Monday, August 15, 2022

A High School Reunion and a Murder: Girl Most Likely by Max Allan Collins

Last week, I mentioned a new way to consume a story, via a Kindle ebook and its corresponding audiobook. The book in question was Girl Most Likely by Max Allan Collins. Well, I’ve finished the novel and here is the promised review.

The lead character is Krista Larson, a twenty-eight-year-old who serves as the police chief for Galena, Illinois, a small, Midwestern tourist town. This makes her simultaneously the youngest police chief in the country and the youngest female chief. As we’re told throughout the novel, her department consists only of a dozen people, herself included.

Her father, Keith, was also a cop, but one from a larger town across the river. They live together now in the wake of her mom’s passing. They have a good relationship, nothing like the oil-and-water relationships you see on TV or in other books.

Speaking of TV, Collins intentionally set out to write “an American variation of the [Kurt] Wallander novels, and such Nordic TV mini-series as The Bridge, the Killing, and (again) Wallander.” Being a fan of those programs myself, that was pretty much all it took for me to download the ebook and audiobook and start reading.

There’s a certain style of mystery—mostly thrillers, I guess—where there’s running on page one or a murder on page one and that sets the entire tale in motion. That’s here in this book, too, but via a fun writerly quirk: all the times the killer in on stage, Collins writes those scenes in second person, that is, from the killer’s point of view. It serves more the one purses. The obvious one is that you get a peek inside the killer’s mind, what drives the killer to kill. The other obvious thing is that Collins hides the identity of the killer. By the time a reader reaches the end of the novel and know who did, it’s fun to return to those chapters and see how the veteran writer spooled out the clues.

Other than the opening chapter, the bulk of the novel sets the stage via its characters and surrounding environment. It’s a day-to-day life of Krista and her friends as they prepare to attend their ten year high school reunion. We get nice portraits of the folks who never left small town life as well as those who return from bigger cities. As the title of the book indicates, there is one character—Astrid Lund—who is the girl most likely to succeed, and boy has she. Astrid (a nice nod to the Nordic) has blossomed into a stunner who works in TV broadcast news up in Chicago. She broke up more than one relationship back in high school and her presence at the reunion threatens those same people. Most everyone reacts to her in one way or another. She’s like the sun: her gravity either pushes or pulls all her classmates.

What I found particularly fun is how Collins weaves the characters in and out of the story in such a way that you almost wonder if you are merely reading a traditional drama rather than a murder mystery. You kind of have an idea of who is going to be killed, but you still wonder when it'll happen, but when it does, it's visceral. Three people end up dead in this story, so this small town police chief ends up having a triple murder investigation. She draws on her father’s experience as a homicide detective while keeping the investigation local and not calling in the state police.

As a writer, describing a character is always a challenge. How much do you give? How to you give it? Do you do it every time a character walks on stage? Collins does it nearly every time, but he usually dispatches the description in a sentence or two. Interestingly, he goes a step further and details their voice, usually in the form of a musical notation: his baritone, her soprano. Being a musician like Collins, I dug that and, frankly, it never even occurred to me to do that.

Like the BBC shows that inspired Collins to write this story, this is a full-on police procedural. Krista and her dad ask lots of questions and follow leads. You definitely have to be in a mood for this kind of story, and it’s where I have an issue with the sub-title: A thriller. I don’t consider this a thriller at all. Sure, there is the ending, but when I think thriller, I think lots of running and shooting and more running and reading so fast that you quickly start to turn the pages or increase the narration speed. Girl Most Likely moves forward in a determined manner where you know you’re being given some red herrings and try and decipher the clues before the characters.

I enjoyed Girl Most Likely quite a bit. It was exactly the type of story I wanted and it easily met my expectations. In fact, I liked it so much that I already downloaded both the ebook and audiobook of Girl Can’t Help It, the second novel featuring Krista Larson. And, since I enjoy reading “seasonally,” I was pleased to note Girl Can’t Help It takes place around Labor Day. I’ll give you zero guesses when I start the book.

Monday, August 8, 2022

A New Standard to Consume a Story?

Have y’all tried this?

Last month, veteran author Max Allan Collins offered a pair of books for $0.99 each, Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It. They feature Krista Larson, a twenty-eight-year-old woman who serves as police chief for a small Midwestern tourist town. Yes, this makes her the youngest such chief in the nation, but she’s able to draw on her father’s multi-decade career when a murder of a former classmate during a high school reunion lands in her jurisdiction.

