Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Blogs I Like: Rough Edges by James Reasoner

James Reasoner has written so many books I’m not even sure he knows how many. A career writer of over 40 years, Reasoner is an old-school pulp writer working in the modern age. He loves and adores all types of fiction—especially westerns—and he channels all of that enthusiasm into his blog, Rough Edges.

Reading the Rough Edges blog is like sitting next to a kid in the candy store and having him tell you about all the different types of candy, who made them, and which are his favorites. Actually, the image works better if you imagine that same kid but in a drug store sometime in the mid-1960s. This was the time when comic books and dime store paperbacks could be seen in just about every establishment. This kid is a voracious reader, consuming just about anything, but favoring westerns, SF, and old pulp superstars like Doc Savage and the Shadow. Throw in the trips to the library and bookstores and you have a kid who realized he loved to read and never stopped.

Now, with the Rough Edges blog, Reasoner has many more years of reading and knowledge to share. He has many regular features. One of my favorites is Saturday Morning Western Pulp where he’ll take a particular issue of an old western pulp and comment on the stories, authors, and cover artists. Sunday gets you Bonus Pulp, which could be a detective mag or a SF one. He typically does the Forgotten Book Friday segment where he’ll take an old book and/or author and “re-introduce” it to modern audiences who may have been too young to have read the particular book first hand. (I fall into that category a lot.) Somewhere along the way he started contributing Tuesday’s Overlooked Movies where he’ll examine some movie out of the mainstream and tell you why he likes it.

Reasoner, however, isn’t just a fan. He’s a working craftsman of words. He produces millions of words a year in content. Many of his books are under a house name or pen name, but you’d be surprised—no, amazed—at how prolific he is. And, a few years back, he, and his life, Livia Reasoner, started Rough Edges Press, an independent publishing house. Rough Edges Press releases some old titles by other authors and some of Reasoner’s short westerns that he wrote back in the day. He also releases new material like his Outlaw Ranger series. Most recently, Rough Edges publishes Blaze, the new adult western series featuring husband and wife gunslingers, J.D. and Kate Blaze. That series is up to eleven.

But it’s the Rough Edges blog that has become a constant companion. Every Saturday morning, one of the first things I do is check Rough Edges blog. No matter the day, I read Reasoner’s blog entries. Reasoner’s interests often dovetail into mine, so I’ve long considered him my tour guide for stuff I like and other stuff I'm probably going to like.

Why don’t you come along for the ride?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Movie Review: Finding Dory

Finding_DoryPixar makes great films. Even something as subpar (for them) as Cars II is still better than a lot of movies out there. Pixar is 1 for 2 in the sequel department. For as great as Toy Story 2 and 3 are, there is, well, Cars II. So when Finding Dory was announced, I was a little bummed. Why? Finding Nemo was so good what more could be told. And did we really need Dory’s backstory? Wasn’t that first film a nice, little one-off movie, like Ratatouille or Wall E?

Boy was I wrong. Finding Dory is a wonderfully charming movie that expands her backstory, provides a ton of genuine laughs, and, of course, has some teaching moments, namely family. Granted we got that in Nemo, but, hey, so what, right? It’s also the thing that kicks off the plot.

If you remember in Nemo, when, towards the end, Dory has a memory and all those images flash by at rocket speed until she remembers Sydney, there’s a similar thing here, but it’s for her own past. Thus, the story starts when she was to find her parents. Throughout the film, we get to see baby Dory and her parents. And, boy, is it as cute as can be. This is Disney full-on cuteness. As funny as Dory’s short-term memory loss can be (a fav of mine is in Nemo when she keeps calling him just about any other name), it is basically a handicap. Thus, you see her parents teaching her to cope with her handicap. I never quite figured that out before this new movie. It’s a nice example of modern parenting.

Naturally, Marlin and Nemo go along for the adventure. It’s great to see the dad and son, reunited, and working together. There are some fun mentions of the first film along the way. Where in the first film, Marlin is the scaredy cat who overcomes his fear of the ocean to rescue his son, in this new film, we get to see Marlin take some chances of his own volition but still be the worrywart. It’s a nice bit of character development that works.

The humor is over the top funny. Slapstick in many places. I am not ashamed to say that I was literally laughing loudly in many parts of the film. Everyone in the theater loved it. The new co-stars are hilarious. I won’t spoil what they are, but it’s just further proof that the folks at Pixar can create instantly memorable characters. Andrew Stanton returned to direct and, once again, proves that anything he's involved in is good. Yes, even John Carter! (Come back tomorrow for my reasons.)

