the final product will be something suitable to the editor's tastes, that's another thing entirely, but I can't worry myself over such things. Writing is the key, and sitting around wondering if it will get published isn't productive.

Then there's the Esquire Fiction Short Story Contest. The deadline for that comes up around the same time as the Oz anthology, and I only have a vague synopsis so far. I've decided to go with the "An Insurrection" title for my story. I had an idea for "Twenty-Ten," but it didn't hold up when I tried a rough draft. The one thing I still don't particularly care for is the idea of turning over all rights to the story by simply submitting it. Maybe that's how it's done with some writing contests, but I would think that they'd only hold the rights to the stories that win. If it's not good enough for them to publish, why own it? Maybe I'm misreading the rules.

"Entries become the property of the Sponsor and will not be returned." - Esquire Fiction Contest Official Rules

I don't like the way that's worded. All submissions are electronic—looking at the contest rules—so why would I worry about whether it's returned or not?

Sounds a tad fishy to me, since I would like the option to submit the story elsewhere should it not win. I mean, just because it's not good enough to win the grand prize, I don't see why it couldn't be submitted for consideration elsewhere. Ah well, I'll simply have to be sure the story I submit is one I won't mind having my rights forfeited.

As for my attempts at a "second" novel—I feel self-conscious referring to it as that when the first hasn't even been submitted yet—the current story I have in mind will likely be put on the back burner. I don't know. I like the idea and all, and it's a story I would enjoy writing, but something about its potential appeal vexes me. Bah, I just like torturing myself. That, and the fact I have an abundance of ideas for novels I'd like to delve into. Maybe it's the fact that it's a stand-alone story, and I've been reading a whole lot of series books this year.

In any event, I have a chapter summary for it. I have the beginning in my head worked out like a movie, practically, but it's the ending where things get a little shaky. It's nothing a couple of brainstorming sessions can't work out. I've simply mapped out the story in a clumsy fashion, I think. I'm working from the beginning of the story, and going forward, but I also have the ending clearly envisioned, so I'm working my way back from that too. The trouble is making those two threads of story meet in the middle .. and make sense. Building a tunnel that way can work out if you plan ahead well enough, but there's always that chance at least one of the tunnels will veer off course and the two ends will never meet.

See, I told you I like torturing myself.

I'm dusting off my first novel too, to give it a re-read and prepare for the final touches on it. It'd be nice to get some feedback from my uncle, who has the hard copy, but he's a busy guy with a lot of work lately. Besides, anything he has to say on it that I can use, I can always incorporate later on. I just want to be able to have that thing in fighting shape this summer when I start querying—that will be a new experience in the writing process.

June 13, 2009

Wag the Blog #2: I'm Afraid of Jack Kilborn

I received my copy of Jack Kilborn's Afraid Friday afternoon. A big thanks to Thoughts of Joy, and Brianne of the Hachette Book Group, for the contest. I was fortunate enough to be one of five winners to receive a paperback edition of the novel. I am appreciating J.A. Konrath's work more and more, as I've had a chance to read one of his "Jack Daniels" mysteries, plus a couple of short stories under both pen names. I've read enough positive feedback for Afraid that I doubt I will be disappointed.
  • I'd also recommend folks check out Joy's blog for some quick reviews of books. She reads voraciously and doesn't draw out her words.

  • Shroud Magazine has a blog with some helpful reviews for horror fans. I came across it by way of Brian Keene's blog, and enjoyed getting some insight on two novels I'm interested in reading. There's Jeff Strand's Pressure and Bill Hussey's Through a Glass, Darkly.

  • Clarkesworld Magazine has an interesting article on their site: "Ten Fiction Editors Talk Shop". Jeremy I. C. Jones interviews editors of fiction magazines to give we authors a better glimpse at what they look for when reviewing submissions, why certain stories are rejected, and the state of the business as a whole. It's a good read if you're a writer looking to submit a short story or two ... or twenty.

  • Jessica Faust, over at Bookends, LLC, posted an article six months back or so about author questionnaires. There's actually a wellspring of articles on the blog by the literary agency for any writer, published or not, to help get a better handle on what an agent looks for from an author. Give it a look-see.

  • Another blog post from the past—only a month old this time—comes from Carolyn Kaufman at the Archetype Writer's Blog. "Telling Fresh Stories" gives some quick, helpful hints on how to approach your writing when you find yourself in a rut, unable to develop a character or story.

