Sunday, August 13, 2017

recent read; WITCHY EYE

WITCHY EYE by D. J. Butler
Sarah Calhoun is the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Elector Andrew Calhoun, one of Appalachee’s military heroes and one of the electors who gets to decide who will next ascend as the Emperor of the New World. None of that matters to Sarah. She has a natural talent for hexing and one bad eye, and all she wants is to be left alone—especially by outsiders.
But Sarah’s world gets turned on its head at the Nashville Tobacco Fair when a Yankee wizard-priest tries to kidnap her. Sarah fights back with the aid of a mysterious monk named Thalanes, who is one of the not-quite-human Firstborn, the Moundbuilders of the Ohio. It is Thalanes who reveals to Sarah a secret heritage she never dreamed could be hers.
Now on a desperate quest with Thalanes to claim this heritage, she is hunted by the Emperor’s bodyguard of elite dragoons, as well as by darker things—shapeshifting Mockers and undead Lazars, and behind them a power more sinister still. If Sarah cannot claim her heritage, it may mean the end to her, her family—and to the world where she is just beginning to find her place.
Dave Butler has weaved the ornate tapestry of a fantasy epic from the history of early America and it is simply wonderful. WITCHY EYE is a great read. Full of detail, historical veracity, and charm. The characters - protagonists and villains alike - spring from the page.

Butler's "America" is never referred to as such and there are no states - united or otherwise. There are territories and empires and the wild untamed wooded frontier.

In this world, magic is real - from simple hedge-witch hexing to dread necromancers.

So, how does one classify WITCHY EYE? It's not only fantasy. It is not only alternate history. It's a rich novel of heroics in an Americana Flintlock Fantasy, and I for one, am glad it has arrived.

I enjoyed it a lot and I eagerly await its sequel.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

WICKED HAUNTED - "East Boston Relief Station"

I am proud and pleased that my short story, "East Boston Relief Station," was accepted for inclusion in the anthology WICKED HAUNTED. The book is edited by Scott Goudsward, David Price & Dan Keohane, who read and chose the entries from members of the New England Horror Writers.

The theme of the anthology is ghost stories.

Amazing table of contents! I'm honored to be included with all these authors!

Bracken MacLeod - "Lost Boy"
James A. Moore - "Pulped"
Remy Flagg - "Murmur"
Doungjai Gam Bepko - "We're All Haunted Here"
Emma Jane Shaw Gibbon - "Ghost Maker"
Kenneth Vaughan - "And They Too Want to be Remembered"
Peter Dudar - "The Thing With No Face"
GD Dearborn - "Triumph of the Spirit"
Nick Manzolillo - "My Work is Not Yet Completed"
Paul McNamee - "East Boston Relief Station"
Trisha Wooldridge - "Ghosts In Their Eyes"
Curtis M. Lawson - "Everything Smells like Smoke Again"
Renee Mulhare - "Stranding Off Schroodic Point"
Tom Deady - "Turn Up the Old Victrola"
Dan Szczesny - "Boy on the Red Tricycle"
Dan Foley - "They Come With the Storm"
Barry Lee Dejasu - "Tripping the Ghost"
Rob Smales - "Road to Gallway"
Paul McMahon - "The Pick Apart"
Morgan Sylvia - "The Thin Place"
Matt Bechtel - "The Walking Man"
Larissa Glasser "- The Mouse"
Patricia Gomes - "Scrying Through Torn Screens"

Without giving anything away, I will say my story was inspired by some personal experiences and some family history I discovered.

Thanks to my alpha reader, Charles Rutledge.

The editors are still deciding the cover art. They plan to have the book published and ready for Halloween this year.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The TRUE GRIT experiment

I'd never seen the movie, TRUE GRIT. Neither the first version with John Wayne (1969) nor the newer version from the Coen brothers (2010.)  And I had never read the novel.

During my vacation, I decided to consume and compare all three. I listened to the audiobook and then watched both films.

I loved the novel. Straightforward and harrowing at the same time. The audio narration by Donna Tartt is stellar.

First thing that hit me was the score. It is dated and unflattering. The sweeping strings just seem out-of-place in a post-spaghetti Western. On top of that, it starts with a theme song with embarrassingly bad lyrics.

Until the end, the movie followed the novel plot points almost exactly. The dialog was nearly exact from the novel, too. The denouement ending was invented around a point at the ending of the novel and was not in the novel.

It's still a grand, fun Western and a Wayne classic for a reason.

The first thing that hit me was how much better the soundtrack was.

This version had a fair number of minor changes in the plot that kept me guessing. Ironically though, I think the tone and characters were closer to the novel. The ending adheres to the novel, too.

I think I prefer the 2010 version.

It was fun experiment. Fortunately, each movie and the novel all had more highlights than lowlights.

I want to do more of this. I've seen both versions of 3:10 TO YUMA but I still need to read the story. And I've seen SHANE but I still need to read the novel.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

recent read; Amazon Nights

Amazon Nights by Arthur O. Friel

Ever since I read THE PATHLESS TRAIL, I've wanted to read some of the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço, who made a cameo in that novel.

All the stories in this collection appeared in Adventure magazine in the early 1920s. They sweat with the steam of the South American jungle, full of intrigue, menace, jungle danger, south of the border hot-bloods, passion, murder, revenge, savages & cannibals, and betrayal.