In a blog entry, Collins discussed the two books, the inspiration behind the tales, and a peek into the business of writing. But what got me was that these two stories are his take on Nordic noir, “an American variation on the Wallander novels, and such Nordic TV mini-series as The Bridge, The Killing, and (again) Wallander.” Well, that’s pretty much all it took for me to head over to Amazon and drop a buck and buy the ebook.

But then I got a prompt: for an additional $1.98, I could purchase the audio version of Girl Most Likely. I’m already an Audible subscriber and I’m an avid user of my local public library and the audiobooks it has. I have read/listened to the same audiobook before, back in 2007 when I read all the Harry Potter books in a row. Back then, I found the paperbacks from used bookstores and checked out the audiobooks from the library. I’d listen during my daily commutes, flip pages in the book at night and read, and the next morning, fast-forward the audiobook to match where I stopped reading the night before.

But I was curious: I had never purchased an ebook and audiobook with the promise that everything would be synced. I gave it a go.

I started with the ebook and read a few pages on my Kindle Paperwhite. Then I clicked over to my Audible app. Hmmm, the book wasn’t there. That’s weird. Where was it?

So I checked the Kindle app on my iPhone and viola! There’s the audio. It’s toggled when you tap to bring up the table of contents. 

If you tap on the title at the bottom, the screen flips and you get a basic audiobook look and feel.


Probably the coolest thing is if you start the audio while still having the ebook on the screen, the app highlights text as the audio goes along.

Oh, and when I picked up my Paperwhite later that first day, I get a message: “Want to sync to where the audio stopped?” Yes. Boom!

This is a great way to consume a story. I could easily see this dual format become a preferred way some people to “read” books, although from a business perspective, I would image you’d get the ebook for a buck after you purchased the audiobook at full price.

A note about the audiobook: this is not some AI voice stumbling through onscreen text. This is the actual audio narration by Dan John Miller. It’s a win-win.

And the story itself? Well, I’ll review it when I’m done but I’m really digging it.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Empty Nest Phase Begins

I experienced a momentous event last week: my son moved out of the house. 

On Wednesday, my twenty-year-old son into his first apartment to continue his education in audio engineering. He’s an only child and this is the only house in which he’s lived, so I know it’s a big deal for him. But it’s also a big deal for my wife and I.

Because of Covid, he stayed home after high school and got all his basic courses out of the way, so my wife and I got two bonus years, a fact we cherished. We got two extra years many parents don’t get. They came at a terrible, pandemic-induced cost, but we three got them nonetheless.

As New Year’s Day 2022 dawned, we three knew this was going to be The Year. We had to find him a new school to attend and we did. Thankfully, it’s across Houston…you know, so an hour of driving. But it’s only an hour. We drove home after meeting with his professors with the certainty that this was where he wanted to go to school.

But he didn’t want to commute across town every day. So that left the obvious alternative.

We knew Move Out Day was coming for months, but it was on some ambiguous date. Then suddenly the date crystalized and we prepared: movers hired, boxes packed, and last moments here at the house with him as a resident. One of the things he and I did was a nightly walk where we’d talk about music or the future or moving out or anything.

Move Out Day arrived and most of the day was filled with work: staying out of the movers’ way, unpacking boxes, setting up his stuff in his new place, a trip to the grocery store, and the first meal in his apartment.

The busyness of work was therapeutic, but it was not without emotions. Little by little, his stuff was unpacked and arranged. I broke down boxes and carried them to the car. But there there were little moments that shocked the tears right out of my eyes, like when I opened his box of clothes and his smell permeated my nose. He caught me then, actually, when I didn’t respond to something he said. I just shrugged, smiled, and kept hanging up his clothes.

Then my wife and I had to leave, and nothing prepares you for that moment…or the moment you come home to your house and see and feel his absence. The next day, Thursday, was the first day of the new phase of our lives: waking, working, eating, and living in our house without our son with us.

I know this new normal will become easier, that we’ll smile at a memory of his time here and not tear up, but these first days are all about the waves of emotions that are triggered at the slightest stray thought or vacant chair.

As parents, we intellectually know our children are bound for adulthood, for moving out and making their own mark on the world just like we did. But when that moment comes, it knocks your breath away. It’s incredible how emotions work, how you can simultaneously have your heart swell with pride that he is moving on but also have that very same heart contain an empty space because of his absence that’ll never truly be filled again.

So I wanted to share this moment with everyone because it is the one all-consuming thing of this week. Besides, since I’ve been writing these columns for thirteen years, I feel like we’ve come to know each other.