  • Sarah Rees Brennan's debut novel, The Demon's Lexicon, sounds promising. That's why I entered a giveaway contest at Ink and Paper for a chance to win it. If you've heard of this book too, and are looking forward to reading it, maybe you can pass the time until then by reading this blog postfrom September 2007—on Pub Rants. It's a dissection of Sarah's original query letter to agent, Kristin. Good stuff.

June 12, 2009

Chasing Tale: Cormac McCarty, Brian Keene

Since some authors are harder to find than needles in a haystack, as far as used-bookstores are concerned, I'm thankful my local library has a few titles worth looking into.

Last week, I managed to find J.A. Konrath's Dirty Martini--the fourth in the Jack Daniels mystery series--and a novel by John Farris called The Fury and the Terror. I'll be posting a review for one in the future.

This week, I have Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men reserved and should have it in my hands this weekend. I'm really looking forward to reading that one, since I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I hear there's almost zero physical description of the villain played by Javier Bardem (sp). Hmmm.

Next week, I hope to have Brian Keene's Ghost Walk. I keep hearing good things about the guy, so I'm looking forward to this title. It's been on my wish list for a couple of months now.

June 11, 2009

Book Contests Galore

If it's free, it's in my price range. So it's no surprise I have fallen in love with book contests. I've got that handy collection of links on the top right corner of this blog, and it's always being updated. This week, I'm angling for a slew of 'em. My chances are slim, but I've already won three books since getting into the swing of things. That's not bad.

Today, I found a contest for a copy of Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire. I haven't even read The Hunger Games yet, but I will. You can find the contest too over at Confessions of a Wandering Heart. The contest ends June 30th.

There's also a contest right now for a signed ARC of Kelley Armstrong's The Awakening. I keep hearing good things about her books, but I've only seen one on shelves, which was the fourth in the werewolf series. I like to start a series from the start, but I'm not too fussy in that department. This contest is being conducted by The Brain Lair, and goes until June 17th.

Knopf Publishers is holding a contest for a copy of Stiegg Larson's The Girl Who Played With Fire. All you need to do is follow that link and subscribe to their Crimes and Misdemeanors newsletter. Contest ends June 30th.

Stephanie Meyer fanatics may be interested to know of another contest surround The Host over at Travels of the Bookworm. Fair warning: there's a question and answer stipulation. Contest ends June 15th. [UPDATE: Due to some extenuating circumstances, Marci the blog and contest host, has had to cancel the contest, and won't be holding any more in the future.]

Want manly books? Bookin' with Bingo has them, and you could win one of four very manly titles. The contest ends June 17th.

There isn't much time left--only a day or so--in The Infinite Shelf's contest for a copy of Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark. Hurry if you want in.

Graeme's Fantasy Book Review currently has a contest for a copy of Brian Keen's Urban Gothic. I haven't sampled Keene's work yet, so I'm going for it. Contest ends June 14th

Looking to win an ARC copy of Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver? Then head over to Angieville and let her know what book you've read lately that gave you a shiver up your spine. Contest ends June 14th.

Fantasy Debut has a contest going on, where three winners will receive a copy of Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man. Contest ends in one week.

And, finally, check out Ink and Paper for a chance to win The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. You have until June 15th to enter. Thankfully, she let me know my original entry didn't qualify because the write-up didn't meet the 50-word minimum (about why I want the book).

Book Review: "Out of Sight" by Elmore Leonard

Title: Out of Sight
Author: Elmore Leonard
Publisher: Dell (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group)
Published: 1997, paperback; 1996, original
Pages: 341
Genre: Crime

I have been a fan of Elmore Leonard's work for many years, and by that I mean I have enjoyed many of the movies adapted from his novels. It wasn't until this decade when I started to read novels of his not adapted to film that I realized it wasn't so much the movies, but the stories I loved. The man knows how to spin a yarn.

Out of Sight is my favorite among all the films adapted from his work, and stars George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, and other notable actors. So, I figured it was about time I sat down and read the novel that inspired a damned good flick. And, I'm glad I did.

In the novel, Jack Foley is a middle-aged bank robber stuck in a federal prison--yet again. Karen Sisco is gorgeous and gritty … and a federal marshall visiting the same Florida prison where Jack is imprisoned, on the same night he makes his daring escape. Despite her attempt to thwart his escape, Karen ends up locked in the trunk with Jack in the back of Buddy's--his best friend--getaway car. It's in the cramped dark where their fascination with each other begins, as does Karen's pursuit of Jack and every criminal he's associated with outside.

