Saturday, June 29, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 26

As of Monday, half of 2019 is gone. How is your writing?

Mine? Well, it is not where I expected it to be on New Year's Day. I had envisioned a couple of new books under my belt, ready to be edited, revised, and published. Then again, I also expected 1 July to be the day my fourth Calvin Carter novel would be published.

Ain't gonna happen.

When the Publisher Rejects Your Book

Countless writers have received rejection letters from agents or editors or publishers. Heck, back in 2006 and 2007, I got mine, too.

Which makes the indie publishing concept so enticing. There are no gatekeepers between a writer and a reader. The only thing stopping a writer from publishing a book is...well, nothing. As long as the writer can learn how to upload files to Amazon, Kobo, or whatever.

Which makes the fact my publisher rejected the fourth Carter novel so interesting, *I'm* the publisher.

As I wrote last week, I realized the fourth Carter book, Brides of Death, as written, wasn't up to par of the other three. Brides follows the pattern of all six Carter novels: Carter is assigned a case, he investigates, he gets into and out of scraps, and he completes the assignment.

But the chapter detailing the assignment and what actually happens don't match. An easy fix would be to revise the assignment chapter, but then I'd have to re-title the book. The other alternative is to keep the title (which matches the assignment) and insert extra scenes into the book to show Carter and his partner investigating the actual assignment. That would make for a more in-depth book, which is a good thing, but there was no way to get it done by 1 July (actually 27 June because Amazon needs some lead time).

So I'm temporarily delaying the book. I don't want to put crap out, and if I had published the book as is, it would have been that. I'm the first reader and if I found an issue with the book, then other readers would have as well. Let's avoid that.

Granted, astute future readers can read the book and this blog and draw their own conclusions, but I have no power over that. Control the controllables. Make the book better and move forward.

What is Forward?

My wife is a small business owner as well (she makes jewelry under, so I asked her opinion. She agreed with me not to publish at this time. I jokingly said, "It's not like there are dozens of readers who would be upset at my decision."

That jibe hit home harder than I expected. Yes, my sales are not awesome, but that doesn't always bother me. I am unfocused when it comes to marketing, and I need to rectify that.

Which is what I plan on doing for the rest of the summer. I've got three books in the series out now. Why not promote them? See if there's even an audience for the type of book I'm writing. Sure, they were a blast to write, but what if I'm the only reader? After a bit, is there a reason to keep writing them if my reason for writing is to share stories I tell to the general reading public and the general reading public doesn't respond?

It's a quandary. Well, no, it's not. It's an opportunity. I plan on spreading the word about the Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective series far and wide. Why not build the audience with the three books currently available, build anticipation to books four, five, and six?

Speaking of audience, I read a fanTAStic blog post this week.

We Are in the Entertainment Business

You know this, right? Books are entertainment, just like TV and movies and music. But, before Thursday, me, like many of us writers, thought the book/ebook was the goal. We indies are our own publishers, and publishers produce books. Sure, we knew that our characters could be licensed, but that was only after we had a book, right?

Well, not exactly.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith attended the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. Dean has a series of videos up where he discusses what he learned from the expo. Kristine started on Thursday with the first part of her Business Musings: Rethinking The Writing Business. It will blow your mind wide open.

If you are a writer who thinks larger than a book or books, you owe it to yourself to read her column every Thursday. Jump on board now and learn with her. It's like going to school, but it's stuff you want to learn.

Filling the Tank

Finished listening to THE SCAM by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. It's a good thing I enjoyed the book and was already going to listen to others because this one ended on a cliffhanger.

Watched Toy Story 4. Enjoyed it quite a bit.

Watched The Old Man and the Gun. Liked it pretty well. Good to see Redford go out on a good film.

Still loving Masterchef. Could watch Gordon Ramsey demonstrate cooking things all day.

Enjoying CBS's Blood and Treasure even more after this week's episode.

Started listening o the audio of Good Omens. It's my current book for the SF book club.

