Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

To all my readers, Happy New Year.  Be good, and better than you were last year.  I'll see you again on the second, with a blog about the novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  You can read the blog about the movie in the previous entry.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--Movie

Photo: Rooney Mara, from her Wikipedia page.  She and Lisbeth Salander look nothing alike.  I mean that in a positive way, for both.

The blog for the book will come soon.  Just finished it.

But first the movie.

The movie was a must-see on many levels: the genre of the movie and book (as you should know by now, I dig the murder/mystery thing); the positive hype of both; and, perhaps most importantly, David Fincher, the director.

First, a word about him.  Impressive credits, especially Zodiac.  I know he directed Se7en, a good movie but very overrated.  The Social Network was a great film, about technology that has undoubtedly changed many lives (except mine; still don't have a Facebook account)--but, still, a movie about a nerdy, ingenious, socially inept guy, who may or may not have stolen the idea, the rights, and who knows what else.  Not my cup of tea for a subject, but an admittedly great film.  I believe Zodiac and now this movie will push him into the upper-echelon of movie buffs (Fincher's been there for the pros for some time now).  I like Fincher's directing style and the intensity of his films: The Social Network was intense for its genre.  The others are just...intense.  Fight Club, for instance.  (Good, not great.)  Haven't seen Benjamin Button or Panic Room.  They're on my list of things to do.

I also wanted to see this because Steven Zaillian wrote it.  He penned the 'plays for Schindler's List (one of the all-time great screenplays) and for Gangs of New York, also a great screenplay (Daniel Day-Lewis should've won the Oscar for that one).  Of course, he also wrote American Gangster, which was okay, but I'll pass, and Hannibal, which was just bad.  But I'm a return customer for Schindler and Gangs.

Daniel Craig is always good, and it's good to see him do something well besides James Bond.  (Speaking of which, it's about time for another, yes?)  He's a good actor who has not, and will not, get the credit he deserves.  Women swoon over him.  While he's essentially a non-violent Bond in this film, he still played it well.  He's got the Bond charm and charisma going, but he still had other facets going on that went over well.  (Those shots where he's learning something, and the camera stays on his thoughtful and learning face--well, rumor has it that he was simply counting to ten all that time.  He says he counts to ten when he's told he needs to show understanding and learning on film.)

But the cream of the crop here was Rooney Mara, as Lisbeth Salander.  According to Wikipedia, she beat out Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson for the role.  I like the first and am lukewarm by the latter, and they're both too hyped these days.  Mara came out of nowhere.  She played bit parts in several TV shows, a major part in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake (all good actors have to start with a bad horror film, apparently.  See Johnny Depp, Renee Zellweger and too many others to mention), and a small role in Fincher's Social Network.  (Both say that her part in his most recent film did not help her to get The Girl.)

Her character on film is even more realistic than the one on paper I have just finished reading.  That never happens, at least for me.  Without going into much detail, she absolutely nailed this role.  One of the things she did in the film (and possibly this is Fincher's and Zaillian's doing as well) that Salander didn't do in the book was to stay consistent with her mono-syllabic answers and otherwise clipped speech patterns--even to those she liked or cared for.  Frankly, she spoke too often (in spurts) in the book; I have known people (exactly) like Lisbeth Salander, and you'll have to take my word that such folks do not normally converse.  They staccato you, or they rant at you, but they don't converse.  Mara didn't in the movie, either.

In my life, I have seen a Lisbeth Salander many times.  I've seen the anorexia, the internal fury, the speech patterns, the behavior, the anger in the eyes, the massive insecurity, the abuse, the addictions--In short, I've seen it all.  She owned it.  This movie should be seen for her performance alone.  (I dare you to recognize the woman in the film as the one pictured above, but they are the same.)

Sweden itself gives a good performance, too, if you know what I mean.  (I know about 40% of the internal shots were filmed in L.A.)  It's obviously beautiful and cold there.  The free education intrigues me, but the violence and rape stats in this trilogy--and in the many books by Henning Mankell--do not paint a pretty picture.  Both authors (I know Larsson has died) try to say that the stats are horrific, possibly even worse than the U.S.'s.  For now, I'd like to visit there, but not live there.  Of course, I can say that about almost anywhere.

And the movie has a lot of nice touches not in the book, which I'll leave alone for now.  Suffice it to say that they involve the whereabouts of a missing woman and a car crash.  The movie also breaks a few rules; the big one is that the movie, like the book, continues on for quite awhile after the main mystery has been solved.  I approve, especially because it is done largely for the sake of characterization.  Rare, these days.

More on this, and the book, later.  Go see it, even if you've already read it.  And I'll be proactive and say that you should read it, too, even if you've already seen the movie.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011

This time of year finds me working hard on The Gravediggers and Cursing the Darkness, anticipating the arrival of "Hide the Weird" in the upcoming Winter 2012 issue of Space and Time Magazine, and waiting to sign a contract for a very short nonfiction piece I just sold a few days ago.  A few other stories are out pounding the internet pavement.  Reading, writing, taking care of the new house and hangin' with my better half.  What's better than that?

I hope this time of year finds you well.  Happy holidays, all, and happy New Year!!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bag of Bones--Epilogue

A few quick notes, having finished it a few nights ago, with not much more to add to the previous post:

--The writing itself--not the creepiness, or the scary things that happened, or any of the plot, just the writing itself--was inspired and inspiring, making the book as a whole worthy of its many awards that year.  More than usual, he just chose the right words.

--Interesting about the leukemia that Devore's daughter had.  No reason for it, really, except that I think King very much wanted Devore himself to be the one at the end, in her body, and the best way for her to look like him, and to be him, would be to lose her hair.  Which she would do, with leukemia.  I'm reminded of the really creepy Roland DeBay, long dead, who was seen to be driving Christine at the end, rather than Arnie.

--Character names and how they fit:

Max Devore: What does he do to everyone and everything thought to be in his way?  He devours them.  Chews them up and spits them out.  He can do so with money, power, or setting fires.  For more obvious character names and how they fit, see Leland Gaunt (Needful Things), Jack Sawyer (The Talisman), Jack and Danny Torrance (How do they feel the shining?  In waves, or torrents.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stephen King's Bag of Bones--Book and Film

photo: Cover of Bag of Bones, from its Wikipedia page

Some quick thoughts after having seen Stephen King's Bag of Bones (or, Stephen King's Bag of Bones) on A&E last night, while I'm presently reading it (and had read it when it first came out):

--First, let's start off by saying that the movie was really bad, okay?  Especially as compared to the book, which, in some spots, is among his best.  I just finished the part now where he had the fever and the triple dream of being with Jo, Mattie and Sara Tidwell at the same time.  The feelings, the descriptions, the skeletons and corpses described, especially those in NYC with his agent...good, perhaps great, stuff, that nothing in the movie matched.  I know that books are better than movies for just this reason--because of the details, the images you can produce on paper that you can't produce on film (especially on a commercial channel like A&E)--but the huge difference in quality and image go beyond the normal book to movie difference here.

--Pierce Brosnan looked just plain creepy when he smiled, didn't he?  Didn't his smile look more like a carnival clown's grimace?  He didn't do it for me in this role.

--The movie didn't, or couldn't, go into the vagaries of small-town life or the internal thoughts and fears of Mike Noonan--both things that make up 90% of the book.

--When I first finished the book, I remember thinking, "That's Stephen King doing Peter Straub."  High praise.

--Stephen King's internal dialogue is perhaps the best in the business.  His vocal dialogue is, of course, excellent as well.  The movie took large helpings of dialogue straight from the book.  I'm talking verbatim.  Stanley Kubrick famously did the same with The Shining.

--Despite the violence and gore (excessive by my prudish standards for a commercial channel like A&E), the movie was not scary at all.  The book is.  The movie did do a good job, though, of the gory creepy.  (I'm still seeing the ugly woman's jaw-dropping dying silent scream after getting stabbed in the neck.)  But a pruny and green and grimy dead thing looks like a pruny and green and grimy dead thing, and there's only so many times you can see that before it's not scary anymore.  Stanley Kubrick didn't understand this for The Shining, either; nor did the makers of The Shining miniseries.