If there's one thing to admire in a Leonard novel, it's the dialogue. Writers and critics alike praise the man's ability to tell a tale nearly entirely through the conversations his characters have. I'm inclined to agree. Despite minimal descriptions of each character's physical appearance, it's pretty easy to visualize each of them. Things play out in an almost casual fashion despite a manhunt takes place throughout the book for Foley and the others who escaped the prison.

Foley's old habits die hard, and he is most certainly not a reformed man. He is, however, a charismatic guy with a firm sense on reality ... even though he comes close on more than one occasion to sabotaging his own freedom by risking a second encounter with the beautiful Karen Sisco. Sisco, herself, has her own fascination with Foley and wonders just what chance they might have if they'd met under different circumstances.

It's a bit of a romance, a bit of a caper, and a whole lot of fun to read. Leonard knows the lingo, the personalities, and the near perfect ending.

On a side-note, this novel contains one of my favorite lines ever uttered: "You wanted to tussle? We tussled." - Karen Sisco

I say that if you haven't sampled an Elmore Leonard novel yet in your life, you'd be doing yourself a favor by starting with this one. For me, there's a sequel of sorts out now or very soon called Road Dogs. Needless to say it's on my wish list.

Media Moratorium: 3 Things I Don't Want to Hear About Anymore

When did the six o'clock news turn into the tabloids? Did I miss the memo?

It's too much. I can't turn on the television, go online, pick up a newspaper, or listen to the radio without being inundated with some of the most inane chatter and nonsensical voyeurism in the guise of "news." Well, here are three things I would sleep soundly knowing would never assault my senses again.

Miss California—the former Miss California – I can't think of her name, and I bet I'm not the only one. I just think of her as the generic blond half-wit who used the Miss USA Pageant as a platform to seek fame. She also managed to get the pageant, somehow, to foot the bill on her breast implants ... to boost her confidence. Judging by her unrepentant attention-seeking, confidence was never lacking in that girl.

She's against gay marriage—who cares? She a Miss USA contestant for crying out loud. It's the Maxim Magazine of beauty pageants. And she's not even Miss California any longer, since Trump finally stripped her of that crown because she would rather hobnob with the National Organization for Marriage than honor her commitments that come with the title of Miss Cali.

So, she's not even a beauty queen anymore. Great. Let's leave her alone now. She never had anything thoughtful to say in the first place, and all she'll ever amount to is another jabbering jackass on FOX News ... if she's lucky. Enough!

John and Kate – The Learning Channel used to be a good cable channel. Learning used to be part of their manifesto. I don't know what they are doing anymore if a reality show about these two is their top draw. I haven't seen a single episode—I've seen all I need from the plethora of segments and articles polluting every form of media out there.

I get that, with eight kids, they need the money to raise them. A network offers them a bunch of money to video-tape their lives? It's about as easy a payday as they'd ever come across. But, now it's become gosh-darn ridiculous. Being on every tabloid magazine is one thing—I steer clear of that mulch—but when once-respectable news sources start covering this abhorrent display of a soap opera come to life, I'm ashamed to share gene sequences with these people.

Octomom – When the hell did having litters of kids become a spectator sport? I can understand a brief discussion on the moral upbraiding of having multiple kids while unemployed. That debate stopped a long time ago, though. Now, whats-her-face is a cheap art exhibit of grotesquery. And she loves every second of it.

What's worse is the fact that television networks—probably TLC again—are looking to start a new show around her, and a show about a new family of sextuplets. Let the madness stop. Having an excessive number of kids doesn't make a family interesting; it makes them slightly odd at best.

To make matters even worse, Octomom and Kate are in a verbal feud. Over what? Which one is a more repellent on-air presence? Guess what, ladies. It's a tie.

June 9, 2009

Book Review: "Creepers" by David Morrell

Title: Creepers
Author: David Morrell
Publisher: CDS Books
Published: 2006 (paperback); originally published 2005
ISBN-13 978-1-59315-357-1
Pages: 356
Genre: Thriller

David Morrell wrote Rambo. He also wrote Desperate Measures. Two novels of suspense and action adapted to the silver screen. Neither included anything that could be inferred as supernatural in the storytelling. Yet, as I began to read Creepers, I got an eery sense of other worldliness as the tension wound up. As I read the book from cover to cover, I quickly realized the expectations of something other-worldly were all in my head and unwarranted. It's a Morrell story, for Christ's sake.