All of this is to say I'm filling my tank with good content that I can bring to bear on the story I'm starting on Monday. But I'm also rethinking said story. I had one in mind...and then another just roared into place. So I'm likely going to go with the flow. It'll be something rather different for me, and that both excites and scares me.

Just the right place to start a new story.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Batman '89 Comic Adaptation

In those pre-Internet days, you had two choices if you wanted to experience a film: see it over and over (I did) or purchase the novelization (I also did). But what if you wanted to see the movie when you were at home? Well, that's where comic book adaptations come into play.

Finding My Copies

I have all my comics in comic boxes. The large majority of them, especially the ones I purchased prior to 2000, are all bagged. My younger self also arranged them in order, with Batman titles filling at least half the boxes. But over the years of me wanting to read this or that, I would scour the boxes, looking for whatever. As a result, the boxes are not always in the same order. Naturally, when it came time for me to search through my boxes looking for both versions of the comic adaptation (Baxter format and regular paper), they were in the last box.

The Big Guns

To adapt Batman '89, DC Comics brought in some of the biggest names in the business. Writer Dennis O'Neil was, along with artist Neal Adams, responsible for bringing the darkness back to the Batman comics in the early 70s. The Adam West TV show had made Batman a bright, sunny character and that take moved into the comic books. Not after O'Neil and Adams took control. Who better to write the movie version doing the same thing?

Jerry Ordway was the artist working on Superman at the time (and future Shazam writer/artist) with a  distinctive style easily seen in a panel or two. What he brought to the Batman movie special was photo-realistic pencils sketches of the actual actors and gorgeous layouts.

Nipping and Tucking

With only 64 pages, O'Neil and Ordway needed to trim the 126-minute film down. But they also had to showcase--ahead of the actual movie premier and audience reactions--what they thought would be good scenes. Thus the big fight scene between Batman and Joker's goons after the museum escape is completely gone. Gone, too, is Michael Keaton's iconic declaration "I'm Batman" in the opening.

Cool Additions

Yet O'Neil and Ordway add things that were likely in the script but which didn't make it on screen. In the moment where Joker takes over the TV airwaves, in the movie and comic, you see a guy tied to a chair with the words "Not an Actor" flashing on screen. Well, in the comic, Joker spoons Smilex liquid into the man's mouth...and kills him. Pretty dark stuff for a movie, but one with a visceral impact.

In the finale, when Joker is throwing out his guaranteed "free money," a character (who resembles the way Ordway drew Clark Kent) looks at the cash. It was Joker's face...on a one dollar bill. That would have been a nice addition to the film.

The most interesting addition is at the end just after Commissioner Gordon finds Joker's dead body, they also find Batman's cape and cowl. When they lift it, reporter Alex Knox is under it. He quips, "Can I still make the late addition?" as we see a mask-less Bruce Wayne sneaking away. Perhaps the novelization covers this, but does that mean Knox is in on the secret? Pretty much implies it.

I know I read the comic a few times before I put it away in its bag decades ago. I saw the movie enough times and read the novelization to get large chunks of the story memorized (still thirty years later), but I always enjoyed the comic. O'Neil and Ordway were fantastic, and they made a book that can stand alongside the blockbuster movie.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Batman at 30

Just like thirty years ago, I held off watching this 1989 movie until this weekend. I wanted to build anticipation and excitement. It worked.

Dork that I am, I gave serious thought to waiting until 23 June to re-watch Batman, but opted for a family movie night on the 21st with the wife and the boy. The wife doesn't love superhero movies. She saw Batman in 1989 largely because of Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Her favorite superhero movie is The Dark Knight, and Christian Bale and Heath Ledger her favorite actors in a Batman film. The boy also doesn't love superhero films like I do, but these last few Marvel films and Wonder Woman and Shazam he's enjoyed. 

All of that is just to set the stage for us breaking out our VHS copy--yes, VHS copy--of the 1989 film. Like they did with Superman last year, I had hoped I could again see Batman on the big screen, but here in Houston, that chance was May. We couldn't make it, so original VHS tape on the flat screen.