Pedro and Lourenço are seringueiros - workers on a rubber plantation. Most of their adventures are set off the plantation during the rainy season. When there is no work and the waters flood to make passage through the jungle, the duo yield to wanderlust and find themselves in various scrapes. Lourenço narrates all the stories from first person p.o.v.

One story does dip a little into fantasy when the duo discovers a lost race of monkey men. All the other stories, though, play it straight though there are some humans who act like animals (but aren't) or are named after animals.

Friel spent time in the jungles of South America and the veracity bleeds through the atmosphere of these stories.

The standout stories for me were; "The Peccaries" "The Jararaca" "The Firefly" "The Bouto" and "The Trumpeter."

Darrel Schweitzer provides an informative, though brief, introduction to this collection.

Robert E. Howard read Friel and named him a favorite author. "The Peccaries" features someone being crucified on a tree. "The Jararaca" contains this wonderful bit, which could come right from the mouth of Solomon Kane;
"I am not one of those who think there is no God. And I do believe that whenever Deus Padre allows an evil thing to come into the world He also creates a good thing to destroy it. And whether this be so or not, I know that as our jungle harbors the venomous jararaca, so also it protests the good mussurana, which slays the jararaca."
Like THE PATHLESS TRAIL, I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these stories. AMAZON NIGHTS is a great encapsulation of the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço - and I still might seek out more of their tales.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Valley Forge National Historical Park

George Washington awaits.
 My nephew got married this weekend. The wedding was in Pennsylvania and we had time to kill, so my wife & I visited Valley Forge National Historical Park.

George and me.
SPOILER ALERT - (There was no battle at Valley Forge, it was a temporary winter encampment.)

Valley Forge was set on high ground in the rolling farm country of southeastern PA. It's a lovely spot. From there, Washington could monitor British movements around Philadelphia, which the British had captured and occupied.

Beautiful rolling farm country.
Although there was no battle at the site, no cease-fire had been declared and the Continental Army had to drill, picket, and perform all the myriad soldiering duties throughout the winter, remaining vigilant. (There were a few skirmishes in the countryside - usually as the Americans were foraging wider and wider for supplies and food.)

We watched the introductory movie at the visitor center. It was a hot day and we opted for the trolley tour. Highly recommended. It was a wise move to let someone else do the driving and the narrating. Our guide really knew her stuff. Not just about the encampment but all kinds of history leading up to and after the encampment of winter 1777-78.

Costumed Park Ranger and replica huts.
The huts and redoubts are all recreations. The originals fell to rot, or more likely, were knocked down by the farmers who owned the land, once the the army had marched on.

Washington's headquarters was a proper house and that still stands today with recreated kitchen, office, and bedrooms.
Washington's headquarters
The theme driven home more than once is that Valley Forge is unique in being a monument not to soldiers in battle but a monument to the rest of a soldier's life - the 90% of time they are not on the battlefield. The 90% of time surviving, dying of diseases and dearth, drilling, and keeping busy to stay sane.

Absolutely worth your time to visit if you are in the area.

I'm a sucker for a good, concise, arms & equipment reference book.

Ya, I know  - I'm a sucker for a good, concise, arms & equipment reference book. "Fixed that for ya."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

recent read; Jungle Stories #56, Spring 1953

Jungle Stories #56, Spring 1953

I wanted to read some pulp outside the usual zone. I went for jungles stories. Ki-Gor is a Tarzan pastiche written under a house name. I checked with Charles Rutledge who advised me of some of the better stories. "The Silver Witch" was the only recommendation  available in ebook (at present.)

"The Silver Witch" surprised me. Not only is it a good tale, but the juju sorcery is real in the story. I would have expected a Scooby-Doo unveiling. An immortal sorceress, her silver ghostly army, a lost city in the swamp. An atmosphere of horror, too. "The Silver Witch" isn't far removed from a decent Conan pastiche. As such, it could be cross-classified as sword-&-sorcery (spear-&-sorcery) as well as a jungle story.

Four other tales round out this issue.

"Ndembo!" relates a somewhat humorous tale of a 'dead' tribesman who must endure 'death' to gain fortune among his tribe. Trickery meets trickery.

"Gorilla! Gorilla!" is a story of the leader of a troop of gorillas, under challenge from a young bull, and trying to protect his group from men. It is told from the point-of-view of the gorilla.

"Angel in the Jungle" isn't the best title for the tale it relates. The story involves the usual conflict of two colonials infighting as they deal with closing a pass with dynamite while dealing with a local tribe of elephant hunters.

"Spears of Fire" rounds out the issue. Again the setup is two white men in conflict against the backdrop of wild Africa. This story involves harvesting mahogany wood and floating it down river before the flood season leaves the wood high and dry. A few good twists in this one. I think it could use a better title, too, though. Not really many "spears." I thought this was the best story besides "The Silver Witch."

For $4 on Kindle, this issue contains a surprisingly enjoyable set of stories. Worth the read if you're interested in this sort of thing.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

recent read; Vampires Overhead

Vampires Overhead by Alan Hyder

In 1983, Karl Edward Wagner created three lists of what he considered to be the best horror novels. The lists - Supernatural Horror, SciFi Horror, and Non-supernatural Horror - appeared in Twilight Zone magazine.