The animated short, Piper, is simple stunning! Naturally, the story is yet another example that great stories and great storytellers do not need a word of dialogue to move you. Shhh! Don’t tell the writers. But the animation is incredible. My entire family all marveled at the all-but-real-life quality of the short. Fantastic. And, of course, funny and poignant.

Definitely put Finding Dory on your to-watch list. And, no, you don’t need to rent a child to see it. While Finding Dory skews more to a traditional kids film (say, Frozen or Toy Story 2) rather than an adult film that just happens to be animated (Inside Out, Up, Wall-E), there is still content for everyone. Easily one of the funniest films of the year.

Oh, and stay through the credits…

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Charm of The Bronze Gazette

BG01-Cover-Upright-211x300I am way too young to have been a Doc Savage fan back in the 1930s, but reading The Bronze Gazette is like being a kid again.

The Bronze Gazette is a fanzine focusing on the life and adventures of Doc Savage, Man of Bronze. Doc was the larger-than-life creation of Lester Dent back in 1933. For 181 issues—most of them monthly—Doc and his Fabulous Five took on bad guys the world over with high adventure, keen gadgets, and overall derring-do. Doc is the precursor to many things, including Superman, Batman, James Bond, the Fantastic Four, CSI, and every other ‘team’ on TV and movies. He is the “Superman” to the Shadow’s “Batman”: good-hearted, courageous, and a dozen other adjectives.

Doc’s fandom grew almost instantly in the 1930s and carried on through World War II. But, as is so often the case, the Doc Savage magazine was eventually cancelled. Doc lay dormant for a few years before Bantam began publishing the stories again in the 1960s. Here, instead of the original painted covers by Walter Baumhofer, Bantam commissioned new art from James Bama. This is the Doc many people think of if they think of Doc: big, buff, sporting a widow’s peak, and with a shirt always ripped to shreds.

220px-ManofbronzebamaFandom of Doc kicked into another gear as a new generation of readers fell in love with Doc’s adventures. Enter The Bronze Gazette. Frankly, I have never seen an issue before the most recent one, No. 76. For 75 issues, dating back over 25 years, Howard Wright founded, published, and kept the Bronze Gazette going. With issue 76, a new team has come on board to carry the baton going forward.

I got my first issue today, and boy is it stellar! I’ll be honest: when I think of ‘fanzine,’ my first thoughts are of xeroxed pages, stapled together, with black-and-white hand drawn illustrations. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bronze Gazette is a professionally bound journal with a great cover and color pictures scattered throughout. There are over a dozen articles including a couple by Will Murray, the preeminent Doc scholar and author of The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage, the new novels being published.

I was already thrilled to receive my first fanzine and first Bronze Gazette, but there was one thing that put a huge goofy grin on my face. There is a code inside. It’s a Mayan alphabet with a symbol for each English letter. And it’s up to you to decipher it.

Come on! With the attention to detail like this, the charm of this, I hope the Bronze Gazette continues for many years to come. I know I’ll be buying every issue.

Thanks to Chuck Welch (editor), Kez Wilson (art director), and Terry Allen (publisher) for keeping the fire of Doc Savage going into the 21st Century.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day

Not a huge post today. Just thinking about my dad and how much he helped to shape me into the man I’ve become today. That includes being a constant reader. Thanks, Dad.

I also am thinking about my two grandfathers and all that they taught me, including what it’s like to have a good time. I remember one of my grandfathers who had shelves full of westerns. It was that memory that eventually prompted me to start writing westerns. I want to write stories he would have enjoyed.

And, of course, I’m also thinking about being a dad, the greatest thing in the world!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tech for Writers: iOS “Speak Screen”

Do you retain more information when you hear it rather than only reading it on a page?
I know I do. I’m a pretty avid note taker. In college and graduate school, I developed the ability to nearly create a thought-for-thought transcription of a professor’s lectures. That trait also has proven invaluable when I brainstorm my stories.

But sometimes, my brainstorming notes can get quite lengthy and I forget some aspects of the story. Or, perhaps, when I’ve come to a certain scene on a particular writing day, I’ll review the notes I took for that scene before putting prose to pixels.

But wouldn’t it be neat to have someone read my notes to me? (Yeah, I can, and do, read them aloud to myself, but having an external source read the notes allows me time to go deeper into the story.)

Enter the Speak Screen command on the iPhone. I’ve had my iPhone SE just over a month now and I’m still learning what it can do. One feature that is invaluable for folks like me is Speak Screen. It does exactly what you think it does: it reads whatever text is on the screen at the time.

The action is triggered by sliding two fingers from the top of the screen to the bottom. You’ll get a new toolbar that looks like this.