The first two things on the tape were the Diet Coke commercial with Michael Gough's Alfred and an animated segment with Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny talking about ordering a catalog to purchase Warner Bros. merchandise. I had that catalog and I ordered stuff. Ball cap for sure, but the rest is lost to time.

Then, the movie started.

The Theme

Visually, the opening credits are only there to let you read the major players who got this movie made--thanks Michael Uslan!--but the real star is the theme. Danny Elfman, then known as the front man for Oingo Boingo, was the composer. Like director Tim Burton, an interesting choice. Actually, many of the choices for this film were interesting and out of the box. Those choices are what makes the film special.

Elfman's Batman theme is second only to the Superman theme by John Williams for me. It is dark and propulsive, with a good mix of strings, high brass, and mellow horns. It was an instant hit in my mind thirty years ago, and it remains one of my favorite themes of all time. As good as we have it now for superhero movies, the musical cues are fairly unmemorable. The Avengers theme is the only one I can recognize when I hear it, but I can't for the life of me hum it. The Dark Knight's music by Hans Zimmer is great and moody, but it's mainly whole notes. Elfman captured the spirit of Batman in music not only in this main theme but also throughout the film.

The Opening Shot

There are moments throughout Batman cinema that are truly magical and have stood the test of time. I'm thinking the moment when Keaton's Batman first sees Michelle Pheiffer's Catwoman. Bale's Batman makes his first appearance in Batman Begins. The heist scene to open The Dark Knight. Or the motorcycle chase in The Dark Knight. The warehouse fight in Batman v Superman. Even the museum escape in Batman '89.

Nothing trumps the opening scene in Batman. Say what you will about Burton's choices for the rest of the movie, but he nailed the introduction of a dark and serious Batman in five minutes. Gone was any whiff of Adam West's TV show Batman. Here was a man, dressed all in black, who could get shot and rise again. If I had to pick a single favorite Batman moment on screen, this is it.

The Voice

"I'm Batman." Those are the first words we hear Keaton utter from behind the cowl. It's a deeper voice, but nothing like the growl Bale used. In many ways, it's very much like the choices Kevin Conroy did for the animated series. By using a slightly higher pitch for the Bruce Wayne voice, Keaton was able to merely deepen his voice for Batman. Plus, in the re-watch, for the first half of the film, he doesn't speak many words as Batman.

Still, Ben Affleck's Batman using a voice modulator is probably the best way to go.

My Favorite Bruce Wayne

I've written many books since the last time I saw this movie--I honestly can't remember how long it had been--but I appreciated how one of the central mysteries for the characters of Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) was to find out more about Bruce Wayne. They get themselves into the party at Wayne Manor to ask the mayor and Commissioner Gordon about "the six-foot bat in Gotham City" but then end up meeting Wayne himself.

Of all the actors who have played Bruce Wayne to date, my favorite Wayne is Keaton. I have always thought he walked the knife edge of genuine crazy. If each one of Batman's rogue's gallery is a distorted mirror version of Batman/Wayne, then Keaton's version shows you how close he really was to the edge.

He's distracted, but remembers everything. He's unassuming in a natural way, not like the put-on Bale has to do. To outward appearances, he seems normal.

Which is Bruce Wayne's way of deflecting. Keaton does this wonderfully.

Nicholson's Joker

How have I gone this long without talking about Jack Nicholson. If you follow Michael Uslan on Facebook--the man responsible for bringing a darker Batman to movie theaters--then you'll have seen his newspaper page talking about The Shining and how he took white-out and a green and red marker and drew over Nicholson's face in the famous "Here's Johnny" scene. Back in 1989 before I saw the movie or the trailer, I was partial to Peter O'Toole because he already had the grin. But the prosthetics they put on Nicholson was better.

And man did he chew up the scenery. Yes he was funny and over the top, but on the re-watch, something struck me again, especially since Ledger's Joker is more recent. Nicholson's Joker actually seems crazier than Ledger. Nicholson's version seemed to have everyone on edge. I mean, he out and shoots his "number one guy" Bob just because Batman stole the balloons in the finale. Ledger's Joker is an agent of chaos, but an agent who plans out everything. Nicholson plans out how to distribute Smilex gas and how to disrupt the city, but in his inner circle, I think working for him would be scarier.

