Thursday, January 18, 2018

Disney World 2018

My wife, kids and I took a trip to Disney World (Orlando, FL) last week. We all had a grand time, especially the kids – so it was worth it.

We visited Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Many highlights.

As a family, we all enjoyed the TOY STORY MANIA ride the most. You ride along in a car with 3-D glasses and fire a virtual pop gun at various toy targets.
 We ate too well.

My personal highlights were the Kilimanjaro Safari ride and staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The lodge – Jambo House – has a faux-pseudo-African vibe and is designed like a safari lodge house on steroids.
Jambo House
 We lucked out – our room did not overlook the ‘savanna’ but it did overlook animal pens where the animals get fed and/or shelter for the night. In the mornings, we saw bearded wildebeests, giraffes, impalas (mid-sized antelopes,) zebras, and ostriches sharing a common open space. Off to the right in separate areas were roan antelope (elk-sized, I’d guess,) and a pair of red river hogs came trotting out for their breakfast.

Red river hog comes out for breakfast. Roan antelope in the background.
Fire pit to relax and put up your feet after a long day of standing and walking.

The Kilimanjaro Safari ride offered views of more animals, including an elephant, a hippo, lions, and a white rhino. Lots of other animals and birds, too.
White rhinoceros on the safari
The only downsides were spending lots of money and waiting in lines.

The staff and patrons are all courteous and friendly. The staff need to be. But all the visitors seem to be aware we were all there for the same reason – to relax and have fun. Maybe we can all take that back to our daily lives.

It was good to get away, to connect with family and to drop off social media for a week. I think we can all use that once in a while.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

writing goals 2018

On a Facebook group, someone asked what our writing goals are for 2018. Goals, not resolutions.

So, for the record, and to take a look back later;

I have two unfinished short horror novels. Both are halfway done - if I have my math correct and hit the projected wordcounts.

So, I want those finished next year.

I have a superhero/scifi novel planned. I want that one to reach 100K or more, so I can shop it to the bigger publishers.

I want to get that one written in 2018.

Because of the novel(s) focus, I will be minimal on short stories in 2018. Right now, I am only considering a handful for some specific open calls - which are all happening early in 2018 so I need to get them cranked out soon.

And that is all.

Stretch goals would include; a third short horror novel, and/or another 100K project (probably a fantasy/sword-&-sorcery.)

One person posted a wordcount goal instead of specific projects. I thought that was an interesting take. So, I'll add that. I don't think I could put out a million words like James Reasoner. I am going to say the year goal for fiction wordage is 250K. That will cover the two half-finished novels and a 100K novel with some room to spare for the short stories and some of the stretch goals.

How about you other writers?

recent read; Forever and a Death

FOREVER AND A DEATH by Donald E. Westlake

From the blurb;
The Bond That Never Was

Two decades ago, the producers of the James Bond movies hired legendary crime novelist Donald E. Westlake to come up with a story for the next Bond film. The plot Westlake dreamed up – about a Western businessman seeking revenge after being kicked out of Hong Kong when the island was returned to Chinese rule – had all the elements of a classic Bond adventure, but political concerns kept it from being made. Never one to let a good story go to waste, Westlake wrote an original novel based on the premise instead – a novel he never published while he was alive.

Richard Curtis is a powerful business man who had been run out of Hong Kong after the handover from UK control to China (post 1997.) He wants revenge and he wants his fortune back. He has a plan for destruction and robbery. When Curtis tests his "solitron wave" device on an abandoned isle, members of the environmental group, Planetwatch, get caught up in Curtis's scheme. After Curtis arranges the death of a young woman, Kim, his chief engineer George Manville defects, saves Kim, and maneuvers to block Curtis's plans from reaching fruition. The novel builds steam from there, with a cast of characters, reversals, turns, and intrigue. Like a Bond story, we have exotic settings - Singapore, Hong Kong, South Seas, and Australia.

Certainly, Hard Case Crime have used the Bond angle to promote the novel but Westlake didn't appear to want his novel near pastiche territory. He reused elements (Hong Kong, gold robbery, corporate villain with a destructive machine, etc.) but the characters are nowhere near MI6 or any other fictional spy agency or criminal organizations. Sex is off-screen and nearly non-existent - far more tame than any Bond movie or novel. Perhaps the most jarring element is the ensemble team of good guys trying to stop the bad guy, rather than one person. Manville at first appears to be a Bond analogous in training but he disappears off-page for a large chunk of time later in the novel.

Richard Curtis is the most realized character in the book. Westlake does a good job of creating a villain who just gets more villainous because he digs his holes deeper and deeper. He starts off with bribes and corner cutting, never imagines being a murderer, and by the end, the extinguishing of life no longer bothers his conscience.

The afterword by Jeff Kleeman is worth the price of admission. Kleeman reveals all the details of Westlake's involvement in the unproduced screenplay. He highlights some of the differences and similarities between the novel and the original project, including some cinematic scenes and Bond pun quips that aren't in the book. He also mentions Westlake was on-screen in LIVE AND LET DIE, as a background extra! (I'll need to rewatch the movie.)

While the novel might have been better if it had stuck closer to a Bond pastiche by keeping Manville's through-line consistent, it is still an enjoyable thriller. If you like Bond and adventure fiction, you should give it a read. (4/5 stars)

Monday, December 18, 2017

recent read; The Papers of Solar Pons


I'll come right out and say I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did but that is not to say it is bad. I brought a lot of expectations to the Kickstarter-funded book. As such, this review is probably longer than it needs to be.

I am new to the Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes original stories and also new to Pons. I was fortunate enough to secure the first Derleth Pinnacle paperback collection, so I had some familiarity with Pons before starting.