Vampires Overhead is an apocalyptic scifi horror novel. Set in post-World-War-I London and the English countryside, it relates the story of "Garry" Garrington. Garrington and his wartime soldier pal, Bingen, are spared the initial horrors after they pass out in the safety of a tunnel under a brewery. They awaken to find a world burning, stalked by strange vampiric alien creatures.

They fight and flee from the vampires through London, and find only one other survivor - a young woman named Janet. The trio then set off for the countryside in search of supplies, a safe base, and other survivors.

As with many apocalypse stories, as the vampires dwindle, the monstrous nature of mankind comes to the surface.

Written in 1935, some of the descriptions of London ablaze eerily foreshadow the incendiary bombs of the Blitz only five years later. I don't know how widely known the novel was in later years. But I bet in had an influence on any number of British apocalypse tales. The Doctor Who serial, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," came to my mind more than once while listening.

Vampires Overhead is a cracking tale; tense and fast-moving. If you've not read it, put it on your shortlist.

A note on the audio book;

I listened to the audiobook from Radio Archives. It was a serviceable reading and I would give it higher regards except - the reader is American. The novel is British. It would not be much of an issue except the point-of-view is first person. Again, not an issue if it were read straight through. But, the American narrator slips into British accents for the dialog. The in-&-out accenting is a distraction - especially when he holds over some British pronunciations in the narration, or when he occasionally slips accent into Irish or Australian accents.

Friday, June 2, 2017

recent read; Nifft the Lean

Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea

I'd been wanting to read this sword-&-sorcery classic for a long time. All the Nifft books are out-of-print. I finally procured a copy last year.

I recently discovered Audible has made them available as audiobooks. So, I finally listened to NIFFT THE LEAN.

Amazing stuff. Every sword-&-sorcery fan should read. Or, as in my case, listen to the excellent audiobook.

Four tales of Nifft's thieving exploits are told. A story of traversing the underworld - sort of an ode to Dante's INFERNO, a tale of larceny involving black pearls and a vampire queen, the longest of the tales is another journey/quest through the sub-world of the demon seas and finally an odd tale of a kingdom that once was visited by aliens.

My only slight dissatisfaction is with the final story, because Nifft really isn't the protagonist - he is just a witness to events.

I could see where these stories had a large influence on Dungeons & Dragons and the "thief" character class.

Stellar storytelling.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lovecraftian Tales, Volume One

Lovecraftian Tales, Volume One

A while ago, I submitted a story to Lovecraft eZine. It was accepted but reserved for a future issue. Since that time, Mike Davis (editor and creator of Lovecraft eZine) decided to place the story in a new project/title, Lovecraftian Tales.

I am not sure of Mike's plans on this new title versus the Lovecraft eZine. I'm just happy the story has come out.

My story is "The Innsmouth Run," where a pair of bootleggers take refuge from the law in the ruins of Innsmouth. The story is set a few months after the events of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."

It is available via Amazon for Kindle or also in a print edition.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

recent read; StoryHack Issue #0

StoryHack Issue #0

Bryce Beattie is launching a new "pulp" magazine, StoryHack, joining a growing field of magazines/eZines returning to pulp storytelling.

Issue #1 is Kickstarting now. As a proof of concept, Issue #0 was produced and is available for free (follow the link above.)

So, what do you get with StoryHack, issue #0?

A mystery adventure in a gunpowder fantasy setting, a werewolf private eye, a bounty hunter in a lost city adventure, a sword-&-sorcery tale of Biblical times, a world-traveling vigilante, a sword-& sorcery tale from a prince's bodyguard, a Victorian spy team, cosmic horror on a galactic, apocalyptic scale, and an urban fantasy with gun-play, zombies, and magical artifacts.

As with any anthology (be it magazine or book,) not everything is probably going to jive with personal tastes - especially when StoryHack is welcoming all genres so long as the story focuses on action & adventure. This held true for me but the quality throughout the magazine was fine, even when a story wasn't appealing to me.

I enjoyed this issue. There are fun tales in here.

If your reading tastes align with mine - you know who you are - then you want to add StoryHack to your reading pile, for certain. I'm looking forward to issue #1!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

recent read; The Iron Company

The Iron Company by Chris Wraight

I like to knock off a Warhammer novel now and then. This was a good one, focusing on the engineers. Ironblood, an alcoholic washout, is granted forced into a commission to command an artillery company. The army is going to war with local rebels. The rebels have holed up in a near impregnable fortress. Ironblood convinces an old comrade to join the effort. And a dwarf with his own agenda joins in, as well.

Trials and tribulations await. Bloodshed, too. Cannons, and machines, and madmen who consider engineering no better than sorcery. Lots of elements in the story that Wraight blends well.

I enjoyed it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

recent read; Siege at Jadotville

Siege at Jadotville by Declan Power

Jim Cornelius brought this to my attention when this story was adapted to film last year.  In 1961, Katanga in the Congo was a dangerous place. The Irish A Company were sent into the Congo as part of UN peacekeeping forces. They found themselves surrounded in a remote outpost without the necessary tools to affect a win or even a lengthy holdout.

For many years, public perception did not view A Company fairly, feeling they had surrendered too easily and put a black mark on Ireland's army on the world stage. After many years, survivors of A Company and Power's book have set the record straight.

I have yet to see the movie, I don't know how much background is included, but Power's book does a fine job of laying out all the chaos of the region and the UN's flawed bullshit approach to the situation.