--The ending of the movie, I'll say again, was effective, but way too violent for A&E.  He even told the little girl to look away before he stabbed the woman in the neck with the thin scissors, before the gouts of dark blood sputtered out.  But the little girl had not looked away, as the viewer wouldn't, either.

--The beginning of the movie--not in the book--has Mike at a book signing.  A fan comes up and says "I'm your number one fan."  Before I could say, "Annie Wilkes," or "Misery," to someone I was watching it with, Mike's wife leans over and says "Have fun with Annie Wilkes."  This overt nod to Stephen King didn't work for me, and, loathe as I am to say it, newer (and younger) Stephen King fans won't know who Annie Wilkes is.

--The pickup truck blowing-up scene was an almost-hilarious sendup of every car-hits-something, however slowly, and blows up scene ever made for a parody.  When your film is an unintentional parody, that is not a good thing.

--I have to assume that if a Stephen King film isn't released in the theatres, then it isn't going to be good.  If the producers thought it would be great, they would've released it theatrically, where the big bucks are.  And who doesn't think of big bucks when they think of Stephen King?

--Some of the movie's dialogue (not taken from the book) and scenes were simply not realistic.  Some of them laughably so.  For example, the man in the senior facility at the end hadn't told a soul his dirty little secret for over 50 years, but it takes just 50 seconds for Mike to get it out of him.  The book does not contain one scene, or one piece of dialogue, like that.  Not one.  Garris just doesn't understand the genre.  The scene in the book, where Mike stands on the stairs in the dark, and communicates with one or more ghosts as they knock on the boards below his feet (once for yes, two for no), was eerily effective and could've easily been done in the film.

--The book, simply enough, was in the hands of a master.  And the movie wasn't.  Surprising, I think, as Mick Garris co-wrote, produced and directed it.  Hasn't he done good things before?  I've heard the name.  Be right back...

--Of course!  He directed The Sleepwalkers; The Stand; and the aforementioned Shining miniseries.  He wrote *batteries not included, which was very good, but the aforementioned tv fare, which was not.  And his The Fly II was simply awful, but a guilty pleasure if you like gory flicks.  He directed Psycho IV, which I actually liked. I haven't seen Hocus Pocus, but it's very popular and well-received.

--Whoever sang the songs Sara Tidwell sang did a very good job.  The song repeated throughout was well-done, jazzy, memorable and creepy, all at the same time.  The woman who played Sara Tidwell did a great job in an odd role.  (If she also sang the music, I doubly applaud her.)  Melissa George did a very good job, too, in a brief and thankless role.

--I hate it when the name-selling appears as part of the title, like Stephen King's Bag of Bones, as the movie is actually called.  I assure you, that mess was more Mick Garris' Bag of Bones.  John Carpenter does this for his movies, too.  Woody Allen doesn't.  Hate that.  The piece either stands on its own merit, or it doesn't.  If it doesn't, don't make it.  If it does, you don't need the name to sell it.

--Someone mentioned earlier that the writer must okay all material made from his written works.  He can't, and he doesn't.  Once you sell the copyrights, you're all done with it.  The moviemakers could include you in on things, but they don't have to, no matter how big a deal you are.  I think it's telling that Stephen King didn't make a cameo appearance in this film, as is his trademark.  Then again, he didn't in Shawshank Redemption, or The Shining, either, so never mind.

--That cabin in the woods was more like a mansion in the woods.

--Read the book and save your DVR space for something else, like American Pickers.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Weekends at Bellevue--Julie Holland, M.D.

photo: Book cover, from Goodreads

Fascinating book about a woman who had been in charge of deciding who does, and does not, get admitted to a stay at Bellevue.  She did this for nine years.  Obviously the book is about many of the patients, but the coolest thing about the book is the sheer number of other things it's also very much about: admitting you're crisped at your job; branching out; moving on with life; the different forms of mental illness; how we're all mentally ill, in varying degrees.  Having the courage to switch gears in life.  Changing as a person.  Letting down your often necessary defenses--and then realizing that doing so makes you incapable of doing the job you needed the defenses for to begin with.  I saw a lot of myself in here, and a couple of family members and friends--and a few ex-friends.  It helped me to understand all of them better in small, but important, ways.

It's a quick read.  You may grit your teeth at the oddly sudden and thorough instances of her sexual interludes, as I did, though I understood they were meant to underscore her adrenaline addiction.  All of the psychopathy stories are quick snippets, from the unknown patients, to Spalding Gray and the aftereffects of 9/11 on NYC.  She doesn't linger too long on any one person or event, but mentions the big ones long enough to sustain the shock and horror they instilled in her and everyone else.  Many of her patients, for example, saw dozens of professionally attired men jump out of the WTC to their deaths.  She says that, more than any other facet of the attacks, it was this that mostly traumatized and PTSDed her patients--watching the bodies fall.  And land.  Her narrative voice skims and occasionally probes, while at the same time staying far enough away from the patients so the reader doesn't feel like a morbid voyeur, rubber-necking at the psychopathic miseries of others.

I read this because I thought such a character had a place in one of my novels--where else, perhaps, would a possibly real, re-visiting Jesus or Lazarus be sent, after all, but to a place like Bellevue?  I don't know that such a plan would work now, but I liked the experience of reading this to find out.  It took two days to read.  Highly recommended.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A History of Vampires in New England--Thomas D'Agostino

photo: Book cover from Goodreads.

I'm only the third person to rate this book on all of Goodreads...Just sayin'.  For more of my book reviews, my book list, and other nerdy book-related things, please visit my Goodreads site here.

The previous two reviewers gave this book an average of two stars.  I don't see how, as it never pertains to be something it isn't.  It's a book that reviews, summarizes and, frankly, rehashes information that's already out there, but puts it all in one place, and does so with a website's writing feel to it.  (If anything, the real complaint is the $17 tag Borders had put on it.)

Of particular interest to me were the stories of the vampires I'm incorporating into my novel--or trilogy, or whatever--tentatively titled THE GRAVEDIGGERS.  These, mostly, are the stories of Sarah Tillinghast, Nellie Vaughn and Mercy Brown, all woven into one.  (Nellie Vaughn being more or less a mistaken Mercy Brown, but with the now infamous epitaph on her gravestone; and I focus more on Stukeley Tillinghast, Sarah's father.)  And there's a lot to say about them, specifically because the author comes from my neck of the woods, and so is able to write about his visits to some of the places in his narratives.  I've been to some of these places myself, so it was interesting to see pictures of places I have already been to, and to compare our impressions and thoughts.  Essentially, this book was useful to me as a sort of place to gather all my notes--notes I didn't even have to write.  Not that I don't have a whole three-subject notebook of them anyway, as well as many journals and emails to myself.

A criticism would be that this book mostly cites just two others, one of which--Michael Bell's FOOD FOR THE DEAD--is vastly superior.  This one gives just the facts, ma'am, while Bell's gives that, and extensive first-person investigation, more thorough research, and even some slightly comical interviews.  Unless you're writing a novel--or trilogy, or whatever--about this sort of thing, and you only want one book, get Bell's.  But if you have the coin, spring for this one, too.  It's thinner and different and not as well-written or extensive as Bell's, but I think it useful, anyway.  Particularly good were the Introduction, the history of TB, and the description of "Life, Death and Superstition in Early New England," especially for my work.