Pons has a long history. In a nutshell - August Derleth was a Sherlock Holmes fan. When no more Holmes stories were coming, he created a pastiche character, Pons, who is essentially Holmes. All the bells and whistles of Holmes are in Pons - a London address, a doctor confidant, a untouchable enemy, a gang of helpful street urchins. Later, Basil Copper took over the character. But, Pons has been dormant a long time until now.

THE PAPERS OF SOLAR PONS, authorized by the Derleth estate, are new tales that harken back more to Derleth's style, though Marcum has his own style, certainly.

The book opens with many essays from various writers about Pons and their joy at seeing his return. I did enjoy their excitement.

The stories are all well written and I enjoyed them to an extent. Some went where I wasn't expecting. One story even turned out to be of the "weird menace" category, which was pleasant surprise. Marcum certainly knows the ins-&-outs of Pons canon.

Now, on to some of the negatives.

First, there was constant cross-referencing to other cases - both Holmes's and Pons's. Being new to both canons, I never knew when Marcum was referencing previous tales or creating "lost tales." It's an old tradition to drop hints of cases we've never read but it just felt overboard in this collection.

The final story is a long one. It is a Holmes story, concerning the origins of Solar Pons. It isn't a bad story and it written well enough. But this novelette-length story just didn't jibe with me.

If you know me by now you know I'm a big Robert E. Howard fan. I have mixed feelings on continuations and pastiches, anyway. When it comes to origin stories, I am of the mind, mostly, that any origin story from the original author is fine. But I really have a hard time with origin stories coming from follow-on pastiche writers.

There is that old quote about whether a nude picture is art or pornography, and the answer is "I know it when I see it." I feel the same way about amateur fan fiction vs. a professional tie-in or authorized by an estate story. Don't get me wrong, sometimes (as with anything) you can find better fan fiction than authorized canon and sometimes fan fiction vibes creep into authorized canon.

I felt the story - as regards to Pons's origins - was fan fiction and far too obvious. The constant Easter egg cross-referencing of stories also felt like fan fiction - if only because it was done so often. But it is authorized canon, so that's fine.

If I gave it stars - as someone new to Holmes and Pons - I would give it three out of five, I'd say. It's not a bad addition to the canon. But as a starting point for someone new to Pons, I would have preferred something a bit more accessible and in the vein of a restart than something with deep tendrils into the canon world of Pons (and Holmes.)

Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

recent read; MAMA TRIED

MAMA TRIED, edited by James R. Tuck
Down & Out Books, 2016

(I'd originally written this review for my blog but decided to pass it along to Jim Cornelius for FRONTIER PARTISANS)

Joe Lansdale prefaced one of his most famous stories with a note that is was "a story that does not flinch."

Although Lansdale is not in this anthology, I think that concept and spirit permeate this anthology. These stories do not flinch. They dig into criminal worlds, telling taut stories that kept me engaged throughout.

For more details, please visit the post at Frontier Partisans.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Writing Progress 2017

It is often easier to see the gaps in one's writings (or, whatever art you create.) It's easy to focus on what failed and what you didn't finish.

But sometimes if you take a moment to consider your work, you might surprise yourself.

I meant to focus more on novel writing this year. Because I wasn't as successful there this year as I wanted, I lost a bit of sight on what I managed with short stories earlier this year.

Prompted by a tweet, I made a quick thumbnail for 2017 (as of now.)
  • 8 short stories written & submitted
  • 4 accepted, 3 rejected, 1 still in slush (rejected at one venue, submitted to another)
  • 1 published this year
  • 3 will publish early next year (I hope)
  • 1 short from previous year published
  • Progress on 2 horror novels (still incomplete - hope for final word count between 60K - 75K on each)
    •  1 @ 40K, 1 @ 26K
 I've done better this year than I thought!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

recent reads (listens) ; back to basics

I've been rather lazy about book reviews lately. Part of that is I've been reading older stuff by authors who have passed on - so they don't necessarily need the Amazon/goodreads review bumps.

I've surpassed my goodreads reading goal (65 books) for 2017. Yes, that includes some graphic novels but not nearly as many as last year. Audiobooks have helped - I listen to them on my daily commute.

Two recent listens;

THUNDERBALL by Ian Fleming, read by (actor) Jason Isaacs.

This was absolutely stellar. If you're a Bond fan, you should try this when you have time. I am going to press on with these and finish off the original Fleming books. This particular run of audios features British celebrity readers. Looking forward to more though I'm a little disappointed Isaacs didn't perform any of the others.

THE VALLEY OF FEAR by Arthur Conan Doyle, read by Derek Jacobi.

A fun reading. Jacobi works solidly with accents, including Americans. I'm only getting to the original Sherlock Holmes tales now - largely thanks to the influence of Charles R. Rutledge (also responsible for my interest in Burroughs's original Tarzan tales, too.) My only complaint is that this story - like A STUDY IN SCARLET - features a second half prequel story set in America without Holmes at all. However, I didn't feel quite as cheated as with A STUDY IN SCARLET, because here the midpoint reveal doesn't come out of the blue.

Aside from audios, Rutledge is also responsible for kindling my interest in Solar Pons.

Pons was August Derleth's Holmes pastiche who went on to a life of his own, with Basil Copper continuing the stories in the 1970s. Recently, Copper's tales came back into print in paperback from PS Publishing in the UK.

Also, a Kickstarter campaign launched brand new stories written by David Marcum with the permission of the Derleth estate. Marcum is a Holmes/Pons aficionado. (The campaign was successful. If you missed out, the book can be ordered from Amazon.)

Because the original Derleth tales are now the ones out-of-print, I hope this campaign carries on to reprint the original Derleth stories in the near future.

Not sure how long I'll be deep diving on thrillers, mystery and crime but I might be here a while.