I’ve started reading about how parents deal with the empty nest. I know there are some readers who have already dealt with this transition and new phase of life so I’d love to learn about those experiences.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Extras for a Book?

I finally picked up a copy of Atomic Habits by James Clear this week. Well, my own copy, a hard back no less. I’ve been reading through it via my Kindle and my local library, but the book is in such a high demand, I only get 14 days to read it…and I’ve never finished. Now, I don’t have a countdown clock ticking and I’ll be able to finish the book.

Naturally for any new-to-me author, I check the website. JamesClear.com is laid out nicely, effortlessly guiding you through his introduction, the offer for his habit course, and a sampling of blogs and newsletters. You can sign up for his mailing list and get Chapter 1 for free. There’s a separate email list for a 30-day guide to building better habits.

In the footer, there is a link where you can see all the places you can buy the book and all the different formats and languages. What struck me was Step 2 of this process: Claim Your Free Bonuses. They don’t leave you in the dark as to your bonus content. You get a guide to how you can apply your atomic habits to business and parenting, a cheat sheet, a companion reading guide, and a habit tracker.

The only thing you had to do is buy the book and prove you bought the book. You do that via your purchase receipt.

I snapped a photo of the receipt on top of the book (to be doubly sure) and sent the photo to a unique email address. Within minutes, I received a confirmation email with links to the bonus content.

It was seamless and I felt I got more than I paid for when I bought the book at Target.

That got me to thinking about how to apply this concept of bonus material to fiction. I suspect there are a good number of authors who offer bonus content to readers, but up until now, I’ve only experienced it via Kickstarter.

The “How” of getting that bonus content is straightforward. I’ve done a version of it myself where I offered any reader on my mailing list a free copy of a book in exchange for an objective review. Done and done.

But what kind of content would a reader want from an author? Bookmarks? Shrug. Those are not always effective and you can’t spend $X.XX dollars to mail a bookmark to someone. Let me rephrase: what kind of digital content would a reader want from an author?

Some things jump to mind: A PDF of a particular chapter, an early draft all marked up with changes and edits. That would be interesting to see. Maybe a handful of chapters. What about research? Maybe a PDF of some research material an author used to write the book, especially if it’s an historical book. What about some peek into the internal process, like an early outline or a Beat Sheet a la Save the Cat.

As a reader, these would be interesting to see.

As a writer, would I want to divulge that kind of information? I don’t think I’d have an issue with it. The book’s done and published after all. But fellow writers, would you be willing to do something like that?

Monday, July 11, 2022

When Did Characters Become Meta?

When did characters in stories become self-aware of all the story tropes they are in and comment on those tropes during the story? In short, when did characters become meta?

I’m not quite sure how to pose this question so let me tell you how I got there.

In my SF book club this month, we discussed John Scalzi’s the Kaiju Preservation Society. It is a wonderful B-movie concept: there is an alternate earth where kaiju (i.e., giant creatures like Godzilla) developed and humans did not. The humans from our earth can travel between worlds and said humans study the kaiju and, well, preserve them.

The story takes place in early 2020 and is populated by a bunch of characters, most of whom are nerds. As such, they say and understand a ton of SF in-jokes, jokes that most of Scalzi’s readers will also get. Not a problem. It’s like writing for the choir.

But one of the book club guys made a point: at no time in the book did any of the characters have a Wow Moment, a sense of wonder moment reminiscent of that scene in Jurassic Park when the characters (and viewers) first see the dinosaurs. He went on to posit that basically up to the 1990s, many characters in movies (and books) seemed to exist outside of the present pop culture moment. That is, many characters didn’t have a handy shorthand list of references to speak about.

For example, in the Scalzi book, when something odd came up, all the characters in the book had to do was reference an existing movie moment and everyone (readers included) would know. (I did the same thing when I name dropped Godzilla a few paragraphs ago.) You could make the argument that Scalzi was not bothering to expound or explain something, but I actually don’t mind the shorthand at all.

We started commenting that many movies in at least the last decade+ are populated by characters like this and we tossed around the idea of when it started. Naturally, we arrived at the first Scream movie (1996) where all the characters knew all the tropes of horror movies and actually riffed on them and tried to overcome the killer by using those tropes. The movies of Kevin Smith are full of references like this, and some of the Marvel films reference Star Wars and other properties.