Check out The Keep near Mercy Brown's grave, but do so at dusk, on a cold February day, like I did--and heed all due respect at this and other such places.  The crypt (or The Keep, as it's called) is really, really, creepy, even more so than the stories, or graves, or anything else.  D'Agostino's book has pics of inside of it, which are invaluable for my work because you can't get inside The Keep anymore--it's bolted shut.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ways to Travel through Parallel Universes or through Time

photo: The One Ring--an actual 10k gold ring, with box, at

Holes in the ground/Drugs (Alice in Wonderland)
Potion (The Talisman)
Government Program/Technology (Time and Again)
Scientist/Technology (The Time Machine; Back to the Future)
A Ring/Spells/Wizardry (The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter)
ESP (The Dead Zone)
Dreams/Sleeping (The Wizard of Oz; Rip Van Winkle, and too many others to mention)
Going Deep Underwater/Going Deep into the Earth/Going to another Planet (Too many to mention)
Circling the Sun in a Fast Spaceship (Star Trek IV)
Traveling with, or being in the Presence of, Ghosts (A Christmas Carol; Field of Dreams, and others)
Simple Doorways to another Place/Time (11/22/63; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; A Wrinkle in Time)
Mirrors (too many to mention)
Books/Reading (The NeverEnding Story)
Movies (Early Woody Allen flicks)
Utterings (too many to mention)
Insanity/Fanciful Desire (too many to mention)
Writing (Lisey's Story; The Dark Half)
Being Immortal/Memories of Someone Eternal (Highlander; Dracula; many others)
Death/Dying/Falling (The Dark Tower series; Twilight Zone: The Movie; many others)

Can anyone think of any others?  I need the way and I need the source.  Your own ideas are welcome.  Right now, I'm thinking of a guy who, whatever he touches, he leaves a sort of trail, so that people throughout the years can follow that trail, or be drawn to it (or to him), by touching the things he did.  Just a thought.  That's kinda like The Dead Zone, but not quite, not the way I'm seein' it.  Discuss.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Musings--Heart of Darkness, Part 2

 photo: Famous scene from Apocalypse Now, on

(this is a continuation of another post, which you can find here)

2.  Look at the above list of works.  Most of them are about the monster within.  To borrow from Rousseau and Freud, civilization is the mask that keeps the super-ego in control over the ego.  (Whether Rousseau or Freud thought this was good or bad is up to you, and probably irrelevant anyway.)  I'm not interested in the good or bad of it, as much as the idea that it simply is.  I have a guess that many in Rousseau's time would think that he thought this was bad (and they may be misinterpreting, though he was no fan of social mores, per se, but, then, neither was Neitzsche) and that many in Freud's time would think he thought this was good (which may also be an interpretation; I see him as non-judgmental, preferring to theorize that it simply was, not that it was good or bad; these are value judgments that neither was a proponent of.).

Anyway, the interesting thing here is that the writers in the 1890s were saying that, take away the mask (for Joseph Conrad, for example, that would be civilization), and we become unrestrained evil savages.  A Freudian interpretation of Heart of Darkness would read Marlowe as the super-ego sent to suppress Kurtz, the ego.  But Imperial England was just as much the brute, but with the mask of "civilized society" hiding its actual brutish nature--which gave birth to Kurtz.  In Apocalypse Now, based on Heart of Darkness, the masked civilized society (America, or America's armed forces in Vietnam) sends the super-ego (Willard) to assassinate the ego-driven Kurtz.  In Conrad's book, Marlowe is just supposed to bring Kurtz back to civilization, but an astute reader would wonder what such a civilized state would do to Kurtz once it had him.  Kill him and hide its base nature, is my guess, which becomes a blatant part of Apocalypse Now's plot.

So take that mask away, and we become Kurtz, or Hyde (Stevenson's potion rips the mask off of Jekyll's true base desires), or Dorian Grey (who's true base nature is captured, hidden and held by the painting), or Dracula (who's aristocratic, but not at night).  You get the idea.  The fascinating thing is that today's Hyde wouldn't be Hyde, but Jekyll.

Take the vampire films and shows out there today (please).  The vampires aren't really the bad guys anymore--it's the people.  Zombie films and shows, too: the people are more dangerous than the zombies.  So now the Freudian aspect would be that our super-ego is the vampire!  The more natural aspect of society--since everyone is truly messed-up, anyway--who the base humans can't get along with.  The super-ego that has been sent, in a way, to suppress the savage nature of humans.  And zombies--whatever created the zombies is now the mask that, when taken off, has shown humankind what it really is--and it ain't pretty.  Sure, zombies eat human flesh and essentially cannibalize--but what's your excuse for doing the same, as a human?  The point now, maybe, is that both the ego and the super-ego are equally savage and base.

P.S.--Take a look at the gangster shows and movies, too.  Tony Soprano and Jekyll and Hyde are essentially the same.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Musings--Heart of Darkness

Photo: Man Who Laughs, Conrad Veidt

A few quick snippets that occurred to me today about this seminal work:

1.  I was wondering today why so many works circa 1890-1900 centered around the mask we wear to keep apart the good and bad parts of our nature--or, rather, that we all wear to separate the good and bad parts of human nature.  Take a look at all the works published between 1890-1900 about this theme:

Heart of Darkness (1899)--Joseph Conrad
Dracula (1897)--Bram Stoker
Phantom of the Opera (1909)--Gaston Leroux (vastly different plot than its films)
The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890)--Oscar Wilde
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)--Robert Louis Stevenson
Many works by Freud (1897 to The Ego and the Id in 1923)

The list could go on.  Was this always the case, that works about the mask of civilization upon our primitive nature have always been with us?  I don't know.  Rousseau certainly railed against much of this; his works and beliefs, still very strong with us, certainly had an effect on the French and American Revolutions, and still created heated debate in the 1890s, if not today.  He was very popular in 1890s Europe and America.

But I think it was Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, and Freud's massive popularity starting in the 1880s, that re-ignited this debate.  And at the end of the Victorian Era, maybe many artists realized how supposedly suppressed they were, but yet weren't, and a lot of works and thoughts erupted from that.  It continues today, but in an interesting reversal--

(to be continued)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Plague Tidbits

Photo: A boundary stone marking the border of the village of Eyam, England.  The high sheriff would leave food at this rock for the entire village, since the village itself voted to not let anyone in or out until the plague passed.  For a bit of this remarkable story, see my blog entry here.

A few things I thought were interesting as I continue to write and research my WIP (trilogy?) re: the same in our time--and through all time.  You'll see.  Some of the info. culled from Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders and Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Years.  They're both fiction, though the former is infamously researched and realistic and the latter is fact masquerading as fiction, masquerading as fact.  Check it out to see what I mean.  They are both well-written and highly recommended.

--Two watchmen had to guard a plague house, so that nobody went in and nobody went out.  In many areas, they did this in eight-hour shifts, per house.  Roughly, from 10 pm to 6 am; from 6 am to 2 pm; from 2 pm to 10 pm.

--Stories abound about attempted escapes from such houses.  One I see frequently is that the trapped would lower a noose from a window, somehow get it around a guard's neck, and either strangle him, or otherwise keep him occupied until someone successfully escaped. 

--As is the usual about stories like these, you wonder about a few things, like: What about the other guard?  How would you get the rope around his neck?  How would you keep it there while he struggled?  And why wouldn't the guards confiscate things, like rope, before they guard the place?  And where would they get, and sustain, enough men so that six of them could guard each and every plague house?

--At first, you went to the wakes and funerals of the deceased.  But, after the plague hit and so many people died so quickly, it was impossible to do this.  By then, open pits were dug and bodies just thrown in, like you see in the movies about wars, the Holocaust, etc.

--The sick and despondent would at times throw themselves in these pits, and die there.  Some would lay there as dirt got thrown over them, and die suffocating.

--Until the plague hit, the depth of graves was not uniform.  But the authorities insisted on six feet separating the dead from the living; that is, there had to be at least six feet separating the body from the people walking over it.  The grave wasn't six feet deep, as is the common misconception; it must've been a little deeper than that.  There's six feet between the top of the body and the dirt that marks the grave.  Hence the phrase "six feet under" today.  And the practice still continues.

--The authorities would openly lie about the death count, vastly underestimating it to avoid panic (or for whatever reason).  The real numbers came from the gravediggers at the chapel, at the church's graveyard, or at the massive pits.  And so these people were the ones you went to for accurate information.  (Hence the title of my MS.)

--Speaking of graveyards, it was common practice in England and New England (and probably Europe) to bury most of the dead in their church's graveyard.  When this became impossible, because either they ran out of room, or because nobody from the parish was left alive to bury them, they were buried wherever, often in a family plot next to the house.  This then became a common practice, whether the dead died from the plague or not.  (This is especially true with the TB outbreak in New England, esp. RI and NH, from my research.) 

--In Boston and parts of RI, some took the separation of Church and State seriously enough that the dead were buried in the Common Ground, not near the churches.  (Some of the very rich and famous early New Englanders are buried in Boston's Commons.)  The practice of burying the dead in one large community graveyard didn't hit America until the later 1800s.

Well, there's much more, but that's it for now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!!  Here's a list of things I'm thankful for this time around:

--A bigger, better house that I hope the previous owner would be proud I'm in and taking care of it.