A Company were under-equipped, under-informed and it's a wonder they weren't rolled over on day one. The Irish were a largely green force (no pun intended)--even the officers hadn't had much combat experience, if any--and they held out against a much larger force of battle-hardened Belgian and French mercenaries intermingled in the Katangan forces. A Company were hamstrung (to put it lightly) by poor equipment, poor supplies, and poor "planning" from their superiors and the UN. Also, of course, was their charter as peacekeepers while the enemy played by rules they could not.

I definitely recommend this book if you want to understand how the whole siege came to be and played out for the men of A Company.

RCW: Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels seminar

River City Writers strike again!

This weekend I attended a seminar on Writing for Comics by Christopher Golden.

I learned a whole lot. I didn't know the nuts & bolts and now I feel like I do. It's surprising to recognize what has been on the page in front of you but you hadn't noticed as a reader.

Chris covered a lot in three hours; less is more, trust & know your artist, scene breakdown, page breakdown, panel breakdown, story arcs, and much more. Augmented with a vignette script and comic from his own BALTIMORE series for tangible examples of everything discussed.

If you're interesting in writing comics this seminar is a surefire way to ramp up quickly.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

recent read; Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective, Vol. 1

Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective, Vol. 1 by Nikki Nelson-Hicks

This book collects three tales featuring Jake Istenhegyi, a post-Prohibition, Hungarian immigrant to New Orleans who finds himself pulled into the world of pulp occult detective work (hence, the "accidental.")

"A Chick, A Dick, and a Witch Walk Into a Barn..." starts of the volume with a pulp occult detective bang. When Jake's private detective roommate goes missing, Jake picks up the investigation and finds himself knee-deep in vicious chickens, a loa possessed rooster monster, and a voodoo queen.

In "Golems, Goons, and Stone Cold Bitches," Jake gets caught between two sisters and the artifact they most desire. Along the way, Jake finds a ghost and learns disturbing family history concerning his uncle, from whom Jake inherited his bookstore. An uncle whose large illegal debt Jake is now expected to carry. By the end of the tale, Jake experiences magic that forever changes his life.

The volume closes with "Boo Daddies, Bogs, and A Dead Man's Body." This is the longest story and the most ambitious, with a large cast of characters, sub-plots, intriguing mysteries, and good twists. Laugh-out-loud moments, too.

Each story, while readable stand-alone, builds on the previous entries adding new elements to the world-building as well as revelations. They all flow naturally, nothing felt forced.

Bottom line; these stories are pulp fun. If you want some rollicking pulp occult detective tales, look up Jake Istenhegyi!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Much nothing ado

Quiet month here at the blog. Sorry about that.

I've undertaken recently not to post negative reviews. Unfortunately, my last couple of reads haven't really wowed me enough to post about them.

I am happy to report my current read (audiobook) is a lot of fun. I hope to finish it up this week and review soon.

I've been reading various short stories and comics, too.

The month is almost over so I guess I can add the "writing roundup" report for March. Eh. Too many zeroes. But, on the writing days I had good output. I also spent a good number of days editing. I submitted two stories (one by invite, one to a slush pile.) The current horror novel progresses, albeit slower than I would like.

I have a half-dozen submissions out there now. I hope to hear back on some of them during early April.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

recent re-read; Prince Raynor

In the 1930s, pulp writer extraordinaire, Henry Kuttner, tried his hand at sword-&-sorcery. Elak (of Atlantis) is the better known series but Kuttner also contributed to the genre with a different set of tales, featuring a character named Prince Raynor.

Raynor only lasted two stories, each appearing in STRANGE STORIES - another pulp that tried to go to the mat with WEIRD TALES. Lasting thirteen issues, STRANGE STORIES lasted slightly longer than STRANGE TALES, which only managed seven issues.

"Cursed Be The City" appeared in the April 1939 issue. The city of Sardopolis is under siege. A prophet within the city declares the city's doom. But he also declares the conquering King Cyaxares shall also be cursed. The doom that once dwelt in Sardopolis shall return.

Cyaxares conquers, kills the king, and places the king's son, Raynor in the torture chambers. Raynor escapes with the aid of his faithful Nubian servant, Eblik. They save a dying priest, and Raynor's path is set. He must free the great god Pan, whose altar once stood in the wild place that became Sardopolis.

I won't give away any more.

"The Citadel of Darkness" appeared in the August 1939 issue. In aftermath of Sardopolis's doom, Raynor, Eblik, and their female companion, Delphia, are wanderers. Grouping together some of the city survivors, they are beset by brigands and Delphia is kidnapped. A wizard named Ghiar aids Raynor, but pulls a sorcerous double-cross. Raynor finds himself in a battle with the brigands and the wizard and mighty powers of darkness beyond the ken of men.

The Raynor tales are darker than Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis stories. There is a feeling of direness and darkness akin to Robert E. Howard. While Kuttner was no stranger to employing the Cthulhu Mythos in his stories - indeed, one of the Elak stories is titled "Spawn of Dagon" - the crushing inhumanity of cosmic forces are conveyed more effectively in the timbre of the Raynor stories.

In "Cursed be the City," Raynor's willingness to unleash preternatural powers in his vengeance bring to mind Bran Mak Morn and "Worms of the Earth." Karl Edward Wagner pointed out there is a tragic/dark feel like Moorcock's Elric. Raynor is the last royal remnant of a destroyed empire, after all.

