Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Gospel of Creativity by Kevin Smith

Today at DoSomeDamage, I talk about seeing Kevin Smith live in Houston and what I thought of the show:

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Tangible Research

Today over at Do Some Damage​, I talk about tangible research and my trip to the Galveston Railroad Museum.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Update: We're Back!

Sometimes, after some thought, you made a different decision.

Back in March, I launched my official author website ( and publishing house ( My intention was to leave this blogspot account and transfer all future posts to the author account.

Then I thought “Why?” Why not post to both places? It’s no big deal. And longtime readers probably have the blogspot address bookmarked and may have been missing posts. If other readers are like me, I tend to lock in a URL and then forget about it.

So, I’m back here. I’ll be cross-posting to both sites.

The reason: the next post...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

We're Moving!

It's been a slow process, but as of today, 4 March 2015, I will be posting all blog posts over at my author website, I am keeping the blogspot area open as an archive of all the writing I did for the past number of years.

If you have an RSS feed, feel free to update it.

Thank you for reading here and I hope you continue to read and enjoy the things I write in the years to come.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Favorite Cover Songs

Over on the excellent music podcast, Pods and Sods, today's episode was about favorite cover songs. Have a listen to the episode then head on over to their Facebook page and join the conversation.

Here is my off-the-cuff list:*

My choices:

I'm a Man - Chicago Transit Authority (original: Spencer Davis Group) - Much more energetic, with a 64-bar latin percussion break. The version they were performing in the late 80s/early 90s with Dawayne Bailey was particularly good.

Little Wing - Sting (Jimi Hendrix) - Heard the Sting version first and prefer it mainly because of the Gil Evans arrangement and slowed down guitar solo that morphs into the soprano sax solo.

In Your Eyes - Jeffrey Gaines (Peter Gabriel) - This is a cover that does NOT better the original but it's so unique that I often gravitate to it.

Black Crow - Diana Krall (Joni Mitchell) - Krall's 2004 CD found her writing her own material with her then-new husband, Elvis Costello. This song, however, has a lot of nice souring piano flourishes that echo Vince Guaraldi, a pleasant guitar solo, and Krall playing around with her phrasing.

River - Robert Downey, Jr. (Joni Mitchell) - Didn't realize I'd have to Mitchell songs here but oh well. I like Downey's vocal stylings (love his cover of "Smile" as well) and this arrangement, with cello, is one of the songs I always go to around the 20th of December when I'm just about tired of the standard Christmas songs.

Smells Like Teen Spirit - The Bad Plus (Nirvana) - I was tempted to pick the Paul Anka jazz arrangement [where he covered a lot of rock songs with a jazz band) but opted for this song which is the tune that put The Bad Plus on my radar. Piano, bass, and drums. That's it. They take the song from the standard instrumental arrangement into a dizzing array of improvs on the theme. Sometimes you'd think they're just doing their own thing but they come back together at the end.

*I didn't include any Christmas tunes but there are a bunch I could have listed. The one that first comes to mind is Chicago's version of Little Drummer Boy. It is, for me, THE version. It's to the point where I hear the horn breaks Chicago wrote whenever I hear *another* version of LDB.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review Club: Icerigger by Alan Dean Foster

(This is the February 2015 edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For the complete list of fellow reviewers, click the link at the end of this review.)

If you’re looking forward to Star Wars: Episode VII later this year, then you can thank Alan Dean Foster for writing Icerigger.

Icerigger, published 1974, was the third book a young Alan Dean Foster published after The Tar-Aiym Krang (1972) and Bloodhype (1973). The story features two human heroes: Ethan Fortune, a salesman in his twenties, who is on the way to the remote ice world of Tran-Ky-Ky. Skua September is a hulk of a man with a shock of white hair and has seen his share of the wonders the Humanx Commonwealth has to offer. These two men, who don’t know each other, are, like all great heroes throughout literature, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

While on the space liner orbiting Tran-Ky-Ky, Ethan stumbles into a kidnapping-gone-wrong of financier Hellespont du Kane and his daughter, Colette. The trio, along with another pair of humans, are shuttled into a lifepod...where a very drunk Skua is sleeping off a drunk. He fouls things up for the kidnappers and then things go really bad. They crash on Tran-Ky-Ky thousands of miles away from Brass Monkey, the one town the Thranx Commonwealth had established, the one town where the kidnappers were going to ransom du Kane.

Very soon thereafter, Skua appoints a reluctant Ethan as leader. Together, including one of the kidnappers--Skua took out the other one--they have to figure out a way to get to Brass Monkey, the only Humanx settlement on Tran Ky-Ky. They befriend a group of the native species, Tran, a humanoid-cat hybrid with fur all over their bodies and claws on their feet that have adapted to their environment (think the middle two claws having curled under the feet to basically make skates).