Here you can control the tempo, pause, play, or stop the app from running. The "Simplenote" up there is just the app I was using. It'll be whatever app you have open.

You activate it here: Settings>General>Accessibility>Speech>Speak Screen. You can also select the language and voice you want. I stay with Siri Female (enhanced) since that voice speaks all the weird words better.

And, best yet: naturally, it’ll read your actual prose back to you so you can hear your story while you follow along, making notes.

Brilliant!

It’s a great feature for iOS devices. Writers, y’all should really try it out.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Book Review: The Emperor's Revenge by Clive Cussler

053116_Emperors-Revenge-Oregon-Files-Clive-Cussler-Novels_199x300Sometimes it pays to read to the last sentence.

Clive Cussler has the type of literary output I aim to mimic. It started with the Dirk Pitt adventures and, over the years, Cussler has expanded his series to include the Oregon Files, the NUMA files, the Fargo Adventures and the Isaac Bell series. The first four all take place in contemporary times. The Isaac Bell series, my true introduction to Cussler’s works, is by far my favorite mainly because it is set in the early 20th Century.

Now comes THE EMPEROR’S REVENGE, the latest in the Oregon Files series. It’s the 11th book in the series, but my first. This series focuses on Juan Cabrillo, the captain of a fancy ship, the Oregon. On the outside, this ship looks like a hunk of junk, a trawler that wouldn’t normally catch the eye of any bad guy. Underneath, the Oregon is the top-of-the-line military ship equipped with all the latest technology and weapons. Cabrillo commands a group of folks who work as a team called the Corporation, a secret sub-group of the CIA.

I would have eventually gotten around to the Oregon Files series, but what jumpstarted my interest was reading my first NUMA book, THE PHARAOH’S CURSE earlier this spring. In that book, those main characters—Kurt Austin and company—got into a gunfight. In the middle of all that, Juan Cabrillo and one of his men show up. Each team tells the other team the Thing each need to know and then they went on their way. How cool is that! It was basically a little marketing ploy to get interested readers to buy THE EMPEROR’S REVENGE, which was publish three months after PHARAOH’S SECRET. It worked for me.

So what is EMPEROR’S REVENGE about? As in most of Cussler’s modern-day thrillers, the story opens in the past, namely 1821 and Napoleon Bonaparte. That’ll clue you in on whom the “emperor” is. Turns out, Napoleon escaped his exile at St. Helena taking with him secret messages from handwritten notes. Cut to the present day and Juan Cabillo and his team are on a mission. At the conclusion of the mission, he receives word of the events at the Monaco Grand Prix. It seems there was a huge accident that was used to cover-up something worse: a bank heist. Not something that might land on the Corporation’s radar until the truth is revealed: all the Corporation’s money was among the cash looted from the bank.

Now the story is personal.

What follows is Juan’s investigation into the bank heist. He and his team are assisted by Gretchen, a former partner of Juan’s and his “wife” on a previous mission. Needless to say, sparks fly, and not just from the bullets ricocheting off everything during gun fights.

To say that EMPEROR’S REVENGE follows standard thriller pacing sounds like a bad thing, but it isn’t. The pacing is nice and steady. The revelation of the bad guy, who makes up his team, and what he’s after is delivered piecemeal and in nice chunks. I enjoyed the story, the build-up, and the character moments. I suspect readers who have read the ten previous books will get more inside jokes, but as a newbie to this series, this book was just fine.

Long ago, if there was a new book (like EMPEROR’S REVENGE) that caught my eye and I learned it was a series, I’d always go back to book one and plow through the series. But I’d often get burned out and actually never get to the book with the cool cover that got my attention. I’ve chunked that reading style. Now, I read the current book. If I like it, I’ll go back. It seems that there’s a new Oregon File book every year so I have a decade’s worth of material to read.

I listened to the book by the brilliant narrator Scott Brick. He reads almost every series by Cussler, especially the Isaac Bell ones. Brick has a touch of whimsy to his voice and cadence that propels the stories, like EMPEROR’S REVENGE, along in a special way. Seriously, Brick could read the LA phonebook and I’d pay to listen. He’s that good.

Oh, and read until the last sentence…

What I Learned as a Reader:

Back in my original blog, I’d always end reviews with this and I thought I’d apply it here.