Reading the two stories in succession does highlight a formula. Both end with the hero employing a talisman to bring about the destruction of his foes. Kuttner sets the stage so that the resolution does not smack too heavily of Deus Ex Machina. Reading the two stories back-to-back, the technique feels a little heavier handed than it probably is.

As others do, I wish Kuttner had cranked out a few more Raynor adventures. It would have been interesting to see where he went. I wonder if he would have continued to formula or changed some plotting to be different, or it if would have been enough to crank them out easier with a set format and get his pay.

I first encountered Raynor in the excellent, three volume series ECHOES OF VALOR. Published by TOR, Karl Edward Wagner presented various selections from classic pulps, and Wagner knew his stuff.

The two Raynor stories were also tagged onto the end of Paizo's ELAK OF ATLANTIS book as part of their PLANET STORIES line.

Both print books are, unfortunately, out of print.

Griasol produced some STRANGE STORIES replicas but it doesn't appear that they replicated the issues featuring Raynor.

Luckily for us, the two stories have been collected for ebook (at least, for Kindle.)

If you are a sword-&-sorcery fan and have not read Prince Raynor, I encourage you to do so.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

recent read; Two tales of Elak

Yesterday I made mention of the old anthology, THE MIGHTY BARBARIANS. In that book, Henry Kuttner's story "Dragon Moon" appears. The story is the last of his tales concerning his sword-&-sorcery hero, Elak of Atlantis. The tale originally appeared in WEIRD TALES in 1941.

I recently learned (stumbled upon the fact) that Adrian Cole had written an Elak pastiche for STRANGE TALES in 2007, when the magazine was briefly revived by Robert M. Price.

I wanted to read Cole's story and today was a good day for it. I read Kuttner's tale first, too.

"Dragon Moon" tells the story of Elak giving up his adventurous ways to accept his destiny as king of Cyrena, one of the Atlantean kingdoms. Of course, his destiny is not so easily embraced or achieved. He must battle villains and monsters and armies along the way.

It's a fun episodic tale. Elak somewhat parallels Conan as far as a man who would prefer adventure over kingship.

Rather than a "between the tales" story, Cole's "Blood of the Moon God" takes place a year after the events of "Dragon Moon" (which worked out for me!) Elak is given to forest expeditions to relieve his royal boredom. Though he is a legitimate king by blood, enemies still abound, including unscrupulous cousins. Trapped by an ambush, Elak and his companions find themselves underground, fighting for their lives against worse foes.

I won't give too much away. I will say that we all know another s-&-s hero from Atlantis, and there are nearly as many Robert E. Howard elements to Cole's story as there are nods to Kuttner.

I was pleased with the story and believe it worthy of Elak and Kuttner.

If you are interested in Cole's story, copies of STRANGE TALES #10 are still available through Wildside Press. (disclaimer; I haven't read the rest of the issue yet.)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lono and Makani return

I am extremely pleased to announce: My story, "Lono and the Pit of Punhaki" will be a part of Robert M. Price's forthcoming, THE MIGHTY WARRIORS. THE MIGHTY WARRIORS is a sword-&-sorcery anthology, a spiritual descendant of THE MIGHTY BARBARIANS and THE MIGHTY SWORDSMEN from back in the day.

Very proud to share the t.o.c. with great writers and very proud my heroic duo, Lono and Makani, get to mingle with other great s-&-s heroes!

(Thanks again to Robert for the opportunity and to Sam Gafford - Ulthar Press stepped up and will be publishing this one!)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Writing accountability post - February

February writing efforts were a mixed bag. Still too many goose egg red zeros on my weekend daily wordcounts.

I had a even split of time spent with new wordage and time spent editing. I continued to put words on the novel while also producing short stories.

The good news is that I polished and submitted three stories to slush piles this month.

That brings my current total to six stories out in the ether right now. One I suspect fell through cracks, one is awaiting publication, one is submitted by invite and these three on the slush piles.

In addition, I did complete the rough of a sword-&-sorcery story but fell short of getting the polish completed before month-end. I'll complete and submit this week but that will count for March, not February.

I'm always slower than I want but at least there is forward motion.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

River City Writers 2017 offerings

River City Writers are expanding their offerings!

I attended the WRITE BETTER FICTION workshop last November, as you might recall.

For the first half of 2017, they are offering the workshop again. They have added three seminars, too. One deals with the business side of publishing. The other covers writing for comics. And, building your novel from the ground up. I will be attending the WRITING FOR COMICS seminar. At some point, I will also attend BUSINESS OF PUBLISHING but I'll need to catch the next one.

If you're in the area, give this consideration. If not, perhaps they'll be able to expand to webinars in the near future.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

recent read; Planet of the Apes: Tales From The Forbidden Zone

Planet of the Apes: Tales From The Forbidden Zone

This is the book apocalyptic apes dream of.

It's hard to be unbiased about this book because I am an ApeHead since childhood. Anything new in the Planet of the Apes realm is like a nostalgia life preserver. I discussed that recently.

Tales from the Forbidden Zone gives us sixteen tales set across the various Planet of the Apes classic universes. Meaning - the original five movies, television series and Saturday morning cartoon. It does not include the 2001 movie or the recent movies.

The stories are enjoyable. I preferred some more than others but that is the nature of anthologies. Rather than delineate all sixteen, I will mention a few of my favorites. Your mileage may vary.