That got me to thinking about the mystery genre. Were there films, books, or TV shows that fit this type of story? The first thing that came to mind was the TV series “Only Murders in the Building.” I’ve not seen any of season 2, but season 1 had the characters basically do what Scream did for horror: narrate, in a meta way, the story they were in, commenting that in a normal true crime podcast cast, this is where a twist would occur…right before a twist in their own story happened. “Castle” had some of that mainly because the main character was a writer.

So, fellow mystery fans, I challenge y’all to help me out: what are some mystery stories of any medium where the characters basically comment on the story their in using tropes of the mystery genre?

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Release Order is Best…Or Is it?

Over here in America, PBS just dropped the eighth season of Endeavour, the prequel series to Inspector Morse and its spin-off, Lewis. My wife and I have enjoyed this series quite a bit, especially the interactions between the two lead actors. Shaun Evans plays a young Endeavour Morse while Roger Allam plays his superior officer, Fred Thursday. Their chemistry is fantastic, really serving as the backbone of the entire show and cast. That the show is a period piece—1971 in this current season—just adds to my love of the show.

But we’ve never seen either of the original shows.

Which is completely fine. For whatever reason, we only arrived at these characters via this prequel a couple of years ago. But it wasn’t until this week that we both agreed that we’d like to circle back and give the original show a look.

I was the one who voiced what we were both thinking: which characters, if any, appeared in the original Morse show? It was actually in relation to the Fred Thursday character. I wondered if any of the 33 original shows ever had the older Morse visiting with an even more elderly Fred Thursday. A brief glance at the Wikipedia page for Endeavour likely proves the answer. No, Fred Thursday does not appear in the original program.

That’s too bad, but it gives me hope that with the upcoming ninth and final season, the writers will tidy everything up and explain why Thursday isn’t in the original series. There’s the obvious answer. Maybe that’s the arc of Morse’s character. In this current season, he’s drinking more and becoming more aloof, telltale signs that is probably how the older Morse acts in the original.

This got me to thinking about someone in my situation, coming into an existing universe of stories during a prequel. Most of the time, the creators have to invent some new characters and not just have younger versions of the older/original ones. Star Wars did that—a lot—and many of those prequel characters get their own spin-offs.

Star Wars is a special case, of course, but if anyone ever came up to me and asked me where to start, I’d say follow the release order of the films. In that way, there are Easter eggs and shades of what’s to come sprinkled throughout the prequels. I suspect there are more than a few Easter eggs in Endeavour that longtime fans of Morse and Lewis pick up on that we don’t. That’s just good fan service. I wonder if a Morse fan from the jump—the first season aired in 1987—would have told us to start there just like I how I would introduce Star Wars to someone.

Be that as it may, my wife and I finally arrived in the Morse Universe—that’s a thing, right?—and we’re glad we’re here, no matter the route we took.

Monday, June 27, 2022

All the Feels or All the Logic?

Why do you consume a story?

I use the word ‘consume’ because you could watch a movie or TV show, read a book, or listen to an audiobook or podcast.

My wife watches quite a bit of the true crime shows on TV and various streaming services. She likes to learn the intricate details of how the investigators discovered the culprit and, in most cases, land the perp in jail. She’s way more logical than I am and these shows give her a sense of order and justice. That drive for order is a large reason why she and I both enjoy BBC TV shows and other crime and mystery programs as well as books and movies.

But when it comes to established stories that have more than a twinge of nostalgia, I really enjoy the feels. How does the story make me feel?

I ran across this twice this week. The smaller version is my re-watch of the 1996 Mission: Impossible movie. My twenty-year-old son hadn’t seen it so we all watched it together. The way the movie is constructed—with its descriptions of how they’re going to break into various places and the spy stuff—is something I really dig. In fact, I found myself grinning like a goofball throughout the entire movie. Well, except for the vault sequence. Watching it again, I was in rapt silence.

By the end, I was buoyed by the story and ready to, I don’t know, hang by a wire from the ceiling. The story works, but the feels are fantastic.

The same is true for the Obi-Wan Kenobi finale this week. And spoilers are coming.

I’ve said it before but I think my favorite time of being a Star Wars fan is that initial era from 1977-1980. In those years, the galaxy was wide open and not some family drama. And I associate that feeling most with the first half of Star Wars, while the action centered on Tatooine. As such, I really enjoyed the Obi-Wan show.

From a logical point of view, the writers delicately threaded  this series through established canon and I think they did a great job. It’s a testament to how much I enjoyed the show that even though I knew who lived, I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat. Will young Leia survive? Will Obi-Wan be killed by Vader?