In Chapter 1, all the characters are introduced. For longtime readers, this is old hat. For newbies like me, it’s perfect. Each character gets a sentence or two of backstory and a trait. The prose makes each person on the team easily identifiable. From then on, through the rest of the book, I know what these characters look like and act like. I try to do that in my own writing, but it’s great to see how longtime professional like Cussler and Boyd Morrison do it.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Is James Patterson the KISS of the Publishing World?

lg-bookshots-cross-killEver since James Patterson announced his Bookshots initiative, I was curious. For those that don't know. the world's #1 bestselling author wants to provoke folks who might not normally read longer books to try out shorter books. As the slogan goes, "Under 150 pages. Under $5." I've read exactly zero Patterson books, but I own a few. In fact, I had picked up Private: India the other day at the grocery store because I wanted to see what that series was like. Last night, I picked up the first two Bookshots books: Crosskill and Zoo 2. I started Crosskill, and dang it if I didn't blow through five chapters. I had to get to sleep, but I can see this kind of thing catching on.

What I'd really like to see is is these books available at Starbucks, drug stores, or grocery stores at the checkout lines. Make them impulse buys.

This Patterson talk had me remembering a post I wrote back in January 2015 for DoSomeDamage entitled "Is James Patterson the KISS of the Publishing World?" Some of my comments can apply to Bookshots today. Anything that gets people reading is fine by me. And, as an author of a book (WADING INTO WAR) that easily fits in a Bookshots format (Under 150 pages. Under $5), I welcome shorter books. In fact, I'm writing one now...

If you're here reading this, chances are good you're already a reader. You don't mind reading giant tomes like the Outlander books or short stories or anything else in between. We can enjoy Bookshots, but, I suspect, they're not aimed at us. Just imagine the person who says "I stopped reading after high school" and then picks up a Bookshots book and sees how fun reading can be. There. Patterson's just made a new reader, and that helps everyone.

Here's the older article. I welcome y'all's comments.

I discovered some new friends this week. I'm a big fan of the rock band KISS and there are a good number of podcasts out there. Up until now, my two favorites have been PodKISSt and Kisstory Science Theater. To quote Yoda, there is another.
 
Pods and Sods is technically a music podcast (a podcast for the musically obsessed...) but Craig Smith and Eric Miller are avid KISS fans. As such, a good chunk of the 82 episodes involve KISS. A fun thing they did last month during the “12 Days of KISSmas,” was cover, in detail, the first 12 KISS LPs, one a day and one an episode. They know their stuff and I found myself nodding to points they made and disagreeing with others.
 
But what utterly surprised me was how funny they are. The key to their humor comes with the intimate knowledge of the subject matter. With that knowledge comes the ability to look at the absurd nature of some of the antics the members of KISS have foisted on the public in their forty years. Craig's impersonations of Gene Simmons is hilarious! Some fans, you can imagine, take lots of umbrage with any humor at the expense of their rock heroes. Not so Smith and Miller. They see the absurdity for what it is and laugh at it *while still being fans.*
 
Now, I understand that being fans of a rock band like KISS and being fans of authors are different realms but I couldn’t help think about the similarities of the two this week while devouring 21 of the 22 KISS-centric episodes (that’s about 20 hours of listening, by the way) and reading about the latest news from James Patterson. Evidently, he’s trying to garner interest in his new book with his so-called “self-destructing book.” According to his website, 1,000 fans get a code to download an advance copy of his latest PRIVATE book and have 24 hours to read the story before “the book self-destructs in a spectacular fashion.” You can follow readers’ progress. Three readers here in Houston got the novel. The website claims it’s a revolutionary reading experience.
 
Yup, it is. And I’m totally cool with it. Why the heck not? Is it a stunt? Absolutely. It is unique? Unquestionably. It is fun? Yessiree bob. It it for everyone? Nope.
 
Neither is KISS. I know many who discount KISS because of their make-up, over-the-top shows (“They only do that because their music isn’t good”--to which I say just listen to some of their songs), and their unabashed salesmanship. That’s all true, but I’m one who learned about rock and roll through their antics. They are my first favorite rock band. Sure, I’ve come to love Chicago, Bowie, Springsteen, Genesis, Sting, and others, but KISS will forever have a special place in my heart. And they have a particular outlook on music and their role in it. They are entertainers, pure and simple. As the guys from Pods and Sods point out, there’s a whole lot of positive messages laced in KISS songs...if you can get past the clunky lyrics and debauchery.
 
Might Patterson be the KISS of the publishing industry? He’s unapologetically commercial. So what? It helps him get product out that the public enjoys. He's not the #1 best-selling author for nothing. He uses co-writers. So what? As the December issue of Vanity Fair points out, he has such a heavy hand in the writing that’s it’s basically his work by the time the books are published. As I’ve piled up manuscripts, I’ve often thought it would be nice for someone to take my first draft and clean it up -- while I write a first draft of a new novel and then come back around to revise the cleaned-up draft later. But that’s just me.
 