"Unfired" by Dan Abnett starts off the book with a bang, focusing on a group of underground mutants (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) making a daring pilgrimage across the open wilderness.

"The Unknown Ape" by Andrew E.C. Gaska starts in the cartoon universe (Return to the Planet of the Apes,) but we soon learn that Planet of the Apes time travel also creates the ability to cross dimensions into the other Apes realities. This is a fun crossover.

"Message in a Bottle" by Dayton Ward is an intriguing story in the television series setting. It almost serves as the first step in a 'season two' arc, bringing the astronauts' story back to its science fiction roots and away from "The Fugitive with Apes" rut the show quickly fell into. As a fan who wished for exactly that in regards to the show, this story really stood out.

"Milo's Tale" by Ty Templeton explains how Cornelius and Zira met Milo and came to be on the spaceship (Escape from the Planet of the Apes.) It also delivers a convincing backstory for Milo, explaining how he was such a knowledgeable ape given the primitiveness of the society presented in the original Planet of the Apes.

Finally, Jonathan Maberry closes out the tome with "Banana Republic," exploring the political machinations and alliances of ape society, coupled with the discovery of an ancient place of evil.

Tales from the Forbidden Zone is a welcome addition to the Planet of the Apes universe. If you enjoy that universe, you'll enjoy this book. Perhaps if it performs well, there could be another volume. So, buy yours today and go ape!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

recent read; Wild Fell

Wild Fell by Michael Rowe

Jamie Browning wants to get away from it all - a divorce, an accident and a father suffering from Alzheimer's disease. An insurance windfall allows him to purchase Blackmore Island and its Victorian Gothic residence, Wild Fell. The property is a dream come true or a nightmare come true. Vengeful ghosts await. They have always waited.

I enjoyed this ghost story. There is a strong weave of sense of place, time, and character throughout the novel.

The prologue alone paints images like a prose version of a Tragically Hip song. The small summer lake town Alvina, Ontario, Canada pops off the pages, complete with tragedy and haunting.

The heart of the story centers on Jamie, who relates his childhood experiences with an imaginary friend named Amanda who inhabits a mirror in his room. But, perhaps, Amanda is not all that imaginary, as she seems to have a evil influence beyond the confines of her mirror.

As Jamie relates his adult life, Amanda is forgotten and real life trials intervene, until Jamie finds that he is inexorably drawn to Wild Fell.

The climax ratchets to a fever pitch as the revelations are exposed, furiously propelling the story to its conclusion.

Wild Fell does its job as a ghost and haunted house story. It drips with mood, atmosphere, chills, and a few surprises and twists along the way. Recommended.

Friday, February 3, 2017

recent read; Occult Detective Quarterly, Issue #1

OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY #1 delivers on its premise and promise of .. well .. occult detectives. If you don't know what classifies an "occult detective" - they're those heroes of fiction who investigate, expose and battle the occult - whether that be ghosts or monsters, other strange happenings, strange people, stranger creatures and things beyond the ken of men. Think Carnacki, Kolchak, and a host of others.

This debut issue has a wonderful mix of haunts and fun and whimsy. How about a tough guy PI who is a talking gorilla? A vengeful ghost? Men who walk in other dimensions and faerie realms? (And, don't think we're talking about cute faeries - we mean the dark fey of old times.) Voodoo and black dogs. You will find all that and more in these pages.

Plus reviews, a history of comic occult detective Dr. Spektor, and an interview with Spektor's creator, Donald Glut.

I enjoyed all the material and strongly recommend grabbing a copy if you enjoy the wide range of the occult detective milieu.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

It's a mad house! Go ape!

"Weaponized nostalgia." - Chuck Wendig

The world has gone ape. Yes, in more ways than one. I'll stick with the non-political one.

My childhood crossed the 1970s-80s. I was a child in the 70s, teenager in the early 80s.

In hindsight, my first fandom was PLANET OF THE APES. I was an ApeHead.

What also surprised me, in hindsight, is how much of the fandom marketing machine I missed. It's also a bit of a shock to remember how much merchandise was available. It really was the first franchise merchandise blitz out of Hollywood. Sure other movies and shows had toys and a few coloring books, but POTA really went ape.

I watched the movies, the short-lived television show, and the short-lived cartoon. I had the action figures. I had activity books. I had the Topps trading cards of the t.v. series.

But I never knew about the novelizations. I spotted one in the library during junior-high years later. I never knew a thing about the comics, either, surprisingly enough.

Now, Titan Books are allowing me to relive my childhood and then some.

First, they've released an anthology of new stories set in all three universes - movies, t.v., cartoon.
 But wait! There's more!

Two omnibuses collecting the original movie novelizations are coming, too.

Wait. Not done. They are also publishing an omnibus of the original television episode novelizations.

Nope. Still not done. Not yet available but listed in Tales from the Forbidden Zone (and personally confirmed for me) a fourth omnibus with the original novelizations of the cartoon series.

Stop the presses.

Nope, can't.

Also rumored - perhaps a collection of the comics.

Tangent to Titan Books - The Topps Trading Cards book.

I knew the t.v. cards, I had those. I didn't know there had been cards from the original movie, too.

Last night, I picked up the new #1 of the PLANET OF THE APES / GREEN LANTERN cross-over comic.

Yeah. Combining the Apes with Green Lantern with the old Mego action figures packaging for the artwork.