Here's what age does to a person. The museum scene where Joker and his crew deface the priceless paintings: now I cringe where in 1989, I just smiled. It's a real crime he perpetrated, a crime against history, and honestly worth more than anything he could steal.

How Does It Hold Up?

Like James Bond films, everyone has their favorite movie Batman. Everyone has their favorite movies. Is Batman '89 the greatest film ever made? No. Is it the best Batman film? Maybe not. The Dark Knight is darn near perfect. It prompted the Oscar folks to expand the choices for Best Picture, so much so that Black Panther got a nomination.

But Batman '89 holds an honored spot. It was the first movie Batman (not counting the serials). It showed the world what was already happening in the comics: the character had grown and matured, darkened for a new decade. Nearly every choice made while crafting this film was bold and interesting: the casting, the director, the art director, the music, the marketing. Let's not forget about the marketing.

Sure, as a storyteller, I can poke holes in the story and I can grouse about how many times Basinger's Vicki Vale screams, but what's the point. Batman '89 was a cultural phenomenon and remains one of the most important superhero films of all time.

The Ongoing Legacy

And it remains of the most important films of my lifetime. It came at the perfect time. I was twenty, in college, and working my first real summer job (at a movie theater!). I've often said that my lifetime in comics these past fifty years was a great time. As I grew up, so did comics. I was the perfect age for Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns to signal a new era in comics. It made Batman '89 possible in the minds of executives and the public.

In 2019, when superhero and genre stuff seem to rule the box office, the TVs, and the culture, 1989 was the year in which all the non-geek folks came to appreciate stuff we geeks had loved all our lives. With Batman '89, we could finally say "See? This is good stuff."

I know Michael Uslan, the man who bought the film rights for Batman in 1979, had many sleepless nights in the 1980s as every door in Hollywood slammed in his face. No one wanted or understood the idea of a serious, cinematic Batman. But I am so glad it took as long as it did, culturally, to get our first dark Batman movie. I can't imagine the film having the impact it did in 1989 if it were released, in, say, 1986. It would have just been a movie geeks saw. Thanks, Mr. Uslan, for persevering and staying true to your vision.

Batman '89. I have so enjoyed reading all the articles and posts about this movie this month as we celebrate its 30th anniversary. I'm glad I got to experience it when I did, at the age I did, and I still love it. I will always love it no matter how many more Batman movies they make.

Come back Wednesday for my take on the comic adaptation by Dennis O'Neil and Jerry Ordway

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Real Batman Day: June 23 1989 (2019 Edition)

[As of today, in 2019, the 1989 Batman movie is thirty years old. This is a piece I wrote two years ago and I am re-posting today with some 2019 thoughts. The original version is here if you want to compare, but I've updated this post for 2019. Ever since 1989, the date of June 23 has been fixed in my mind. It will always be the true Batman Day for me and likely millions more.] 

Where were you 30 years ago today? Probably standing in line to see Batman.

The Date

 It all began with a symbol and a date. A simple poster considering what it wrought. For months, all you needed to know was June 23. You could look at a calendar and count down the days until Friday, June 23, 1989. That was the date in which Batman would finally appear on theater screens in the manner akin to his origin.

It may be difficult to imagine now, in 2019, a year in the golden age of superhero movies, but there was a time when a single superhero film dominated everything. And I mean everything.

The Cast

Batman, the 1989 film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, was a cultural phenomenon in every sense of the word. The long gestating film had started production the previous year and if you thought the backlash the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman created was something [or Richard Pattison in 2019], you have no idea when the casting of Keaton, primarily known for his comedies, caused. I can’t remember my own impressions for Keaton, but I remember quite vividly my thoughts on Joker. My choice, if you were going by the comic book look and feel, was Peter O’Toole. Sure, he was older, but he had The Grin. But when Nicholson was cast, I was like “Of course!”