--Writing is picking up; I'm completing more.  (Four more short stories ready to go out, and my novels are picking up.)

--Somewhere to go and someone to be with on Thanksgiving.  (I've been thankful for this one for a few years now.)

--Better sleeping.  Not perfect, but we're getting there.

--More happiness and contentment.  See above.

--Never a down moment, unless I want there to be one.  This helps me get more writing done, to sleep better, etc.

--More readers, viewers and hits.  That's thanks for you, folks.

And that's it for now.  Short and sweet.  If anyone reading this feels thankful for something, please share.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thinner by Stephen King (or Richard Bachman, if you prefer)

Photo: Thinner, from its Wikipedia page.  This is the exact copy I have, referenced below.

Stephen King fans by and large rate this one highly; I have to respectfully disagree.  It was the first best-selling Bachman book--but still published under Bachman, not King, which tells you a little about what King himself thought of it.  The premise of the curse from a Gypsy (and of the writing style, if not the overall intent) is soooo Drag Me to Hell (and a bit of a stereotype); the main character is an Everyman who you don't root for three-quarters of the way through (if at all); and the ending is a downer on so many levels, not the least of which is that you don't want your hero wanting to kill his wife.  I mean, really, life is full of so many depressions, why would I want to read a book that ends with one?  And there was a...bit of a meanness to it that is not typical of King, who does often skirt off the happy road, but not like this.  (King often says that Bachman was an angrier, meaner version of him.)  Really the best character is the hood, and only because he was amusing, though in a tv sitcom kind of way.

The biggest problem for me is that it just wasn't overly memorable--except for the ending, and that's not a positive.  There was no doubt, really, about what would happen to the important characters; unquestionably a downer ending was in store here.  So it was like King's Danse Macabre metaphor of the figure under the sheet at a car accident--and I've never been a rubber-necking kind of guy.

The best association I have with this: I own a first edition hardcover by Richard Bachman, with a picture of his wife, Claudia Inez Bachman.  It's in mediocre shape--which is only fitting--but it's still gotta be worth something.  That, in essence, is what I feel about the work itself.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Return of the King--J.R.R. Tolkein

photo: book cover from Goodreads site

There's probably not too much I can say here that you didn't already know or think about for yourself--or read on one of the reviews for the other two books.  These are inescapably linked to the Peter Jackson films, which I became more and more impressed with as I read these.  The series ends as well here as it does in the films, and each ending suited each format.  The destruction of the Shire worked well in the books but would've curtailed the films entirely.  Frankly, there's a heightened feeling of revolt in the films that wouldn't have fit here: the inhabitants of the Shire allowed themselves to be taken over by a rather lame Sauroman and an even more lame Wormtongue--with 50s streetcorner ruffians to boot; no way the characters populating the movies would've allowed that to happen.  Jackson wisely left Sauroman and Wormtongue stuck in the Dark Tower in the movies, which is where Tolkein probably should've kept them, too.  It seems as if Tolkein didn't know quite what to do with him once the War of the Ring ended.  Maybe there was a subconscious (which I say only because Tolkein insisted to the end that he never symbolized any of the wars in his books; I don't believe him) connection to the damage done at home when there's a war abroad; no one is nuetral, perhaps.

But the real ending, where Frodo joins Gandalf, Bilbo and the Elves worked much better in the book than I thought it would; I felt it was too abrupt in the movie.  Here it makes sense, actually; Frodo has what is known today as PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), though actually it may not be called that anymore.  Tolkein would've known it as shellshock.  The injury in Frodo's shoulder clearly is meant to mirror the injury done to his psyche by the ring; this is why none of the other characters--such as Aragorn, who has seen much more battle-time than has Frodo--is as injured, excepting perhaps Bilbo, a ring-bearer himself.  The ring has clearly messed with him as well, though his recent mental feebleness may be expected in one about 130 years of age.  As per the comment above, a soldier is never the same at home as he was before he went off to war; that which was special to him in his native land often is not upon his return.  The only solution, sometimes, to find peace--which Frodo insists he needs and is not getting in the Shire--is to move on, to travel and experience other things.  To explore.  Bilbo is foremost an explorer; perhaps Frodo was, too.

It should also not be forgotten that they are the two writers of the Shire (Samwise is due to carry that on, but he hasn't yet).  As such, when a writer is moribound, the solution is to move on to another work, another experience, as each work, large or small, is a journey.  Stick too long to the same thing and you ground yourself.  Samwise was meant (if you buy the fateful attitude of the works) to do just that, to settle down with Rose Cotton, have a family, and tend to the Shire.  The very long work, surprisingly, ends with him, saying to his wife and family, "Well, I'm back."  A soldier come home to stay--but, then again, he didn't have to bear the burden of the Ring for too long.  As Frodo often said, it was his burden to take, his cross to bear, and, like any soldier, the simple bearing of that burden so that others could live their life of mental, emotional and psychological freedom (not to mention political freedom) is perhaps the soldier's greatest sacrifice.  Frodo did that so that Sam could marry and have a family, and say, "Well, I'm home."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Becoming A Writer--Dorothea Brande

Photo--The book's page on Amazon (obviously).

Like John Gardiner's book, The Art of Fiction, this one is very helpful because of its honest directness and simplicity.  An easy read, it sounds like she's in the room, talking only to you.  An important work because it dispels advice on technique and instead gives bare-bones advice about who writers are and what they must essentially do.  In essence, she advises how to get the butt in the chair, and she tells you what to do in order to keep it there and to be productive.  A large part self-help, it encourages the writer to have a positive, meditative and courageous mindset before you even sit down to type.

Published in 1934, it was unique in its day, and in this one, because of how it eschews technique in favor of mental and psychological stimulation.  Her bottom-line: If you can't sit down consistently to write, you're not a writer and you're better off finding another avenue to express yourself.  As John Gardner wrote a bit later: "Writers write."  Stephen King's book says essentially the same thing, but is even better in a way because he also gives you several memoir-anecdotes and some practical advice on what to do once your butt is consistently in the chair and once you are consistently typing.

This book was written two years before what could be considered its companion book: Wake Up and Live!, which sold even better in its day, over 2,000,000 copies.  Both are recommended, as is Stephen King's On Writing and John Gardner's book.  King's is by far the longest (of course) and they're all indispensable.  Buy those, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and you won't need anything else to help you to sit your butt down and write.  Re-reading any (or all) of them during blah times is highly recommended, too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Warning about Contest-only Submissions

A little warning about publishers.  There are some who only allow submissions through contests they hold.  This is ALWAYS to be avoided, especially if there's a fee to enter this contest.  A friend of mine sent me an email with four interesting/odd/eccentric publishers that a friend of his had sent him.  Three of the four only allow submissions through their contests.

Here's the response I emailed back to him--

Thanks for the publishers below.  I looked at a few of them; the problem with those that only take submissions via the contests they hold is that the contests themselves are what they make the money on.  You submit your book to the contest and pay a $50 fee, let's say.  Now, 99 out of 100, at best, are pure crap, no better than amateur fare.  These would normally get immediately rejected, of course, but for free.  Now, these poor slobs, who can't write for crap, are bad writers and now out $50.  This house might get all crap, but at $50 a pop, why not?  They tell the least crappy one, "Okay, no officially submit it to us,"--and then turn it down.  Flat.  Or, even worse, charge that poor slob--who feels he's soooooooooo close---$350, let's say, to edit the thing (or they suggest he pay a specific editing company $350--and they either get a bite out of that, or they are the editing company, by another name, that they've "recommended"), line-by-line or page-by-page--which it doesn't need.  It needs a dose of reality and a complete overhaul, not a red-pen edit that a 7th grade teacher would do.  So now they have his poor slob's $50 contest fee, and his $350 editing fee--and they still reject him.  And they do several versions of this to many of the other contest applicants as well.  Mucho bucks; no hassle; not too many books to represent--and then they say they're just "very picky."

There are good contests out there--but they're not ethically run by publishing companies.  That's not moral, as it isn't when an agent asks for money up-front to edit your work--or "recommends" an editing person or company, that, again, they either take a bite of, or they are that person or company they've "recommended."  Oldest trick in the book, and always to be avoided.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Library of America--Paste, by Henry James

Photo: "Portrait of Henry James," an oil painting by Joseph Singer Sargent, on James's Wikipedia page.

