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 (scottdennisparker.com) and publishing house (quadrantfictionstudio.com). 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, www.scottdennisparker.com. 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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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review Club: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan


 (This is the February 2014 edition of Barrie Summy's book review club. For the complete list, click the icon at the end of this review.)

Look at that cover. Go ahead. Look at it. Study it. They say we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but the cover is the first thing we see. And that cover right there stopped me cold. How awesome is that painting by artist Todd Lockwood. That was all it took for me to stop and read the dust jacket. Then, having read the synopsis, I was there.

A Natural History of Dragons is a fictional memoir of Isabella, Lady Trent, dragon naturalist. With the conceit that there are too many letters asking about various details of her life to answer, Lady Trent agrees to pen her memoirs.

I always hesitate to zero in on catchy summations, a member of my book group did it for me: Downton Abbey with dragons. I would tend to agree, but will point out that it's definitely season 1 of that show (circa 1912) rather than the current season (circa 1920s). If I were to place this tale in our history, I'd probably say around 1897 or so.

Author Marie Brennan sets her story in a fictional, fantasy world that is quite similar to ours. In fact, for a long time, I kept trying to find analogs. Isabella's home country is clearly England, but the rest are hidden just well enough that I could never be sure. At the beginning, I basically wished that Brennan really had set her story in an alternate version of our world, but I warned to the fantasy one. It lent the tale a once-upon-a-time quality.

Isabella, when the story opens, is a teenaged tomboy in an era that frowned on tomboys. In the world, when a dragon dies, it's bones disintegrate in the air. But as a girl, she preserves a sparkling, or small dragon. That experience, along with her reading of A Natural History of Dragons (a book within this novel), her lifelong fascination with dragons is born. While a willful young lady who chaffed (yet accepts) the strictures of her society, she finds a young husband who also must adhere to societal norms but recognizes his wife's longing. With the permission of a lord (see how closely this world resembles ours?), Jacob and Isabella Camherst journey to faraway Drustanev to find and study the local rockworms, or dragons.

This book is basically one of those Victorian era adventure novels of exploration, discovery, and science. The tale is all first person and follows Isabella's journey. She accompanies the expedition as an artist who will draw all that they find and as a compiler of notes. For those of you who read the digital or printed work--I listened to the audio--each main section of the novel has additional illustrations if dragons and the environs. They are splendid and really gave this novel it's vintage feel. But there enough of a modern sensibility for  us 21st Century readers. All the guys in my SF book club enjoyed the novel to some degree and I will definitely seek out the next novel in March.


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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Book Review Club: Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye

(This is the June 2013 edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For a complete list, click on the icon after this review.)



Without a doubt, the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, is the one movie I am most looking forward to this year. To help do what I always do--immerse myself in a property--I’ve been reading my old Superman comics, enjoying Superman: The Animated Series episodes, and watching the older movies. I was happily surprised to discover that there was a history of Superman just waiting to be read. Perfect timing.


Larry Tye’s Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero was published in 2012 and it tells the story of Superman from his creation by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster all the way up to the Man of Steel movie which, at the time of publication, was “the new Superman movie next year.” The story of Kal-el and his handlers is a microcosm of 20th American history in general and the comic book industry in particular.


I’ve always been fascinated why and how the 1930s produced such a wide variety of heroes. I’m convinced it’s a product of the times, when dire economic times and the worry it produced created a yearning for honest-to-goodness heroes with a firm moral code and little or no gray to their characters. You know: they guys who always wore the white hats. When you look at the all the parts of the “pulp soup” that was being mixed in this decade--Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, John Carter, Tarzan, and more--it’s pretty simple to think that someone like Superman would be created. In fact, it wasn’t until I started reading the Doc Savage novels that I discovered that some of the Superman tropes--his first name, the Fortress of Solitude--were lifted straight from Lester Dent’s imagination. It’s a wonder he didn’t sue. As a writer myself, it’s kind of nice to read that it took the pair six years to land a publisher. Perseverance pays off!


In this modern age of consumerism, it was eye-opening to learn just how many things Superman has sold. With tongue firmly in cheek, Tye even labels one of his chapters “Superman, Inc.” with a familiar refrain of “Ka-ching” throughout that chapter. Not sure why it surprised me, but it did. Speaking of superheroes selling things, am I the only one who misses the little one-page ads where Superman, Batman, or Spider-man would catch the crook because the evil doer was seduced by a Twinkee?


Speaking of seducing, the chapter on the 1950s crackdown on comic books was also quite interesting. From my own knowledge of the medium, I knew that it was the crime and horror comics that fed the fire of Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, the book and movement that strove to bury the comics industry by pinning all of society’s woes on the exploits of people in comics. Makes me wonder what he’d make of the internet...


As someone who grew up in the Bronze Age of comics (roughly 1970 to 1986), I have always enjoyed the zaniness of comics. Granted, some of that zaniness was gone by the mid 1970s, but it was interesting to learn how Mort Weisinger, editor at DC Comics and Superman titles in particular, actually went about consolidating the Man of Steel and all that goes with him. It was so wide and varied that the mid-1980s event, Crisis on Infinite Earths (the comic book story that shrank all the parallel Earths down to just one) was destined to happen.


There’s the legal stuff, too. Siegel and Shuster basically sold their most famous creation for $130, losing control of the thing that generated billions. Yes, it was a business and businessmen do what businessmen do, but it’s still a shame. From these two all the way up to Alan Moore in the 1980s, comic creators often found themselves on the short end of a dollar bill. Tye even goes into some detail and explains why the new movie is being released this year.


And I learned the names associated with Superman and the 75 years of his history. That’s a real benefit , so much so that, a few weekends ago at Houston’s Comicpalooza, I found a few old Superman titles in the $0.25 bin (!) and bought them based solely on the authors of the tales. I also met Kevin J. Anderson and picked up an autographed copy of Enemies and Allies, his novel in which he reimagines the first meeting of Superman and Batman in the 1950s. And, if you are still in the Superman mood, you can always read Tom DeHaven’s “It’s Superman” (my review).


Oh, and there are some comics to read, too. Seventy-five years worth of comics. Not all of them are good, but some are great. Some of my more-recent personal favorites are All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely and Superman: For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb. All-Star Superman has been made into an animated movie, but I suggest you read the books. It spends much more time in this one-off story. I love it so much that I am tempted to say that it’s the best Superman story in the last 25 years (easily) and ranks as one of the best of all time.


So, after you see Man of Steel and are curious about the history of the Last Son of Krypton, read this book. You will certainly enjoy it.

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