Friday, January 24, 2014

After Reading A Pushcart-Nominated Horror Story, etc.

"Everything, All At Once, Forever" by Michael Wehunt

One of the best things about reading short stories is that they're (duh) short.  This one was just four pages long (on my computer screen anyway) and very well-written.  Very emotionally-draining and depressing, too, but don't let that sway you from reading it for free, here.  (Read it; it took just five minutes, if that.) So the cool thing about this story, besides the story itself--which I'm told is strongly based on an episode of The Twilight Zone from the 80s--is that it was nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize.  These prizes are usually given to stories from established writers of mainstream or literary fiction, so for a "literary horror" story to be nominated is quite an achievement.  If you get the chance, go to Wehunt's website here, and look at all of the short stories he's had published in 2013, and earlier.  I won't lie; made me more than a little jealous, especially since he was published in magazines that have rejected politely declined some of my stuff.  And for the record, I don't know the guy at all--not on Goodreads, or LinkedIn, or anything.  I just liked his story, and am glad that a genre writer got nominated for a Pushcart.  Now if he wins...

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" by Wallace Stevens

A very short poem of just 16 lines (two stanzas of 8 lines), and world-famous, I thought I'd give it a shot again, because the last line (the title) of the two stanzas always confused me.  ("The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.") But I'd forgotten why I was confused, and maybe now that I'm old, and not a confused English major of 20 or 21, and I had a vague memory of the poem being about how temporary life is, I figured I'd get it this time.  Which I did.  Or, I think I did.  Here it is, if you'd like to see for yourself.   And, it's okay if you don't get part of it.  Try to resist reading online about what the poem means.  Such things are often correct, yet still written by stuffy or boring professorial-sounding people who take the life out of all things great.  I'd rather you not get a little of it, but like it for reasons of your own, then get all of it, but be turned off from poems because of the elitist-voiced explanations.  (I'm reminded of the teacher who fired Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society, standing in front of the class and saying, "What is poetry?")  Exactly the opposite of what Williams' character did, for the same reasons I'm saying here.  Reading poetry is like reading Joyce's Ulysses, or some parts of the Bible: it's the self-revelations learned upon the journey of reading and self-discovery that really matter, not what someone tells you something means--even if they're right.

"Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This one's a little longer--70 total lines--but written so well that it should be quick reading.  You can read and listen to it here, if you're so inclined.  It ends with a line that, I think, Churchill made famous--"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"--as the British were getting bombed by the Germans in WWII.  Anyway, it was next in the anthology I was browsing through, and I remember it was a dramatic monologue, which I like because they're quick and easy to read, though a little longer than my preference for poems.  (Poe famously said that all good poems are short--and then wrote some really long ones.)  I liked this one because it says that just because you're old, that doesn't mean you're done.  (The poem is geared towards someone much older than I am, but still.)  My favorite lines from it (and I should have them put up on a giant poster somewhere):

How dull it is to make a pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,...
...Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the Western stars, until I die...

(Me again.)  That's one thing I never understood about some people: How they can stand being bored.  How they maybe don't get bored because maybe they're not interested in much to begin with, so they don't know the comparison.  I rarely sleep or remain still, which is not always a good thing, but at least I know that our time here is not infinite, and I don't want to waste a moment not being interested in something. I just don't understand how some people just aren't curious.  Why is it okay for some people to do nothing, all the time?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Advice Needed: Putting Together My Sold Pieces

Two quick questions.  Any advice offered would be appreciated:

The owner of a local boutique has offered me the chance to have a book signing at her shop.  I've had a few pieces published, and the rights have reverted back to me by now.  I've already requested 25 copies of a snazzy-looking magazine that one of my stories appeared in (Spring 2012 Issue #116; please go to the link here to see it), so I'll have those to sign.  But I wanted something else, too: A collection of my other works that have sold to a) online fiction mags; b) a British (and, especially with the shipping costs, not cheap) book; c) a collection of essays.

So, I thought about putting these pieces together into one little book--nothing as official as something with an ISBN or anything like that, but also not something that looks amateurish or cheap.  I thought I'd get something with a cover, a back, a photo of me on the back in a lower corner, and an image to present each of the five or so disparate pieces in the book.  Therein lies a problem: I've got a piece of speculative fiction that sold to Space and Time Magazine, the one with the cool cover; a contemporary, literary piece that sold to; a poem that sold to the British publisher; an essay that sold to a specialized collection.  That's four completely different works (I'd add a fifth, previously unpublished story), so they'd need four completely different images to represent them (they are not closely related at all, in either content, theme or style), plus a cover image that somehow did represent the tone of them all, or the theme, or the...I don't know.

There's question #1: How do I work with these images?  Any ideas?