Nice little story, written very stiffly and badly, of course, by a very Victorian writer who could never seem to get out of his own way.  The language is of the supreme upper echelon of society, as are the mannerisms, which may have turned off the readership masses--if the poorer could afford books at the time, which maybe they couldn't.  In that case, James knew his audience very well and wrote directly to them.

This story is a mirror image of Guy de Maupassant's (righteously) more famous "The Necklace."  In that one--and if you haven't read it, you should; it's short and written better--a young woman, very poor, borrows a necklace from her much richer friend, then loses it after a ball.  Thinking it was real, she and her husband sign their lives away and work to exhaustion for ten years.  Finally coming clean to her friend, she's informed that it was paste (fake) and that she'd made herself even more of a pauper for nothing.  And, if she had just admitted she'd lost it, the friend would have told her.

James's story is about a young woman of better means who is given a necklace by a man of much better means, who tells her it's a fake piece of her now-dead aunt's.  This woman's friend, Mrs. Guy (Get it?), tells her it's real, and says she's a fool for wanting to bring it back to the guy who gave it to her, who has mistakenly thought it fake.  If it's real, you see, that means his aunt had to receive it as a gift from someone not her husband, as he had been very poor.  And this woman had been an actor, which in the story explains the moral situation very well.

So the young woman does the moral thing and tells the guy it's real.  He's aghast and affronted, and says she can't have it back, that he'll get it appraised and tell her that he was right after all.  What he does instead is sell it, because it was real, and the young woman's friend, Mrs. Guy, buys it for, as she says, at a good price.  So the one honest character, the young woman, ends up with nothing to remind her of the dead aunt, and with none of the money that the thing was worth.

I tell you all this to save you from reading the story.  Read "The Necklace," or James' "The Turn of the Screw", which is just as stilted, but much more famous.  As it should be.  Very scary and psychologically chilling.

And I'll leave you with this connection.  After my second deviated septum operation, I was given a bottle of pain meds that are quite popular.  I hate taking pills, and told some friends that I wasn't sure I'd ever take them.  Every single well-to-do or of-average-means friend, in total seriousness, told me to sell them if I didn't take them.  I ended up taking them, as I'd been in a lot of pain, but I've never forgotten their responses.

There's another short story in there somewhere.

Speaking of short stories, I finished one recently, an 11-page zombie story called "Too Dumb to Die."  Yeah, I like the title, too.  ("Hide the Weird" was good, too.)  I'll keep you informed.

P.S.--Okay, while getting a picture for this post, I read a really long article about James on Wikipedia, and I'm forced to admit that my terseness maybe was a bit overwrought about his work.  He obviously wrote some great things, not just "The Turn of the Screw," and I'm going to have to get a copy of his Complete Works.  But I'll be damned if I know how I'm going to get past the brick and mortar of his writing.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Photo: Nigel Tufnel, This Is Spinal Tap.  From  Amp it to 11, people. 
So, okay, the alignment of numbers like this won't happen again, of course, until February 2, 2022--only about 11 years away, I hesitatingly add--though that sounds like a sci-fi date if I ever heard one.  But before you schedule a wedding for that date, as tons of people have because of today's date, I remind everyone that today's date really isn't today's date--somewhere in the 1300s or so, maybe 1400s, I don't remember, we suddenly gained 14 years between one day and the next, because we followed a new calendar.  And Day One was based on Jesus's birth, which is still under debate.  The most recent evidence suggests Jesus was born in the year 3 BC, or, three years before our calendar said he was born; this realization caused historians and scholars to create the designation BCE--Before the Common Era--to displace the now erroneous BC, which is their way of saying that, the whole time, we'd been three years off the date we thought we kept time with, which itself was wrong to begin with. And no one really kept day or time a few thousand years ago, except for the astrologers, and about that time there wasn't complete agreement about what a "day" even was.  Or a "year," as the sun was thought to revolve around the earth, and not vice-versa.  Plus, no one really cared.  And time as we measure it is only a man-made construct, anyway, and doesn't really even exist outside of the space-time continuum, which is in of itself used mainly for measuring huge distances, not for scheduling appointments or programming DVRs.  Our concept of time is  just our minor and flawed attempt to create order out of chaos, to stave off nothingness for a little while.

Don't mean to be Debbie Downer here, but let's have a dose of reality, okay?  Mankind is sooooo homocentric.  (That is, the belief that everything revolves around human beings, before you hate on me.)

You think frogs care exactly what day it is?

I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Photo: 11/22/63 book cover from its Wikipedia page

Inner ear infection the last three days, so one of the only things I could do laying in bed is read, and that only barely.  So I read this much-anticipated book.  I have mixed emotions and thoughts about it, so...let's break 'em down.

The Good:

Well, it's gotta be a good sign that I read 849 pages in essentially two days, and about 750 of those today (Wednesday) alone.  King's detractors will say that this is bad, that nothing serious enough to be written by one of the best-selling authors of the 20th Century should be that quick and easy to read.  While this smacks of elitism to me, I smell a tiny scent of truth, but then again, King never said he was Nabakov or Shakespeare, and while it's true that this novel, like most of his, doesn't have depth, per se, it does have resonance.  (Much like the harmonies he writes about, one supposes.)  Besides that, it's a good read, for a few reasons:

1.  It was nice to see Bevvie Marsh again, and Richie Tozier, too, I suppose.
2.  Astute fans will say hello to Christine (there's a '58 Plymouth Fury in a few places here, and it ain't nice), Cujo (by reference to nice but rabid dogs) and to the gateway keepers in Hearts in Atlantis and in Insomnia, as well as the town of Derry itself, which was never right in its head.  There are shimmers of The Dark Tower series (especially the most recent) and God knows what else, too.  There's a tiny nod to Back to the Future, too.
3.  King mixes and mashes Derry, Maine and Dallas, Texas in artistic ways similar to Desperation and The Regulators, as well as the mirrored characters in both.
4.  The book is ultimately about love won and lost, and a lovely scene of (odd, but it works) love at the end that is very similar to the ending of Edward Scissorhands--and not about time warps, or paradoxes, or any of those things.  Frankly, he doesn't handle those topics in any way that we haven't seen already.

Which leads me to

The Bad:

Mostly, what I just said: There isn't much in here about time travel, paradoxes, messing with time, harmonies or shimmers or whatever that we haven't already seen before.  And, maybe, better, elsewhere.  In fact, if the reader doesn't fall in love with Sadie (which this reader did), then the book falls apart at the seams.  But, to King's credit, you will love Sadie; I think the logical planner in King realizes that she is watermark here, and that he loses us if he loses her.  So, of course, he doesn't.  Like Juliet, Sadie seems to deserve better than the guy she falls for.

There's also no question at all about what will ultimately happen to her, or to Jake/George, which is both bad, and good, considering that you are compelled to read on despite this.  There's also no question about what'll happen when Jake/George goes back to the future (there's the nod), which King also correctly realizes and spends no more than a few pages on--and his character spends just an hour in the future close to the end.  But, again, despite all this, you read on, which is the ultimate good for writers and readers alike.

The only question is: What will he do, if anything, to set things right again?  I guessed it right, mostly because, as a writer myself, I couldn't imagine the character doing the whole thing all over again (there's another nod to the last Dark Tower), but you want to resolve the George/Sadie thing, too, which he does.  Or, at least, according to the Afterword, his son, Joe Hill, does, and King just writes it.  But, whatever.  It's satisfying and it works, despite borrowing heavily, I suspect, from Scissorhands--and it was Joe Hill's idea, to boot.

And so you get the idea.  It isn't The Stand, or It, and we'll have to agree that such high points may not be reached again.  (King himself thinks that The Stand, The Shining and Salem's Lot, out of all of them, will stand the test of time.  I mostly agree, except not for the Lot, which will be eclipsed by the Dark Tower series, by It, and by Different Seasons.)  But 11/22/63 is also not The Cell, Rose Madder or Under the Dome, either, so that's all good.  (Under the Dome is severely overrated.)  It's not existential fodder, either, as there is no grey area with its depiction of a future with a JFK who's lived--or of its depiction of 60s Dallas, either, for that matter.  It's a s--thole, clearly, and it better be undone.  Fast.  Luckily, every re-appearance is a quick reset.