Talk about weaponized nostalgia!

If nothing else, it will be a great year to be an ApeHead!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Writing accountability calendar - January

This year, I am trying a new trick to get myself into the daily writing habit. I know writing everyday is the secret. It's a marathon and the only way to get stories finished.

I figure if you can slip into bad habits easily enough, then why not steer yourself toward good habits?

That in mind, I've dedicated a calendar to tracking my writing. It's on the wall and in my face.

This month has been a little experimenting. I had planned on using three colors - red, yellow and green. I was just going to mark the calendar but I soon decided to write the wordcount with the given color.

It turned out that yellow marker doesn't show well on the white background. I tried orange - too close to red. I also didn't have exactly the tone I wanted (in a houseful of markers, of course!) I wound up with red, light blue and green.

Red is zero words. Blue is under one thousand. Green is one thousand or more. "EDIT" is a day where I was editing, not writing new content.

Spotty month.

I already see a pattern I need to address. I guess I knew it was there but it didn't hit me until I wrote it down. Weekends are my worst output. You'd think it would be the opposite. I'm always looking ahead and seeing an open weekend and thinking I'll get a good chunk of writing done.

Yeah - not so, Paul.

Relaxing, reading, napping, paying attention to the kids, family time. I'm not making excuses - I am citing what is happening. I know I need to set aside some weekend time now - probably in the mornings before noon. Get off the iPad, grab my iced coffee and head downstairs to the office.

I would like to reach "pulp speed" #pulpspeed but if I can at least get consistently green (1K+) per day, I'll be satisfied. (See Dean Wesley Smith's excellent post, The New World of Writing: Pulp Speed. Hat tip to David J. West for steering me to it. It was a nice dovetail with this effort.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

recent read/listen; Doc Savage: Skull Island

Doc Savage: Skull Island by Will Murray

Doc Savage? Skull Island? King Kong?! Sign me up!

The book is roughly split in three sections. The first three chapters involve Doc and his gang employed as cleanup crew after King Kong falls to his death in New York City. After that prelude, we get a prequel tale featuring Doc, his father, and later his grandfather. Set in 1920, this tale contains a lot of the emotional dynamic between father and son. Doc is back from the war and reconnecting with his father. I believe a lot of groundwork and touchstones were included in this prequel story but I am not well-versed in Doc Savage. His "annihilator" machine gun is under development in this story.

The book clocks in at 400+ pages (according to Amazon.) That's a very long length for a Doc Savage story. Murray seems to have approached the tale as two shorter novels linked together - the first half deals with Doc and his father seafaring around the Pacific and Indian Ocean, searching for a lost schooner. They ran afoul of pirates.

I went in biased, of course. The initial seafaring story isn't bad but I was impatient to get to Skull Island.

The story got much better when they finally reached Skull Island. Lots of homages to KING KONG with clever references (spider canyon, dinosaur and ape evolutionary offshoots - which is why nothing on the island correctly matches the paleontological [is that a word?] record.) Lots of battles and derring-do.

I found some of the phrasing awkward and some word choices seemed to misuse the thesaurus. I don't know if that was Murray or if Murray was imitating Lester Dent.

Usually when I listen to an audiobook, I still consider it more of a 'read' than a 'listen.' But, it is worth mentioning details of this audiobook. Although this is put out by Radio Archives, it is a complete unabridged novel, not an audioplay. However, the narration very much sounds like an old radio show. In some cases this is good because the voice-acting is done well and the characters are distinct. On the other hand, it is a bit like listening to an overblown propaganda short from the 1950s or listening to Stan from AMERICAN DAD over emote even the simplest paragraph. It took a while to get used to it. Sometimes reverb is used for crowd and shouting effects.

So - felt a little long in the middle. I imagine in the old days it would have been two separate stories loosely connected. Fun romp in the end. If you're Doc Savage fan and/or a King Kong fan, you'll probably enjoy a lot of the book.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

recent read; Warriors of the Wildlands

Warriors of the Wildlands by Jim Cornelius

For years now, on his blog site Frontier Partisans, Jim Cornelius has been focused on illuminating those men (and women) who lived on the edges of history. The edges where civilization pushed into the aboriginal and the world was shaded in gray. The frontier lands and the combatants such clashes created or molded. He also highlights current events and people who evoke such spirits (and sometimes ghosts.)

With Warriors of the Wildlands, Jim turns his pen to bringing together treatises on such people in the printed form. But this is no mere re-tread of his blog. Some of the historic figures explored have featured on his blog but the book expands on them. And the book includes plenty of new characters, too.

Wisely, Jim focuses on three eras to consolidate the spirit he wants to illuminate to modern readers.

We start in the Ohio Valley frontier of the late 1700s and early 1800s. The first "Western" frontier of the U.S. Manifest Destiny expansion. Bloody, hard fought engagements constantly raged in the area - French & Indian War, American Revolution, the War of 1812, continuing battles with displaced natives - until the native populations were finally quelled.

No collection of tales such as this can ignore the classic American West of the 1800s. We meet frontier fighters from both native America and American settlers expanding into their lands. Jim also brings us south, into Mexican-American skirmishes and disagreements.

Finally, we cross the Atlantic and are embroiled in late 1800s through early 1900s battles of Empires in Africa, right through and including World War I partisan operations.