But the finale proved to be one of my favorite Star Wars things. We got an epic lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Vader, complete with Hayden Christensen looking out from a seared-open Vader mask. We go a neat and tidy button on Obi-Wan’s infamous phrase to Luke: Vader betrayed and murdered your father.

And we got some fantastic character moments, a feat especially impressive considering the action. In fact, it was the character beats in the final ten minutes that really struck me and brought the tears. Oh, and the inclusion of Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars? Icing on the cake. That piece of music ranks as one of my all-time favorite themes in the entire franchise and it was used so well.

That last shot? [won’t spoil this one] Perfection.

So, with Obi-Wan, in my mind, I got the logic of the storytelling but I also got the feels. That’s what often sends a story over the top for me. It’s why I enjoyed Jurassic World: Dominion so much. It’s why I dig La La Land, Toy Story 3, any random episode of New Amsterdam, and John Scalzi’s book, Redshirts.

I want the feels, and any story that delivers is a winner in my book.

How about you? Do you want the feels or is logic more your speed?

by
Scott D. Parker

Why do you consume a story?

I use the word ‘consume’ because you could watch a movie or TV show, read a book, or listen to an audiobook or podcast.

My wife watches quite a bit of the true crime shows on TV and various streaming services. She likes to learn the intricate details of how the investigators discovered the culprit and, in most cases, land the perp in jail. She’s way more logical than I am and these shows give her a sense of order and justice. That drive for order is a large reason why she and I both enjoy BBC TV shows and other crime and mystery programs as well as books and movies.

But when it comes to established stories that have more than a twinge of nostalgia, I really enjoy the feels. How does the story make me feel?

I ran across this twice this week. The smaller version is my re-watch of the 1996 Mission: Impossible movie. My twenty-year-old son hadn’t seen it so we all watched it together. The way the movie is constructed—with its descriptions of how they’re going to break into various places and the spy stuff—is something I really dig. In fact, I found myself grinning like a goofball throughout the entire movie. Well, except for the vault sequence. Watching it again, I was in rapt silence.

By the end, I was buoyed by the story and ready to, I don’t know, hang by a wire from the ceiling. The story works, but the feels are fantastic.

The same is true for the Obi-Wan Kenobi finale this week. And spoilers are coming.

I’ve said it before but I think my favorite time of being a Star Wars fan is that initial era from 1977-1980. In those years, the galaxy was wide open and not some family drama. And I associate that feeling most with the first half of Star Wars, while the action centered on Tatooine. As such, I really enjoyed the Obi-Wan show.

From a logical point of view, the writers delicately threaded  this series through established canon and I think they did a great job. It’s a testament to how much I enjoyed the show that even though I knew who lived, I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat. Will young Leia survive? Will Obi-Wan be killed by Vader?

But the finale proved to be one of my favorite Star Wars things. We got an epic lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Vader, complete with Hayden Christensen looking out from a seared-open Vader mask. We go a neat and tidy button on Obi-Wan’s infamous phrase to Luke: Vader betrayed and murdered your father.

And we got some fantastic character moments, a feat especially impressive considering the action. In fact, it was the character beats in the final ten minutes that really struck me and brought the tears. Oh, and the inclusion of Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars? Icing on the cake. That piece of music ranks as one of my all-time favorite themes in the entire franchise and it was used so well.

That last shot? [won’t spoil this one] Perfection.

So, with Obi-Wan, in my mind, I got the logic of the storytelling but I also got the feels. That’s what often sends a story over the top for me. It’s why I enjoyed Jurassic World: Dominion so much. It’s why I dig La La Land, Toy Story 3, any random episode of New Amsterdam, and John Scalzi’s book, Redshirts.

I want the feels, and any story that delivers is a winner in my book.

How about you? Do you want the feels or is logic more your speed?

P.S. I wrote this piece late afternoon on Friday. Later that day, I watched the new Baz Luhrmann "Elvis" movie. Add one more to the feels list. Except this one was tragic. My wife and I just sat there for a few minutes while the main credits rolled. We both had teared up at the end. So we just sat and listened and thought about the creative spirit of Elvis Presley. 

I don't know about you, but when I take in a story in which a creative person is tamped down or abused or taken advantage of, I feel my own creative spirit wanting to burst out and soar.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Jurassic World: Dominion: A Wonderful Summer Blockbuster

I’m not sure what movie some folks watched but it sure wasn’t the one I saw.

When it comes to movies, I make it point not to read any reviews ahead of seeing a movie I want to see. If the trailer hasn’t grabbed my attention and compelled me to watch—or the pedigree of the actors, writers, and director—then I don’t seek out the Rotten Tomato score to sway me. This is not the same with books in which I will happily read and take into consideration the opinions of dozens of fellow writers when they recommend books.