The other conundrum was, of course, cost-related.  My friend is too swamped to do the work (which she sounded honestly interested in and excited about, as this is exactly what she does for a living, and is currently doing a few extra jobs that pay the bills, but isn't what she likes to do best), and I would never ask her to do all this for free, anyway, as I know it's a lot of work and time, and I don't believe in asking professionals to do work for free, even if they are my friends.  But, of course, I can't afford to pay someone to do all this for a normal fee, either.  My friend said this would cost about $1,000 to do, and that's unfortunately out of the question at this point.

So that's question #2: How do I do this myself, for minimum cost, without it looking amatuerish or cheap?  Is this something I can go to OfficeMax, Staples or Kinko's for?

I was thinking of having book labels available for me to sign, and maybe one copy of the book I'm suggesting, and keeping a list of names so people can pre-order that, rather than making a lot of books that don't sell.  But I'd rather have a lot on hand, too.  And maybe I can sell the unsold ones later...Confusing.

Of course, it's possible I'm severely over-thinking things, and nobody will want anything, and I'll sob openly.

But if you're going to plan something, and dream something, why not go for it?

And, well, that's it.  Please, any ideas at all would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you, readers.

I hope the new year is treating everyone well.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quick Jots--Lots Goin' On

A few quick tidbits as I'm taking a breather between seemingly a thousand things at once:

--I'll call it the Ebay Rule: When you win the bidding on something, and immediately Ebay shows you the same exact thing from a different seller, in better condition, for less money.

--I'm going to have to let my American Horror blog go, at least for this season.  Just too much going on.  If you wanna howl in protest, please comment below and I'll reconsider.  Otherwise...IMO, this season just pales too much in comparison to last year, and I'm just not as motivated to review each episode.  I watch them, though, but even that is without as much enthusiasm.  There's only a few episodes left, so why not?

--(Speaking of which: it's quite gutsy for the show's creators to do what they did to Nan.  I'm just sayin'.)

--And maybe my Walking Dead blog, too.

--If you'd like, take a look at my Pinterest page.  Boards include Jackson the greyhound; my published writing; old objects I've bought for cheap and sold for much more--or kept; books I read last year; books I've read so far this year; great life-lessons; my very old baseball cards; and pics from my blogs.  Much appreciated.  I'm thinking of adding a favorite movie scenes or movie lines board, and another for just great pics (or memorable ones, not always joyful).

--Speaking of books and my published writing, it's possible that an online mystery (fiction and nonfiction) magazine may take me on as a book reviewer.  Cross your fingers and stay tuned.

--In case you're wondering (or even if you're not), I'm doing more social media things than you would think I would (if you knew me personally, and my usual stance on such things) because literary agents, editors and publishers have all said (and written) that they want their writers to have a strong and varied electronic presence.  Since I don't tweet and I don't Facebook, I gotta do these things instead.  ::shrugs::

--Having said that, I like what I do, and what I've done.

--My workplace building may close after all.  Again.  Cross your fingers and stay tuned to that, as well.  If you're in the community, go to the local school on Tuesday and (politely and respectfully) voice your displeasure, and hope the vote turns out like it did last time.

--Obamacare penalizes people who're late getting health insurance?  Since many who don't have health insurance are poor, does it make sense to penalize the poor?  What kind of motivation is that?

--It's in the single digits around here, with sub-zero windchills, and then, literally 48 hours later, it's in the 40s.

--Global warming?  What global warming?

--Polar vortex sounds like something I get if I eat too much Taco Bell.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Damned If You Do--Book Review: If You Read It, You're [see title]

 Photo: Book's hardcover, from

The real title is Robert B. Parker's Damned If You Do, but if you read my reviews, you know how I feel about using a name as part of the title, especially if he's dead, so I won't further go at it here.  But...argh...

And that's pretty much what I have to say about this book itself, as well.  This is a giant step back from the other two Brandman novels, neither of which were exemplary to begin with.  What a horribly written story!  The dialogue is wooden and preposterous.  The story is tired and distant.  It's told and not shown.  And it's got little writer edits at the end of some sentences, like Brandman's explaining it to us.  (Note to Brandman: Mystery and procedural readers like to remember such things for themselves.  Even if they're unimportant--because you don't know until the end what was important and what wasn't, right?)

There are too many examples to cite them all.  There were so many that I had to put the book down and do something else.  I actually groaned and complained out loud.  And I can't find the one now I really wanted to put here, so...From page 247, after Jesse Stone saw a character, who he'd liked, die: "He hoped that the scotch would accomplish what he was unable to achieve himself...He wanted it to erase the haunting look in her dying eyes from his mind and his heart."