Cut me a little slack, however, as the setting for this novel is set almost entirely withing the confines of a condemned hotel along the Jersey shore, with enough creepy-crawly critters stirring within it's walls to put you on edge. The weird factor only amplifies as the rooms of the hotel are explored. But, who needs ghosts and goblins? Creepers sure didn't.

Frank Balenger is a middle-aged reporter looking for a story about urban exploration. "Creepers", or "infiltrators," are people who sneak their way into abandoned and cordoned off buildings. Morrell even cites a couple of websites as resources on this "hobby": www.infiltration.org and www.urbanexplorers.net.

On a chilled October night, Balenger meets covertly with Professor Conklin and his select group of grad students, as they prepare to go into the historic Paragon Hotel, which is due for demolition within a week. Together, they plan to explore--but not disturb--the hotel and document whatever they find.

Things go wrong very quickly once they're inside, and everyone realizes there is a lot more to the old hotel than originally reported. Morrell manages to keep us guessing the whole way through--as I mentioned earlier, I half-expected the hotel to be haunted.

We suspect the motives of each member of the expedition, and we become even more disturbed by the others at work within the darkened corridors of the hotel. I don't think I'm spoiling anything when I reveal the expedition is not alone. And they're being watched.

My suspension of disbelief was only interrupted on a couple of occasions, and thanks to the frantic pace of the story, they're forgivable. But, I must point out I had to shake my head when, not more than a couple of minutes after one of the party members falls into the abyss, the rest of the party goes right back to vocally admiring the architecture and design of the building and it's interior. What the what?

I did enjoy the book, and I certainly understand now why Morrell is heralded as a great storyteller by his peers and fans. I'm now on the look-out for the follow-up title to this novel, titled Scavenger. If you, like me, have held off on reading this or other Morrell novels because you're not such a big fan of the "Rambo" films, do like I did: Get over yourself and give the guy a chance.

The Pirate Party Is Official ... Sort Of

In Sweden, there's a new gun in town, if the town is the European Union's parliament. A representative of the Pirate Party—it might even be the vice-president of the party—has been elected into as a member of the EU parliament. How about that? A single platform party is making headway. But, how the heck should I feel about it?

Honestly, I'm a little apathetic to the win itself, but it does bring me back to the old argument of file-sharing and copyright infringement. The Pirate Party is a political incarnation of the torrent site, Pirate Bay, and so far as I know that's about their only interest when getting into the political arena.

If I was still a college student living off Kraft Dinner and other dubious, yet cheap, food sources, I'd probably give a little fist pump and say, "Yeah, stick it to the man." But, I'm in my thirties now, and I see that file-sharing isn't just sticking it to the man. It's sticking it to the artist as well.

I used to download music illegally—no sense portraying myself as an angel. I always thought twenty bucks for a music CD was exorbitant. So, when mp3 became the new craze I jumped on board with enthusiasm. I finally had a chance to listen to music I'd otherwise never get a chance to hear at my leisure. At no point, however, did I take into consideration the interests of the artist. I only relished in waving a middle finger at the record labels that insisted on overcharging for their products.

I haven't leeched a song off the Internet for quite some time now, and even then I was on the hunt for the more obscure artists you just don't find on television or radio. And, now that illegal downloading has branched off into movies and literature, thanks to the proliferation of high-speed Internet, the world has become a huge bargain bin it seems. Like I said, if I was still in college and didn't give a flying fig, I'd probably be downloading as much content as I could get my paws on. I know better now, though.

Pirate Bay takes the stance that file-sharing is helpful to artists and companies because the content reaches a wider audience across the globe. That's certainly true, but while an artist loves to have a great audience, they also enjoy getting paid for the work they put in to create that product. Pirate Bay takes the stance that file-sharing actually increases sales for artists. I feel inclined to call bullshit there, as every industry from music to publishing in going in the toilet, and illegal downloading plays a huge role in why that is.