But once I’ve seen a movie, I am curious to know the general consensus and see if it lines up with my experience. When I saw the 2.5 hours of Jurassic World: Dominion (AKA Jurassic World 3 AKA Jurassic Park 6), I was enthralled, entertained, and emitted more than a few utterances of “Yeah!” and “Cool!” It ended the 6-movie franchise quite well, introducing the original Park actors with the new World actors in a way that felt organic. The music was nicely used throughout, including the elegant main theme from John Williams—both the orchestral as well as the softer piano version. There were dino-on-dino fights, a kick-ass motorcycle/dinosaur chase through a European city, and a dino/airplane chase. There were dinos in the water, dinos in caves, and dinos in snow. All things we’ve not seen before.

Well, I’m pretty sure we haven’t. I’ve pretty much got the first movie memorized. The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, a little. Jurassic World I remember decently and I all but forgot World 2: Fallen Kingdom.

But I remember the closing show of Fallen Kingdom well, accompanied by Jeff Goldblum’s voiceover. Dinosaurs now live among humans and we’re going to have to learn to co-exist as best as possible. And that’s how Dominion starts. It shows us a world like that. Granted, it’s not one I’d prefer to live in—don’t need the possibility of my plane flight being overtaken by a pterodactyl—but it is one original author Michael Crichton envisioned and that Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm keeps talking about in every movie he’s in. So in that respect, Dominion gets it correct.

So imagine my surprise when I hop on over to Rotten Tomatoes on Monday night—after eagerly relating all the fun and cool stuff in the movie to my wife who didn’t go—that the critical consensus was so poor. Again, what movie did these folks watch?

Okay, the plot. There are two threads. The World Plot has Owen and Claire trying to protect Maisie from the rest of the world because she’s a clone. Blue the velociraptor lives nearby and has unexpectedly produced a young raptor called Beta. (It shouldn’t be unexpected because “Life always finds a way.”) Bad guys kidnap both younglings and Owen and Claire follow.

The Park Plot involves our three original cast members and boils down to Laura Dern’s Ellie Sadler researching why formerly extinct massive locusts are eating some crops but not others. If they’re not stopped, there will be a global famine, yet the locusts don’t seem to be eating crops grown from seeds provided by Biosyn, the new bad-guy company a la InGen from the Park movies. She makes the assumption—with an assist from Malcolm—that Biosyn is behind both the seeds and the locusts. She enlists the help of Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and they set off in search of proof at Biosyn’s giant lab/breeding ground/dinosaur habitat in Europe.

Which is exactly where the kidnappers are taking Maisie and Beta. Naturally, the World characters and the Park characters will meet—the selling point of the film—and they’ll battle enemies both dino and human. Along the way, there are wonderful set pieces that are the definition of a summer blockbuster. In fact, as Owen is racing through the streets on his motorcycle, trained raptors on his tail, you see the aforementioned plane start to warm up. I leaned over to my son and said, “I bet he jumps into the open plane in midair.” Viola! That’s exactly what happened.

Yes, that entire sequence felt like an espionage film (Bond, Bourne, Mission Impossible) but who cares? It was thrilling. There were lots of other thrilling moments as our heroes fight to stay alive, but not without some humor along the way.

But there are also some great character moments. Goldblum is having a field day as Malcolm, just chewing scenery left and right and I loved every second of it. The quiet moments are also good, like when it’s just Ellie and Alan seeing each other for the first time in decades, subtly lamenting lost time. Yes, their story line got a little bumbly as they tried to escape from the locust lair but it was minor.

I also liked how certain scenes were set up so that you *think* you know what’s going to happen but then your expectations are subverted. Case in point: Goldblum’s Malcolm is stuck holding a flaming piece of a spear-like metal pole and there’s a dino looking at him. In Park 1, he doesn’t know to throw the light source and freeze. Well, I said to my son, I bet he’s learned now. Nope. Not what happens. But it’s way cooler.

Scott Campbell, as the bad guy, plays Lewis Dodgson oddly. He is all bad at one moment and then weirdly like an absent-minded professor the next. I liked that they used him as a character although in the movie, it isn’t explicitly stated that he was the character in the original Jurassic Park who pays Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry to steal embryos in the Barbasol shaving cream can. But said can is a trinket in Dodgson’s office as he tries to escape. And I won’t even tell you what happens to him, but if you’ve seen Park 1, you have an idea.