First, that's just bad writing.  Second, that's telling, not showing.  Third, if you've read Parker's--and even Brandman's--Jesse Stone works before, Stone (and the 3rd person narrator) would never think or speak like this.  Fourth, we all know why people drink after they've seen someone they like die.  Fifth, we all know why borderline alcoholics (or former alcoholics, which Stone is) drink after such an event.  Sixth, that last sentence--melodrama, anyone?  And Stone, and Parker--well, they're so anti-melodrama that this is just blasphemy, in of itself.  And I know that comparing Brandman and Parker is unfair because they're different people--but Brandman is so obviously trying to emulate Parker's sparse style, and failing so miserably at it, that the comparison is just here.  I feel certain that Parker would be upset with this book.

And the action sequences are just as bad.  This from page 239: "Suddenly everyone was on the move.  Chairs scraped loudly and tables were overturned as people began to anxiously respond.  There were shouts of panic.  The crowd began a confused surge towards the exits."

Again, this is just bad writing.  The word "suddenly" was used tons of times in this book.  That's bad.  When chairs scrape, it's loud.  So that's redundant--and it tells.  And it overuses adverbs, which I learned in high school and college is bad to do.  When people are "on the move," what is that, exactly?  When settlers are on the move, they're just walking along, and slowly.  There's probably lots of dust.  And when there are "shouts of panic" and scraping chairs and overturning tables--that's not how people "anxiously respond."  That's chaos.  Stuttering is anxiously responding.  And notice the word "began" is used twice in this one short paragraph.  Nobody begins to do something.  That's a huge pet peeve of mine, and it's used a million times in this book.  You're either doing that thing, or you're not doing that thing.  In this image, the people were well beyond the "began to anxiously respond" stage, whatever that is.  They were panicked and running over each other.  By definition, a surge is an action in progress, so there's no "began" there, either.

Literally almost every sentence and every paragraph has an instance of lazy writing, bad writing, passive writing, and...Oh, man, it was just plain horrible.  What a disappointment!  I don't want the reader to think I'm just nitpicking here, or in a bad mood, or whatever.  I'm telling it straight--the writing of this book is that bad.

So bad I was shocked at its badness.

So bad it gives hope to all unpublished writers out there--if this can find its way into Barnes & Noble, your book can, too.

So bad I pictured Parker rolling over in his grave.

So bad it was a blight on all the Jesse Stone books I've bought and read before--all in hardcover, too.

So bad that if someone else hadn't bought this book for me for Christmas, I would've stopped reading it.

So bad that I can't even say to save it for bathroom reading, which is the advice I usually give for bearably bad books.  But this isn't even bathroom reading--unless you need to use its paper.  Which you probably should.

This is so bad that it reminded me of Dorothy Parker's quip: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly.  It should be thrown with great force."

By the way, the characters and story are bad, too.  Stone, a police chief, tells a mass murderer that he feels "surprisingly comfortable" that he's watching his back.  I'm not kidding.  I actually disliked Stone at the end.

The best things about this book are the title, and the cover.  And that it ended.

Skip it, even if you have all the others.  It is worth having a hole in your collection so you don't have to put yourself through this.  It is that bad.

Don't even buy it in the remainder bin.  Don't start off the new year with this.  Don't do that to yourself.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Francona, by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy--Book Review

Photo: Terry Francona, as he is now--a manager of the Cleveland Indians--in a photo from a Boston Globe article about him winning Manager of the Year.

A very readable, if not mindblowing or all-revealing, look at the life and times, especially 2004-2011, of former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.  I read it in a couple of days, as most decent readers and/or baseball fans would.

I had put off reading it for a long time, as I very much liked and respected Francona (and still do) and did not want to read an airing of his grievances.  He was always a "keep it in-house" kind of guy, and I didn't want to see him break from that and air his--and the Sox's--dirty laundry.  But an uncle of mine let me borrow it, and I had some time off, so I read it.  It was a nice distraction, but if you're hoping to get the nitty-gritty on his quitting / firing, or the real inside scoop on Manny, or Pedro, you'll be disappointed.  There isn't much here that most serious Sox fans wouldn't already know.

In fact, Francona has a few more books in him when his stint with the Indians is over.  I'd like to read more about his minor league coaching days, which are given very short shrift here--surprising, since he had so many minor league jobs, and since he was Michael Jordan's coach in Birmingham, the Double-A club of the Chicago White Sox.  Managing Michael Jordan's baseball days is a book in of itself--a book he should get to, before Jordan's star starts dimming.