Ultimately I gave it five stars because I read its 849 pages in about 48 hours, which has to be testament to the book's quality, or to my reading stamina, or both.  I'm a writer myself, and if someone told me he read my 849-page book in 48 hours, happily engrossed in its story as he recovered from an inner-ear infection, that would make me perfectly proud.  To relate: A friend of mine, who can be a very good, if not occasionally harshly helpful, reader and critic, read my 11-page zombie story recently--very, very quickly and, as it turned out, appreciably.  Never in a million years would I think that this fine poet would devour and appreciate my 11-page zombie story, but he did.  And I can't think of a better compliment to a writer than that.

And so there it is.  I'll leave you with one more thought, just realized: Sooner or later, King will have to be appreciated for his whimsical portrayal of 3-dimensional female characters who are all too easily appreciated or fallen in love with by his male readers--from Sadie, here, to an adult Bev Marsh in IT, to a feisty Wendy in The Shining (who was NOT a sniveling Shelley Duvall) to Carrie White, in a way, to Charlie McGee in another odd way, and even to Annie Wilkes, in a VERY odd way, as well as a few others in between.  Don't get me wrong, there were some real clunkers in there, too, but overall he is very good, if not entirely realistically good, at this, and I haven't heard anyone say so before.  Woody Allen (rightfully) gets tons of kudos for his developed female characters, and while they are in a different stratosphere than King's, there is still a consistent solidity to them after all these books and years.  And The Woodman's women aren't exactly completely realistic, either, right?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Library of America--Tomorrow

Photo: Eugene O'Neill on Wikipedia; portrait by Alice Boughton

So Eugene O'Neill's only published short story is about drunks.  As shocking as that is, it's not as shocking as the uneven writing here--real sentence clunkers, if I may say so.  Like many of mine, in fact.  But he's Eugene O'Neill, though of course he wasn't until he very suddenly was.  We expect more from these guys.  They shouldn't write

The story comes from the way one of the characters--a reforming drunk who's given a job at a local paper--says that he'll get something done "tomorrow."  That day never comes, until it very suddenly does.  The story's interesting in a few ways, though "interesting" does not always mean "good."

First, it's O'Neill's only published short story, so you have to read it.  Second, you can see echoes of the O'Neill tone here; it's not fully established, but it's there.  Sort of like a shadow.  And it's an unflinching look, though not as jaw-droppingly direct as in his plays.  The depressing outlook and the hopelessness is there, too, as is the defeated look in the mirror at one's own life.  All the happiness that you expect in an O'Neill piece.

And it's mediocre, which gives the rest of us some hope.

This is another installment of my quick reviews of short pieces sent to me from the people at the Library of America, which makes handsome, high quality books from high quality works.  You get a book made of your work from these people, your importance is forever cemented.  Some of the books can actually be affordable, too.  For the previous installment, a piece from The New Yorker's Susan Orlean, go here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Two Quick Questions--Writing groups and writing time

Photo: Fish in a fence after Hurricane Ike.  This is representative of my anxiety re: these two questions.

Okay, a quick shout out to the readers of this blog: I have two questions I'd very much like your answers or opinions to.

1.  Writing groups.  Are you a member of one?  What are your rules, if any?  How many members are in your group?  What are you getting out of it, if anything?  I'd especially appreciate commentary about the number of people in the group, and anything at all that's mandatory about the group.  I've heard that a) smaller numbers are better, such as maybe 5 to 8 members; b) consistent attendance is mandatory, such as every other meeting, if not actually every single meeting; and c) consistent submissions to print or online markets (or contests) are mandatory, like maybe three submissions per meeting, or per month.  Whatever.  Copies of submissions, rejections, acceptances, or applications to contests or projects like NaNoWriMo are acceptable as well.

2.  Writing time.  How do you get writing done?  Where do you do it?  When do you do it?  How do you come down from the career/job, clear your head, see your characters, and start writing?  How do you find the time for submissions?  Certain days of the week?  Certain hours of the day?  Whenever?  Gimme all you got, whatever works for you.

Thanks, guys.  'preciate your time and response.  As always, thanks for reading!!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Current but Random Literary Tidbits

Credit: Portrait of Leonid Andreyev by Ilya Rapin, from his Wikipedia page

To underscore how all over the place I'm feeling right now, I thought I'd share a few tidbits from the great many books I find myself reading at the moment.  How I got to be at the point where I'm so clearly unfocused and reading so many books at once is another entry entirely.

Think and Grow Rich

Sound strategies so far, despite the extremely unfortunate example offered near the beginning of how great insistence and steadfastness can bring great swaying of men, which can bring great wealth.  It involves a little black girl standing tall in the face of her mother's boss/owner, who also owns a mill, and about how her mother needs fifty cents to get him something; he denies it, tells the girl to tell the mother to go without it, and the girl agrees with an unfortunate but hearty "Yessir!" and still stands there until she belts out that her mother needs the money--despite the owner's threat of lashing her.  When she finally belts it out, he stops what he's doing and gives her the money.  The gist of the example is how the girl dominated him (Hill's words) although he is clearly her superior.  She got her way because of her steadfastness, get it?  Other than that, the principles are sound, and basically involve steadfastness, dedication, Seeing It, Believing It, and so on.  Though I am not in the point in life where I can burn all my other bridges (as Hill recommends; his words), I do admit that I wrote a lot more and did more to succeed (besides lacking the talent I have now) with my writing than I have the time to do now.  Nothing drives you more than the inability to feed yourself and pay your rent.

The Return of the King

Fascinating--though dry; you can either get past it or you can't--series that takes much longer to end than the movies did.  The movies basically lacked two long sections of the books: Tom Bombadil, and Sauroman in the Shire.  Sorry to see it end and yet wanting to finish it at the same time.  Total immersion in another world, solely through description of legends and flora.

Short Story Collection of Zombies, edited by John Skipp

Don't ask.  Saw a Stephen King short story in there I hadn't read before, then couldn't stop reading all the others.  Included is "Lazarus," by Leonid Andreyev, one of the better Russian authors no one's ever heard of, who, as is apparently customary for Russian writers in the early 1900s, went a bit off his deep end after the Revolution, and died destitute and miserable (one often causes the other).  Anyway, the story is of the Biblical character, and the story, like the author, was a well-written and emotional bummer.  Evidently the author was a major figure in his time, and was famous for his ability to capture "what it means to be human" to the extent that he will make you weep openly.  (If you can get the collection, check out "The Emissary" by Ray Bradbury, too.)  "Lazarus" is free online because its copyright expired, so find it here or above and read it.  Comment below and let me know what you think.  It gave me a breakthrough of sorts with one of the many novels and stories and poems I'm writing all at the same time, as well.

But that's another entry.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Library of America--Shiftless Little Loafers

Photo: Susan Orlean from Wikipedia

I thought it might be interesting to write a little bit about the short pieces I get emailed to me from the good people at the Library of America.  For those who don't know, you can sign up to get short stories, articles, essays, etc. emailed to you from the Library, knowing that the pieces are of high quality, regardless as to what you actually think of them.  (Often I find something to be well-written, though I'm not interested in it, so I delete it.)  I'm working backwards from Story #95, because I've let them get backed up and out of control.  And that's a lot of blogger fodder.  (Blogger Fodder should catch on as a term of the Net.  Let it be known that I deserve credit for coining it.)  The story here is a Swiftian essay by New Yorker writer Susan Orlean.

The piece should be checked out.  It's amusing, though not laugh out loud funny like some of Woody Allen's more absurdist pieces can be.  It's Swiftian in tone, kind of, though Orlean does not think we should eat the babies, as Swift said.  Maybe we should put the infants to work, though they are ultimately found to be too lazy and too smart.  (One can be both.)  And when they put on sunglasses, they're lazy and snobby, like Italian directors.  (That's her joke, not mine.)  So that was funny, as was the part where she describes a baby's complete fascination with one of his own toes, and then a blade of grass.  I saw someone today playing absentmindedly with a few strands of her hair upon a table, and this was a teenaged someone.  Then again, I will often absentmindedly rub my upper lip against the tall facial hairs standing at attention from just beneath my lower lip, so who am I to judge?  And I can massage my facial hair with my hands and fingers in a very fakely thoughtful way, as if I were smart and ponderous, or something.  And I can do that for hours.