Speaking of that, I like the little subtle Easter eggs like when Ellie takes off her sunglasses in a manner almost identically to Alan from Park 1. Nice touch.

The nostalgic part of me would have liked one last shot of all the Park characters together. Sadly we don’t get that, but we do get some resolution for everyone. And character growth. And bad guys getting what’s coming to them. And dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs.

Again, I’m just not understanding why the dislike for the film. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 79% so clearly it’s resonating with folks. It resonated with me quite well and I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Is There Too Much?

Ever get the feeling you’ve jumped off the high dive, you splashed wonderfully in the deep end, but you can barely make it back to the surface?

There is a lot—A LOT—of stuff that comes our way in 2022, and it’s probably the internet’s fault. For every random piece of knowledge we can look up with the computer that fits in our pockets—stop and think about that for a moment—that same device and service blasts us with data and images and sounds and games and everything.

It can become overwhelming.

So I decided to see just how much stuff comes my way in a week. I didn’t count my emails (although I probably should have) and kept it to the articles via my Feedly app. It’s an aggregator where content comes to me rather that me having to visit a buncha sites to get the stuff I want.

I have maybe 75 sites that I have put in my Feedly. Some of those publish once a week (like Peter King’s football column). Others publish dozens of articles a day (Gizmodo and Slash Film). Have to keep up with the geek news. Ultimate Classic Rock posts about a dozen or so articles a day, too.

There are quite a few writers I follow. Some of them post daily (Dean Wesley Smith, John Scalzi) while others are also weekly (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) and still others are whenever.  

Then there are the food blogs, Lifehacker, health and fitness blogs, the comic blogs, and the art and photography blogs. Yeah, it’s a lot.

But I don’t read them all. Far from it. I’ll scan the headlines and make an instant decision. If I’m reading on my iPad, I swipe and mark them as ‘read’ without even opening the article. Sometimes, I forward myself articles if I don’t have time right then and there to read them.

It’s a lot, but how much?

This is not an exact science. I tried to get through some and then note that I cleared, say, 38 on Monday morning. And the workday kept me off the app later in the week so the articles backed up.

But here are some numbers over a 5-day span from Monday until Friday.

By 1:30pm on Monday, I had received and cleared 135 articles.
By the time I went to be on Tuesday, I had received more or less 140 more. I didn’t log how many I cleared. My Wednesday number was approximately 363. Thursday morning I had 259 in the queue at 5:40 am. I cleared almost none. By Friday morning, the number was up to 468. I cleared some here and there so I don’t have a good number.

But you can see how it all adds up. So a rough guess is around 125 a day, making for approximately 625 individual articles in five days. This does not account for FaceBook or Twitter. That’s a whole other thing.

So is 625+ things to process per week worth it? I don’t really have FOMO at this stage of my life so I don’t care if I’m first. I just want to know. I could probably cull some of the articles and feeds I rarely read and ease up the deluge. But I do appreciate an app like Feedly where things come to me. And I like having it all in once place, even if it adds up to over 600 things to process per week.

How do you process news feeds? How do you get your news?

Monday, June 6, 2022

A Few Recommendations for Summer 2022

Every now and then when it comes time for me to write a Saturday post, a large, overarching one about a single topic, I realize I don’t have one. So I’m going to provide a few recommendations of things I’m listening to, watching, or reading.

Top Gun: Maverick


Now THIS is how to do a legacy sequel. Age up the characters in real time, address the passage of time, and provide a wonderful piece of closure with a legacy co-star. Oh, and incredible action sequences. Holy cow was this a great movie. I took my wife who didn’t necessarily want to see it but she emerged very entertained. Not as entertained as I was: now I want to see this film in IMAX.

And please tell me I’m not the only one who saw the movie and kept having to slow down the car while driving home.

Def Leppard: Diamond Star Halos


Taking a page from the legacy artist idea I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Def Leppard released their newest album last Friday. Fifteen tracks (17 if you buy from Target) of classic rock goodness. Much like the modern band, The Struts, the Joe Elliott-led five piece band wear their influences on their sleeves, and it starts with the album title.

There’s a whimsical vibe to these songs from the opening chord progression of “Take What You Want” to open the album to the last few notes of “From Here to Eternity.” Allison Krauss lends her vocals to a pair of tunes but make no mistake: this is a rock/pop/metal album just like the band used to make in their heyday.

Lyrically, the guys know their age and acknowledge it throughout the entire record. This was an album I looked forward to ever since it was announced and boy did they deliver.