Anyway, those are some of my thoughts for this week. I’ve also been working on my new website and I’m close to being done with it. News will be coming soon on that front.
 
What are y’all’s thoughts on Patterson’s stunt? And if y’all like KISS or just in-depth music talk, I wholeheartedly recommend Pods and Sods

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Comics Cavalcade

IMG_0159Over the weekend, I went to SpaceCity Con here in Houston. It’s something of a Memorial Day tradition. Typically, the convention is Comicpalooza but that’s been pushed back to Father’s Day weekend. And, yes, before you ask, I’m going there as well.

I’m to the point in my comic book collecting where I gravitate towards the dollar bins. At conventions like these, there were boxes and boxes of comics that are bagged, boarded, and sealed for all time. Those don’t hold my interest anymore. For me, comics are, as they always have been, to read. Because my interests are so varied, I like to sample a lot of different books, even ones that weren’t on my radar back in the day.

The best thing about dollar bins is that, for the most part, they are un-alphabetized, un-bagged, un-boarded, and just shoved in a box. As a result, you literally have to go through book by book looking at the titles, smelling the old paper, pulling out titles that might interest you, and then subdividing said large stack of books into something small and manageable. Now, I’ll leave it up to you whether this spread is manageable or not, but for me, it’ll get me through the first month of summer… or until Comicpalooza!

The Batman titles there on the left are good selection of mid-70s material. The writer for the flagship title is David V. Reed. I haven’t read the Detective books yet. Overall, I was very pleased that I was able to locate a good number of books from 1976 that celebrated the Bicentennial now 40 years gone. That particular title there of Action Comics, when that bad guy is his hitting Superman into 1776, I had seen that cover for a long time and was finally was able to locate it. The Superman title second from the bottom—and the Wonder Woman title—both both look different. They are Pizza Hut collectible editions from the mid-70s. They are reprints from the 50s—which is what I really thought they were—but still fun reading.

Column three has got two sets of titles. There is the Master of Kung Fu which I have heard lots of good things about. Evidently it began as a typical title to capture the early 70s kung fu craze but morphed into a sort of superspy storyline. Shang Chi, the master himself, is the son of Fu Manchu. Back in the 70s, Marvel had the rights to Fu Manchu and used them. Ever since, those rights have lapsed. Thus these titles rarely get reprinted. This particular run, issues 83 to 87, is a single storyline, late in the run, but I figured it would be good chance to read and see what it was like. The Star Hunter stuff was DC’s answer to Star Wars. I have a fondness for cheesy space opera. Back in the day, I bought the debut issue, but never read or located any more. I found these four issues and picked them up. They’re not in order so I will be looking for the others come Father’s Day.

The comics in column three are random. A couple of Bicentennial ones down there on the bottom, each numbered with a special black-and-white number in the upper right-hand corner. When I do peruse the dollar bins, I try to find books that are thicker to give me more content and, most importantly, complete stories. Thus three of those titles in column 4 are all giant size. Ironically, that World’s Finest issue that cost a dollar back in 1979 also cost me a dollar in 2016.

I was lucky to find some Shadow books. The one down there on the front I liked in particular because that was when Denny O’Neil (of Batman fame) took up the title when DC got the rights to write stories about the character. The artist was Frank Robbins who was never one of my favorites — he did the Invaders for Marvel comics and that was my first taste of how cover art and interior art could be different. The modern titles I had never read or never heard of. Ironically these are from 1987 when Denny O’Neil was the editor of the Batman titles. I don’t think he had anything to do with this run, but it is a complete four issue set. The one there on top is a Shadow annual.

The titles on the last column are even more random than the others. A couple of Jonah Hex issue, one Man Wolf (I’m not too familiar with this one, but the creature in question is transformed, I think, by a gemstone from the moon), issue 1 of the Logan’s Run adaptation, and a big annual of Christmas stories from 1997. And, yes, I won’t read that one until December. That Rampaging Hulk title you see is the collection of the black-and-white stories from Marvel magazine back in the mid-70s. Marvel tried their hand at more adult content using the larger magazine format that wasn’t subject to the Comics Code. When the TV show became a hit, Rampaging Hulk was transformed to Hulk! and became color. The Essential titles are all black-and-white reprints typically of color comics, but since this collection were originally in black-and-white anyway — and it only cost five dollars whereas the standard original book cost at least double that amount — how can I pass it up?

That’s my haul from SpaceCity Con 2016. I’ll be reading and reviewing these periodically throughout the summer. Let me know if you have any history with any of these titles as I’d be curious to know if y’all read these books back in the day or even now.