I don't even think "file-sharing" is a proper term. During an interview today on CBC Radio's Q, the Pirate Bay representative implied that file-sharing is no different than lending a book to a friend. That would be true if not for the glaring fact that illegal downloading doesn't employ the act of sharing as much as it does the act of mass reproduction. Now, if she had compared file-sharing to using a home-made printing press to create an exact copy of the book, at no cost to herself, and then gave that copy to a friend, then she'd be using a better analogy.

Illegal downloading isn't sharing files, it's creating infinite copies of a product and giving it away to anyone who wants it. Why buy an album, a DVD, or an e-book when you can download the same product from someone else who already did buy it—or from someone who illegally downloaded it from someone else. Sure, plenty of artists out there embrace file-sharing as an effective way to get their product out to the masses. Those same artists are also often not making much coin through traditional means, anyway. And, hey, maybe it does increase their overall sales. If they want to give it away, I say let them.

Illegal downloading will exist until the day it is no longer illegal. But, if an artist is not going to be properly compensated for their hard work, there's one less incentive to even try. Everyone wants everything for free nowadays, and I can't help but think that the quality of what we have available is going to suffer as a result. If a mediocre artist is content to give away his creations for free, is a consumer going to bother paying their hard-earned money to a more notable artist who wants payment for their own creations? You tell me.

Supply and demand is one way of conducting business, but what happens when supply is immeasurable and the demand comes with the proviso of "I don't want to pay for it"?

June 8, 2009

Chasing Tale: At The Library Fire Sale

These library sales used to occur once a year, but over the last couple of years they seem to be picking up in frequency. Don't ask me why. I'm just thankful for one more venue to snag cheap books. I think I was the only thirty-something male there when it opened. Probably the demographic I fit in doesn't consider getting in line—only to wait for the doors to open at nine in the morning—a viable option on a Saturday. It's the weekend, and my ilk are more likely to sleep in. I did that during my first library sale. By the time I showed up at around noon, the shelves and display tables had been picked clean. Ever since, I've made it a point to be right there in the line by ten-to-nine.

This time around wasn't quite as fruitful as I had hoped. My wish list has expanded since my last trip to a sale, but as I maneuvered my way between the middle-aged to elderly women, I saw few of those names along the spines of the books. It's close quarters at these sales—they always take place in the same cramped room that's not much bigger than a grade-school classroom—and I'm a big guy. I nearly squashed a little old lady under my boot heels last year. Doing my best to navigate around my fellow vultures, I found pockets of elbow room and spotted a few titles to take home. Seven dollars spent, and seven books to add to my own bookshelf.

The Black Tower and A Certain Justice by P.D. JamesHers is a name I see pop up now and again when the topics of mystery and suspense arise. There were only two titles of her work that I could see amidst a flurry of James Patterson, Ed McBain, and Dick Francis. I can't say for certain when I'll get around to reading either of these books, but they're there now.

That Hideous Strength by C.S. LewisI only know Lewis for the whole Chronicles of Narnia series, which I haven't read and have no immediate plans to start. The premise for this book looked interesting though, and I'll eventually be able to say I have read at least one of his books.

Thud! by Terry PratchettI'm not a Discworld fanatic, but Mort is one of my favorite fantasy novels (also one of only two of his books I have read). Pratchett's humor is magnificent, and I just don't see his books on shelves that often. This was a bit of a gem in my browsing.

Hannibal by Thomas HarrisI'm trying to see if I can collect Harris' Hannibal Lecter trilogy (it's a trilogy, isn't it?), but I'm doing it via library sales. I bought Red Dragon last year, so Silence of the Lambs is the last on my list. Then, I plan on reading all three in a row.

Untamed by P.C. Cast & Kristin CastI spotted this in the kid's section—boy, did I feel out of place at that table—and decided to grab it. It's the third or fourth book in a series apparently, but I've seen the Cast name on blogs for YA literature and have yet to read her work. And, the cover for this book was an instant draw for me.

The Road by Cormac McCarthyYes! By God, I want to be a fan of McCarthy's work. I was bored to tears, however, reading The Orchard Keeper. I loved the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, though—I'll be reading that novel next week. The Road has interested me ever since I heard about it. A literary icon writes a dystopian piece of speculative fiction? Alrighty, I'll give it a shot. No quotation marks in the text, though. McCarthy must be allergic to them.

I'm not sure when the next library sale will take place, but my guess is September. They've always had a sale in September. Until then, I'll need to tear through my summer reading and make some room on my bookshelves for what I may find in the fall.