And yes, we listened to Def Leppard on the way to and from seeing Top Gun: Maverick.

Obi-Wan Kenobi


The third thing released last Friday, this is a Star Wars series I’ve been eagerly anticipating since it was announced as well. In fact, I even held off reading the old Extended Universe novel.

We knew what we were going to get from the trailers: an older, wiser(?) Obi-Wan, living on Tatooine, watching over a ten-year-old Luke Skywalker. What I didn’t expect was his sister, Leia. In fact, it is her plight that propels the series.

I appreciate the slower roll, just like I did for the Mandalorian. I have zero issues with the actors on the show either (so a certain segment of the Star Wars fandom can just go home).

As big a Star Wars fan as I am, I didn’t watch the animated shows so everything in Obi-Wan Kenobi is new to me.

Oh, and so great to see Darth Vader back to being the feared force he is. But I’ll say something that might make a few of y’all look at me askance. I’m fine with James Earl Jones voicing Vader, but how about some more intense inflection, huh? I mean Vader/Anakin finally lays eyes on Kenobi after ten years and it’s like their talking over tea. The last thing Anakin yelled at Kenobi in Episode III was pure hatred. Where’s that emotion in Vader’s inflection?

No Time to Spy by Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens


If you like James Bond, might I point you in the direction of this trilogy of book by Collins and Clemens. The premise is pure fun: the main character is John Sand, a real spy who worked with Ian Fleming and the latter author based James Bond on John Sand. Sand, now outed as a spy, marries a rich Texas oil heiress. Despite his retirement, action and adventure follow Mr. and Mrs. Sand.

While I’ve not read all three books—Come Spy With Me; Live Fast, Spy Hard; To Live and Spy in Berlin—a compilation ebook is on sale *this weekend* for only $0.99. You read that correctly: for a dollar(!), you get three novels. Seriously, it’s an impulse buy at that point.

Here’s the Amazon link.

Roll With It by Jay Stringer


Jay Stringer broke the news that his latest novel is now available as an audiobook on Audible. As a person who primarily consumes books in that manner, this was great news.

But Jay went above and beyond and made available a few promo codes. These are US only—UK codes will be forthcoming—so if you haven’t had a chance to read his post from yesterday, head on over and see if any of those codes are still available.

Even if they’re not, the book is only 1 credit ($13.96 if you just want to buy it) so get on over to Audible and get a copy. Also, for you library folks out there, be sure to request your library to buy the book and help spread the word.

Monday, May 30, 2022

The Great Summer Writing Season

Here in the United States, summer officially begins today, Memorial Day. It ends 97 days later on Labor Day, 5 September.  I know it is a great time to travel, watch summer blockbuster movies (by the time this is posted, I’ll have already seen Top Gun: Maverick), catch up on some TV, sit on the patio or beach or dock and sip something cold, and just enjoy the summer vibe.

But it can also be used to write.

Think of it: perfect bookends. There is a beginning and an end. There are 97 days of summer if you don’t include either holiday but do count weekends. If you were to write up to 1,000 words per day, more or less an hour, you’d have a novel.

Okay, you say, what about weekends? There are 28 Saturdays and Sundays this summer. Doing the math, that is 69 weekdays. At 1,000 words a day, that 69,000 words, still a novel.

But let’s say you don’t reach 1,000 words a day. What if you only spend 30 minutes a day and produce 500 words? That’s 48,500 words, a nice short novel. If you take out the weekends, that brings you down to 34,500 words, still very respectable.

And I’m only thinking novels here. Imagine if you wrote a short story per week. That’s 14 new short stories.

This is just to get you thinking about continuing your writing during what Dean Wesley Smith calls the Time of Great Forgetting, when your New Year’s Day resolutions to write more are ignored. You can do this. Just start on Monday and keep going.

I’ll be finishing up a novel rather than starting a new one. And I’ll also be preparing for the Great Departure: my son will be moving out and continuing his college coursework. Sigh. It is time. It is supposed to happen, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

The writing part is, however, pretty straightforward. Just sit and write. Keep at it long enough and you’ll reach those magical words: The End. And summer is a great time to keep that habit going.  

Side Note: Namedropped


It’s not every day when a famous author reads a post and responds.

I always read Max Allan Collins’s blog so imagine my surprise when I saw my own name. It seems he read and responded to my post from last week regarding Legacy Authors and That Last Book. I nearly swallowed my coffee down the wrong pipe when I saw it. He provided some extra examples to address the question I posed. How cool is that?