So, anyway, check it out.  Good writing.  And it's really short, too. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Hide the Weird" to appear in Space and Time Magazine, January 2012!!!

According to Hildy Silverman, publisher of Space and Time Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction:

"Hiding the Weird is slotted for inclusion in the next issue, #116, which is set for release this winter (January, 2012)."

Very exciting!!!  Write it down, everyone, and buy the January, 2012 issue of Space and Time Magazine to read my story!!!  In fact, buy the current issue of Space and Time, as well.  It's a cool magazine with a fine mix of fantasy, sci-fi and horror.  And I'm not just saying that because they were awesome enough to purchase and publish my story.

It's because my story is technically speculative fiction, which is not specifically fantasy, horror or science fiction.  So it's got a bit of everything in there.  Go take a look: Space and Time Magazine. 

Please spread the word to any and all online writing or discussion groups that you're a member of.  If anyone who reads this is a published author in a print or online magazine, please let me know in a comment or email and I will spread the word for you, as well.

Thanks, everyone!

(And I apologize in advance for the reminder posts that may come in December and/or January.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Father's Awesomeness

Spoke to my better half's mom today, and she mentioned that at her first gathering with my family at my relative's place--where she didn't know anyone else but my better half and myself, and (barely), my father--he bought her a small box of chocolates and wrapped it up, and put her name on it, just so she got at least one thing there from somebody and didn't feel too much like a stranger spending a holiday at someone else's place.  (She and my better half and I had exchanged gifts already at my place.)

The point: That's how awesome my father was.  He thought of everyone else, and of the little things they may feel.  Who thinks about how the girlfriend's mother will feel at my relative's place?  He did.  And so here are a just a few other things that show my father's awesomeness:

--He visited our tax advisor with boxes and boxes of paper and envelopes, of all sizes.  She makes her living with these things, so they're like gold to her.  When she told me this recently, she couldn't stop crying, explaining how much she'd liked him and how nice he'd been to her.  "Who thinks of his tax advisor?" she cried.

--A guy he bought train parts from spoke to me for maybe half an hour about how nice he was, and about how he'd miss him.

--His landscaper speaks to me constantly about how kind he was to him on several occasions.

--The across-the-street neighbors tell me all the time about how he got their mail, collected their paper from the driveway, and either shoveled their driveway himself or paid the landscaper to do it.  (These neighbors are in their 80s.)

I could give a ton more examples, but you get the picture by now.  My father was awesome.  It can be explained in one word: Kindness.

He was a gentleman.  Rare these days.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman (and maybe Robert B. Parker, too)

I wanted to dislike it because the continuation of someone else's baby by another writer just doesn't sit well with me--and they usually fail, or seem intent to just make money (see: James Bond).  But Brandman does a good job here, keeping most of Parker's Jesse Stone while adding the inevitable small changes.  Most of these changes work.

Jesse talks a little more; he actually sounds a bit more like Spenser.  I thought the original character was too quiet, as Brandman apparently did.  Parker also got hung up too much on Jenn; it was time for her to go, and she has.  The Parker combination of Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall always seemed forced to me; perhaps he felt he had nothing much more to say about her,especially after Helen Hunt turned down the role.  I don't know, but they definitely needed to break up, and they have.  Stone also comes across here as a little more...stoic (sorry), which is odd since he speaks more here.  But he admits directly that he didn't miss Sunny.  In a Stephen King story, he'd be asking Parker directly why he had to date Sunny, anyway.  His direct actions and verbosity work for me, though he also seems too Spenserian when he helps the ex-hood find a job, and when he talked to the female students, the teacher and the principal.  (Note to Brandman: Massachusetts doesn't have homeroom anymore; it's now called advisory.)  Parker's anti-teacher torch is definitely carried on.

So Stone doing his Spenser impersonation didn't work for me, and Stone is certainly not a cat-lover.  I guess Brandman wanted to set up a Stone/Spenser duality; maybe he's taking over Spenser, too.  If so, it was wise for him to turn out a Stone book first, before he tackled the iconic Spenser.

Brandman's book is a little edgier than Parker's would've been, maybe a little more noir.  That's okay with me.  A few things didn't work, but that's to be expected.  And Brandman creates an admirable mixture of a book that's 70% Parker and 30% Brandman.  Perhaps Parker, notoriously productive, already had a large part of the ms. written--notice that the copyright belongs to the Estate of Robert B. Parker, not to Brandman.  Had this been 100% Brandman, I doubt that would be the case.  We'll have to see with future Stone books.

The torch has changed hands, but it hasn't gone out.  Brandman has earned the right here to run with it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Writer's Despair

So I've been writing on envelopes and pads because I can't find my journals and notebooks, which are still in a box somewhere in the garage.  (I just spent a half hour looking for them.)  It's been just over a month, and I haven't finished unpacking my life and my office from the garage.  That's sad.  What's even worse--What made me think that I could go without writing so long that I didn't put my journals and notebooks in an easily accessible place?  Why not walk them up to my office like I did with my computer?  Have I been writing so erratically that I didn't even think about where I was putting them?  Yes, it's been over a month, I now realize, and I haven't written in them.  What the hell was I thinking?  So now I'm writing on a pad that someone gave me, and I'm thinking now of just taking CDs with me to work, and back home, so I can write on those on whatever computer I'm sitting beside.  (This is actually not a bad idea.  Maybe I should have done this anyway!)

I realize that I need to write a little bit throughout the day--wherever and whenever time allows--so that when I get home and need to work a lot more in the office, sitting down and writing won't be that new to me.  I've been having trouble lately just sitting my ass down, and I realize now--with the help of a writing group forum on LinkedIn (and thanks to anyone there who may be reading)--that this is due to the fact that writing is still not a consistent, everyday, blah experience to me, like sitting down to eat, for example.  I don't have to prepare too much for that, and I certainly don't procrastinate about eating, so why can't I also sit down and write?  This from a guy who has been published and paid for his writing (both as a reporter and short story writer) and who has written literally thousands of pages.  Yet writing now in my hectic life is a hassle.

Disheartening.  So I will write on these CDs and pads until I can find my journals and notebooks--and maybe even after I find them.  And I will write a little bit a few times per day so that when I get home to write, it's not such a big deal.  I will increase my output.

I will.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Quick Update

Hello, again.  Sorry I've been away so long.  The job's in gear, and so is the writing!  I'm a bit back on track and very excited about it.  New novel is underway; some drafts of some chapters done; getting a little more square and solid in my head.  The TimberTech deck is done, too--and that's where I've been doing more reading and writing!  Great view and beautiful look, too.  No complaints.  Been a bit useful with the man-toys, too.  Lots of sawing, chainsawing and axe-cutting, as I get lots of wood ready for the fireplace.  (I predict a really cold and snowy winter.)  Actually finishing moving in has stalled, but you can't do it all, right?
How's everyone else?  Drop me a line or leave a comment.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkein

I suspect that I wouldn't have anything more to say about the plot and themes, for you, because if you're reading this, you've read the books or seen the movies already.  I could go into a few changes from one to the other, but I won't put such disclaimers here.  Instead, I was interested in Tolkien's writing choices, as I was in the review for the FOTR.  Here, Tolkien basically splits the book in half: the first half to Aragorn and Gandalf; the second half to Frodo and Sam and Gollum.  I know that Tolkien wrote the "trilogy" all at once, not intending for breaks, and that his publishers took that volume of about 1,000 pages and split it into threes.  This leads to what sometimes look to be odd writing choices, but considering the big 1,000 book, really isn't.  In other words, it looks like Tolkien wasn't going back and forth with his narration between the two groups of heroes--most other authors would have.  It looks like he split the second book between the two groups and did not go back and forth between them.  But it only looks that way, since it's 398 pages.  But if you think of the three books all as one, he does, in fact, go back and forth--just for several hundred pages at a time between the groups.  So, as in Elf-land and Middle Earth in general, that which seems to be is not.