The one modern touchstone is provided in the Epilogue, where Jim draws a straight line of ancestry from the guerrilla, scouting, and indigenous recruiting tactics of the Frontier Partisans of the past to allied operations in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.

Many people find history dry or not worth their time. And some history books read like phone books. This book is a balm against such books and attitudes. These characters of the frontiers, these warriors, come to life and their (sometimes astonishing) exploits leap off the pages of Warriors of the Wildlands.

Put this on your bookshelf - especially if you enjoy learning the finer details of history.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

recent read; The Terminal

The Terminal by Amber Fallon

Dirk Bradley wants to go home for Christmas. Barbaric, murderous invading aliens put a real crimp that plan. Dirk finds himself fighting for his life and survival, trying to get out of the airport amid the destruction and death.

This is a fast-paced horror action novella that grabs and doesn't let you go until the final "BOOM!" Lots of veracity in the littles touches and details. A reluctant hero who barely know how to work a gun, improvisation with tools at hand in the airport, some good twists. Thrill ride all the way!

Friday, January 6, 2017

recent read; Dead on the Bones

Dead on the Bones by Joe R. Lansdale

Dead on the Bones gathers some of Lansdale's pulpier adventure tales (though a murder-mystery and horror find their way into the table of contents, too.)

The tales are all enjoyable and excellent. If you only know Lansdale from his crime noir capers, this will surprise you with its change of pace. If you like pulp, you'll enjoy it. If you like Lansdale, you'll enjoy it.

In the introduction, "Pulp Fury," Lansdale writes about how he came to his crime and pulp sensibilities through early television programs. Many of the shows adapted old pulp stories for material. It's an interesting note that Lansdale points out - pulp didn't really go away. It shifted formats.

"The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning"
Lansdale channels Poe, bringing us a new adventure of C. Auguste Dupin and the unnamed narrator, the dynamic duo from "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."

"The Redheaded Dead"
Lansdale's Weird West hero, Reverend Jebediah Mercer, takes on a vampire in this quick moving, tight story.

"King of the Cheap Romance"
Lansdale's entry from the Old Mars anthology. Angela King must transport vaccine and her father's corpse across the frozen Martian landscape. Oh, and keep one step ahead of the ice shark the entire way.

"Naked Angel"
 A murder mystery with a victim found in a block of ice. In an alley. In Los Angeles.

"Dead on the Bones"
A horror story about murder, revenge, boxing, and voodoo.

"Tarzan and the Land That Time Forgot"
ERB sent Tarzan to the Earth's Core but never got around to sending him to Caprona. Lansdale does here, with a story faithful to ERB's Tarzan and worlds. The story first appeared in the Baen anthology, Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs

"Under the Warrior Star"
An early attempt at a sword-&-planet novella, this one is a lot of fun. It hits all the correct sword-&-planet notes along the way.

"Wizard of the Trees"
Lansdale's entry from the Old Venus anthology. More sword-&-planet, featuring an ex-buffalo soldier transported to the jungles of Venus.

If you're reading this post, then you probably have similar reading tastes to mine. If so, you want this book. Lansdale + pulp = gold!

Sunday, January 1, 2017


So, here we are.

I don't know about resolutions. I joked about needing a mantra (several, really) for the new year.

On the health side;

Less sodium, less sugar, less calories
More water, more fiber, more exercise
More time in the woods

On the writing & reading;

More writing, more reading
Less book buying
Less Facebook, less Twitter

For further details on health; well, simple stuff, I hope. I need to lose pounds and I have high blood pressure. The meds work but I shouldn't make them work harder than they need to. Time in the woods is more a mental health thing. I look back and realize how much I used to head into the woods. I guess age (and the tick population explosion plus Lyme disease worries) put me shy to that in current years. There's a good loop around a reservoir in town. The one time we went we saw turkey vultures fairly close. I need to get over there more often.

Reading. I never really have a set plan. I do want to focus on writers I enjoy who I still need to read much more of - Glen Cook, Fred Saberhagen, A. Lee Martinez. Classics of pulp like Robert E. Howard (a lot of re-reads there, of course,) Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner. I would like to get back to science fiction - used to read it a lot as a kid. More in the space opera / military science fiction vein.

More original Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes.

Slow down the book buying because I am running out of space. Start reading what I've been acquiring. Move some along when I'm done. I've been buying crazy these last few years trying to catch up on what I missed and keeping up with new things. I need to back off a bit and focus.

The NECON crew. In addition to the headliners (Cherie Priest, Laird Barron, Weston Ochse,) there are friends and other conference attendees whose works I want to read before July.

Writing plans. That would be telling ;) Let's say I need to finish at least one novel - the one I started at the River City Writers workshop. That's a horror novel. And, it will be horror if Jim & Chris come after me for not finishing it ;)

After that? I want to write another novel. Probably not horror for that one. This year I'd like to write two minimum - maybe three if I can swing it. I'm not imagining doorstop novels here - just the classic 60-70K words.

I have lots of ideas for short stories but those can wait while I get my novel-writing sea-legs. I hate missing exciting open calls or invites but as a friend pointed out - there will always be open calls and invites. I need to focus on longer work. I do have a short list of open anthologies. But I won't go much beyond that list. Even there - if the 'short' I need to write is taking too long to write, then I'm going to drop it in favor of novels.

So, that's what's in my head right now. Thanks for visiting. :)