What follows is a traditional adventure tale that might have taken place here on earth except that the planet’s oceans are all frozen. It’s a clever twist on the old swashbuckling adventure yarns where the characters may face traditional hazards--a warring tribe attacks the Tran group helping Ethan and Skua--but with the ice, Foster gets to turn a siege battle on its ear. You don’t get a whole lot about the larger Humanx Commonwealth that you do from his most famous series about Pip and Flinx, but it is referenced. It's more like a peek into a larger world that you can explore elsewhere.

While I enjoyed Icerigger, but it's not without issues. For a science fiction story, there's not a whole lot of science fiction there. Sure, there's an alien world with a new alien species but the book is more like a pirate story than a true SF yarn. Actually the one story that kept coming to mind was Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. You see, both stories derive their structure from a main human character (John Carter, Ethan in Icerigger) who find themselves on an alien world and must Do Something and encounter strange things along the way. Again, what I expected was some more science fictional because, you know, of Star Wars.

The reason I bring up Star Wars is that Icerigger was the novel that landed Alan Dean Foster on George Lucas’s radar. Back when Lucas was making the first film, he and his team read Icerigger and liked it so much that they approached Foster to gauge his interest in ghost writing the novelization of the movie and an original sequel. Foster agreed. Back in the day, when my entire young life was consumed with Star Wars, I read that novelization more than once never knowing it was Foster. I also read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first original novel back in 1978. That’s when I locked in on Foster and he became my first favorite SF author. He helped secure the Star Wars legacy for me a millions of others and it all started with Icerigger.

The adventure of Ethan Fortune and Skua September continue with Mission to Moulokin (1979) and The Deluge Drivers (1987). I’m definitely jumping right into the second book now because I want to see how this adventure ends.
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review Club: Plotting: A Novelist's Workout Guide by Aaron Allston

(This is the April 2005 edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For a complete list, click the link at the end of this review.)

A couple weeks back on Do Some Damage, I wrote about one of the rabbit trails we all take through the shrubbery that is the internet. The thing at the end of my trail was the wonderful happenstance discovery of Aaron Allston’s book, Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide. For those who may have missed it, the following text from the opening page is what hooked me:

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

"I come up with good ideas, but I can't develop them into complete novels." [Yes! That’s me!]
"I'm going along fine with my novel, and then it just stops. I can't get it moving again." [Again, yeah!]
"I know what happens from start to finish, but I can't figure out what it's really about." [Sometime, yeah.]
"I know what's supposed to happen and what it's supposed to mean, but my story is just not working." [Still me, a bit]
"My novel is missing something and I can't figure out what it is." [Sure.]
If any of the above applies to you, Plotting: A Novelist's Workout Guide can help. [From Plotting: A Novelist's Workout Guide, page 1]

Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve finished this book and it is exactly what I needed. You see, I’m stuck on a story that I’m writing and I’m trying to figure out which way it needs to go (bullet point #2). Moreover, bullet point #1 is a thing I struggle with as well.

Allston breaks down his book into two large sections. The third section is the appendix. Part one is theory. Here is where he lays out, in detail, many of the concepts most of us already know: What is a scene, the basics of plotting, the four elements of plots, etc. But where this book differs from others I’ve read is in two very important ways. One, Allston gives you exercises! Yes, you have homework. Some of these exercises might be basic, but for a beginning writer (or one who might be stuck), they are fantastic. There are exercises in each chapter (four chapters per section) and, while they start out as random exercises, they gradually turn to your own work. That’s a nice way of coming at your novel--in-progress with something akin to outside eyes.

But where this book really earns it’s keep is the sample novel. To illustrate his points, Allston uses lots of on-the-fly examples. Along the way, however, he starts a novel from scratch. He poses an idea for a story and takes it from idea all the way through two to three outlines! This was like a light bulb went off in my head. I’ve heard talk of outlining over and over and I could not get past the idea of the high school-type outline with Roman numerals. I was a bit ahead of the curve with my use of note cards, but seeing Allston ask the questions writers are suppose to ask, answer them, and then build his plot was so enlightening. Especially when he got to the outlining stage, just reading and trying to absorb all that is present in the outline is both daunting and exciting.

The book has done something I expected it to do: I couldn't wait to finish it so I could start applying it’s teachings on my own work.

Allston, who recently passed away, has left writers of all stages of development with a fantastic primer on how to plot and prepare for writing.

You can get the book via Amazon or at ArcherRat Publishing’s website (where you can get the epub or a PDF) If you head over there, Allston also posted some Author’s Notes where he examines the process he used to write a few of his short stories. If you get the Amazon Kindle version, you can highlight and annotate the book to your heart's content. I know I sure did. Afterwards, you can go and get your notes from the web and keep some of Allston's checklists on your desk while you write. Perfect!

This book, in its circuitous route, arrived at the time I most needed it. I'm now looking forward to applying Allston's processes in all my writing.
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@Barrie Summy