Also of note was a comment from Sam on page 325.  Boromir's brother has been chastising Frodo and questioning him hard; Sam gets slowly angry at this and finally responds--but mentions they have the ring.  He realizes his verbal goof and says to Faramir that he has spoken and behaved handsomely so far, and he should continue to do so after Sam's gaffe.  Part of that retort was, "But handsome is as handsome does, we say."  Substitute "handsome" for "stupid," and you've got Forrest Gump.  Tolkien's work stretches far.

The last thing I'll note is the very obvious bearing Beowulf had on Tolkein.  The swords and such, the fighting, the horns on everything, the righteous in battle stuff, the putting of the dead on water, and so much more there isn't room to mention.  But if anyone knows LOTR: TTT and Beowulf, you can't miss the fact that Shelob is a direct descendent of the She-hag in Beowulf (and maybe a tiny bit of Grendel, too).

One work, one deed, leads to another.  Such as it is in Middle-Earth; such as it is here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring--J.R.R.Tolkein

Tried to read this book a few years ago, and then many years before that, and always got frozen at the Tom Bombadil part.  Never could get past it, don't know why.  This time, I flew by it and read the whole thing in a few days.  I truly believe that I wasn't ready for it until now.  Doesn't hurt that my better half and I saw all three Peter Jackson films in the past week or so...

I don't have too much to add about its awesomeness; if you've come this far, you already think it's great.  I guess I'm interested in why I think so.  Let's face it, the writing isn't great.  Yet, it is, in its own way.  Open a page at random, and read a sentence with Isengard, and many other names; I dare any other writer to write like that and get away with it.  Tolkein did.  Why?  I think it's the way it's so solid in his head.  And it's so consistent.  He writes it all like the names are so common.  It's like you don't have to flip back to the map in the beginning a few thousand times--but I did.  The descriptions would be weary but for those who weren't sold on it all as I was.  That stayed me the second time.  All that fauna, that grass, those woods and mountains.

Or maybe it's the simplicity.  Hobbits, grass, round homes, sticks, bread, sleep, warm and cold.  Walking.  Horses and swords.  The basics.  Life is basic, in a way.  The Ring is evil, pure and simple.  But people struggle against using it anyway.  Evil is so obvious, but it pulls.  The writing is simple.  Very simple.  And Tolkein simply relished the simple life and railed against technology, and lack of manners.  The art is not in the writing style or ability, per se, as much as it is in its completeness.

Or maybe it's the duality.  It's obviously Ireland, or northern England, especially the Shire--but it's not.  The swords, shields, emphasis on kings, and breast-beating is so Beowulf (as Tolkein famously translated)--but it's not.  The castles and such are so medieval Europe--but it's not.  (And Aragorn=Aragon, but not.)  Mordor and the Orcs are obviously WW1's Germany, and maybe a bit of WW2's Germany (despite Tolkein's protests)--but it's not.

I think it's the emphasis on friendship, more than anything else.  The movies got this.  Frodo and Sam; Aragorn, the Elf and the Dwarf; Pippin and Merry; Frodo and Gandalf; in the book, Aragorn and Gandalf.  Notice that Boromir's big sin wasn't struggling with the Ring--as they all did--but was instead his mistreatment of Frodo.  (Boromir and Aragorn are friendlier in the movie than in the book.)  True friendship can overcome powerful evil.

You get swallowed into the world--the grasses, the different beings, the simple attitude of the hobbits (shared by Tolkein himself) and the simple lessons of life:  Eat hearty, be merry, be a good friend, stand against evil.  I don't believe it's the fantastic elements that keep us.  First, they're too inconsistent.  Gandalf can battle Saramon with his staff--but he can't melt snow with it?  He can light up the mines in the mountains with it, but he can't clear a path ON the mountain with it?  And it's all too Ireland/England, Norse/medieval anyway, not complete fantasy.  And where are they, anyway?  On another world--or are we led to take for granted that it's Earth--but not?

Ingenious in its own way.  Like the writings of Chandler and select others, easy to emulate, hard to surpass.  But that hasn't stopped millions from trying...

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Photo: Boy hiding from Hurricane Earl  (This is me, hoping Irene doesn't damage the cars, the deck, or all of my belongings.)

Batten down the hatches!  All hands on deck! 

Getting both homes ready for you-know-who.  No room in the garage for our cars, so we're rolling the dice with them in the driveway.  I hope NOT to have pictures to show.  Stay tuned.

Other home almost completely empty.  Job starts Monday.  I'm exhausted every day.  Over a grand already spent (or agreed to) on chimney, fireplace and central air repairs, and on (severe) landscaping.  Deck is next.

No reading or writing done lately.  Ditto on sleeping and eating.  And breathing.

Very rewarding, but also very...Just, very.  Very very.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Moved In

Mostly moved in to new home.  Great place.  Needs lots of work.  More stuff is in the garage than where it should be in the house.  Lots of work to do--plus I have to totally vacate and clean the other place for the new tenants.  Lots of work, but new space to create.  Looking forward to it.  Work starts in 10 days.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Writing and Moving

Well, actually, it's moving and writing, but I've had a few better ideas lately, and I don't feel that all is lost like I have been for awhile.  I've written a short nonfiction piece that I think I'll send out after I move--which is Thursday and Friday.  Yup, two days.  I'll be setting up an office, clearing a ton of space, and I'll be sticking to a few self-imposed rules.  (I'm very excited about setting up this creative environment and writing more.)  Among them:

--I'll write for at least one hour every day.  After X amount of time, that'll grow to two; then three.  I may hope to grow to four, especially on weekends, vacations and summers, but we'll see.  Stephen King said in a video for his latest book that he writes for three hours a day now; I just finished reading a Writers Digest interview with him where he said he wrote for four to four and a half hours--in March 1992.  I'll be happy with one, and ecstatic with two or three.

--I'll read for at least an hour every day.  This reading time won't count into my writing time.  In other words, editing my work won't count as reading time.  I especially will read books and magazines.  I have tons of Writers Digests and Times (just saw Susan Smith); reading those again would be cool--and it'll fire me up.

--I'll write a lot longhand again, and on something that doesn't have the internet.  Too much of a distraction!  I have an Epson Expert 2000 that'll do the trick.  Also a typewriter from the 30s.  And I think I have another word processor somewhere.  But a notebook--both paper and electronic--will work.  Looking forward to that.

--I'll keep track of my ideas, my submissions, and my rejections better.  I often go long lengths of time in which I don't write anything or send out anything.  Then something comes back and I don't remember sending it out to begin with.  Now I'll keep a ledger of submissions.  Keeping an Excel spreadsheet and a Word table about them just didn't work for me.  I'm a write-it-down kind of guy.

--I'll work out, or walk, or run, or bike more.  As reading gets my gears going, so does physically moving.  I read an article recently that said that watching an hour of tv every day, on average, takes over 22 minutes off your life.  It's not the TV, they say--though that's debatable considering much of what is on--but the slothful lifestyle of those who watch that much TV.  It occurs to me that reading can do much the same thing.  Some people--not me!  not me!--are such vicious readers when they're on a roll, that they're not very active.

--I won't stop writing or reading when I go back to work.  This is much easier said than done.

Well, that's it for now.  I might not be around for awhile as I move out and move in, and then set up.  And then return to work 10 days after I move in.  But I hope to produce more writing, here and elsewhere.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Flashback--Dan Simmons

The good thing to say about this book is that I bought it about a week ago and read the whole thing in about three days.  So it (mostly) moves swiftly, or I read well and swiftly, or both.

Otherwise it is very disappointing.  Not a bad read, exactly, especially for these rainy days; but you hope more from the author of The Terror.  Flashback certainly isn't more.  The plot is okay, not great; the characters are not fully drawn.  Worse, though, is that the atmosphere and detail don't inspire--really bad for a dystopian novel set 20 years from now.  Where The Terror excelled in its description, mood and feeling, Flashback falls flat.

Worse still is the political and social commentary.  Simmons is smart enough not to make these comments an author intrusion, but that's what they are, even when he's making other characters say them.  So Simmons very clearly distrusts liberal agendas and Islam, and he doesn't seem keen on the Japanese, either.  There's a little too much verbal pandering for my taste, and there are also just too many tropes to deal with--including the flashback addiction itself.

So, overall, very readable, but disappointing on a few levels.  He can do much better.