I'd also love to hear more about a baseball lifer: the minor-league coaching and managing; the bus rides; the fans; the management.  The major league coaching jobs he had as bench coach with the A's, or the Rangers, or a few others.  His days managing in Philadelphia.  His one year with ESPN.  All of that stuff would be more interesting to me than the stuff written about here, 99% of which I already knew.  The Manny stuff, the Pedro stuff, the last days in Boston--all old news, and already known.  (Though I did not know that the Colorado Rockies purposely had an famous country singer / ex-girlfriend of Josh Beckett's sing the National Anthem before Game 4--while he warmed up in the bullpen to start the game.  He told someone: "For the record, I broke up with her."  That's right out of Major League or Bull Durham, and taught me something else: That Beckett actually has a sense of humor.  I still blame him for most of the catastrophe of September, 2011.)

And, despite the airing of some grievances--mostly about John Henry and Larry Lucchino--Francona and Shaughnessy clearly tap dance their way around every potential volatile issue, so as not to truly upset anyone.  Theo Epstein comes out of it much better than he probably should--partly because he and Francona were so close.  But there are no lightning bolts here, which is, in a way, too bad, because there are lightning bolts to uncover about September 2011, and about who leaked the private information that partly led to Francona leaving.  But I'm glad there aren't any lightning bolts as well.  As I said, I like and respect Francona (and was happy that his Indians made the playoffs [albeit for one game] and that he won Manager of the Year--a first for him, believe it or not) and so I am happy to not see any incredible dirty laundry being publicly shown.  I'm guessing that, because he is that kind of guy, he only wanted to show in the book things that really are in the public realm, things that most serious Sox fans already know.  He showed the dirty socks and shirts, and not the pants, if you catch my extended metaphor there.

So, good book.  It won't be as memorable as Jim Bouton's Ball Four, but it'll pass the time.  I read it mostly during the commercials of the 2013 ALCS and World Series games I'd DVRed.

P.S.--Getting the Cleveland Indians into the playoffs was a better showing of his managerial talents than anything he did with the Sox, in a way.  The Sox always had playoff talent in all his years there.  The 2013 Indians, on the other hand, is a team that he wrung every drop of talent out of to make the playoffs.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Lincoln: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin--Book Review

Photo: Book's paperback cover, via There are many editions, but this is the one I read.

Extremely well-written and well-researched book (and, from just a few pages, partially the source of Spielberg's movie, which was also very good) that will make you see and know Lincoln like you never did--or, like you never thought you could.  There's so much to digest here that you'd better take your time to do so--but it is well worth the slower pace.  I normally read books--even ones this long--in a few days (just over 700 pages, including the epilogue and notes.)  Maybe a few weeks, if I'm really busy.  This one took several weeks, and I started and finished other things in the meantime.

But, as I said, it was worth it.  Reading this spawned a few historical fiction ideas for me.  (My book would be narrated from John Hay's POV.  Read the book to find out who this guy was.)  It gave birth to a memory that I have Carl Sandburg's (until-now authoritative) biography around here somewhere.  Reading this book reminded me that I also have a book of Lincoln's own writing around here somewhere.  (I have to seriously organize my books.)

By the time you're done with this, you'll feel like you knew Lincoln personally.  That you were there in D.C. with him, in those cold rooms, during those cold winters.  That you were there to see Mary, his wife, misbehave.  That you were there for Chase's political greed, or for some northern generals' incompetence.  In essence, you'll simply feel like you were there.

There've been so many books about Lincoln that writers now have to find a different vehicle from which to tell his story.  (I suspect the same is true for Jesus and Shakespeare.  A recent book about Shakespeare--his biography written in tandem with the exact lines of Shakespeare's famous "Seven Stages of Man"--comes to mind.)  This is true here.  Goodwin chose to write her Lincoln biography via the men of his cabinet.  His team of rivals, if you will--all men who ran against him, or who were in different political parties, or who had differing political agendas, get the idea.  And so we get a biography of Lincoln, in Goodwin's voice, told with the information taken from Lincoln's team of rivals.  And the wives, girlfriends, and friends of those men.  And throw in the information provided by the more important generals, too.  The people providing most of the material include John Hay and John Nicolay, his assistants; William Seward, his Secretary of State; Edwin Stanton, his Secretary of War; Salmon Chase, his Secretary of the Treasury; Edward Bates, his Attorney General; and Gideon Welles, his Secretary of the Navy.  The generals we see and hear from the most are, of course, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman; and, to a lesser extent, Generals McClellan, Hooker and Burnside--all three of whom almost managed to lose the war.

But this book isn't just told via diaries, journals, letters, etc.  Goodwin's writing style and voice gather all of these together.  The result is a mesmerizing, incredibly thorough and very enlightening book that is never boring or condescending.  It'll show you why Lincoln is revered, even deified, by many Americans today.  If you thought Lincoln's reputation was overblown or perhaps ill-deserved, read this book, and, like me, you'll learn otherwise.  And who knew he had such a high-pitched voice, or that he was such a political genius?