Pictures in Starlog the spring of 1989 gave us the first glimpse of the all-black Batsuit and Keaton in it. I was sold! Then photos of Nicholson’s Joker emerged and I was so excited! I was and am an easy mark in that respect. A lifelong comic book fan, it was so cool to see Batman in real life. More thoughts here.

Batman ‘66

Let me pause here a moment to comment on the 1966 Batman. At the time, I was 20 and had come of age just as comics realized they could be darker and grittier. I was almost the perfect age to read The Dark Knight Returns and Year One and The Killing Joke. So, in 1989, I was distancing myself from TV’s Batman, the way I was first introduced to the character. Gone in my mind was the funny Batman. Here was the grim Batman, the way he was in the 1940s comics and the 1970s comics. Ironically, 30 years later and with the passing of Adam West, I’m ready for grimdark Batman to go away or, at least, make a way for more than one version.

The Preview

Back in those pre-YouTube days, the only way you could see a trailer was to go to a movie and buy a ticket. I’m not sure how but I learned that the Batman trailer (or maybe this teaser trailer because I remember the opening on the Batmobile's rocket) was attached to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Boom! I couldn’t get to the theater fast enough. There it was, with no music and what seemed like unmixed sound, was Batman, alive, moving, beating up bad guys and driving a kick-ass Batmobile with fire out the back! And Joker. Heavens, how awesome he looked. And I loved the line Robert Wuhl’s reporter asked: “Is there a six-foot bat in Gotham City?” And Batman crashing through the skylight? The only question in the spring was how many days until 23 June?

The Movie

I can’t remember for sure if I went to the midnight showing or day one showing. I worked at a movie theater the summer of 1989—a great summer of movies*—so I’m pretty confident that I saw it at midnight with the throngs of other folks. Like just about everyone, I lost it. This was the movie we had been waiting our entire lives for! The Danny Elfman score. The opening scene when the mugger asks what are you and Keaton says “I’m Batman” (still my absolutely favorite part). The gadgets. Keaton doing a wonderful job. Nicholson chewing scenery. The fight in the alley with the sword guy. The Batmobile doing…anything. The menace of Joker. The reveal that Joker/Jack Napier killed Bruce’s parents. Prince’s music. The Batplane. The quotes (“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” “Never rub another man’s hubarb” “I didn’t ask.” “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.” “My life is…complicated.”) The final confrontation. The final scene with the Bat-signal. It was utterly awesome.

Batman got everyone. The hard-core comics fans flocked to see the movie multiple times. The casual viewer enjoyed it. Your grandpa enjoyed it. Everyone, it seemed, had seen the movie at least once, and chatted about it. Was it the last great common movie everyone saw? I’m not sure, but it was certainly a milestone.

Oh, and the merchandise! Good grief! Batman stuff was everywhere. And, yeah, I bought my fair share. Why the heck not? Up until then, the amount of Batman/superhero stuff available to purchase was meager at best. Nowhere near what it’s like today.

I can’t remember how many times I saw the film. Enough for me to memorize huge chunks of the movie. [In my re-watch here in 2019, I told my boy this movie is in the top 10 movies I have seen the most number of times.]

Looking Back

The irony now, for many of us who distanced ourselves from the 1966 Batman in 1989, is that the Batman '89, when compared to the Christian Bale films and Batman v Superman, looks more campy than we ever saw at the time. But that’s only in comparison to what came afterwards. Sure, the immediate next film, 1992’s Batman Returns, went very dark, only to be brightened by 1995’s Batman Forever and, ahem, 1997’s Batman and Robin. When you compare those four films, Batman is the second darkest. But it’s still funny when you look at it now. Something the new Wonder Woman movie (and Shazam and Spider-Man: Homecoming ) realized and got correct.

But not in 1989. In that year, we comic book readers thought our time had finally arrived. We had our dark Batman. What was next? Another Superman? What about those Marvel characters? And when’s the Justice League gonna land in our laps?

Well, we still had to wait another decade until 2000’s X-Men to kick off this current Golden Age of Superhero Movies. This current run of films has produced some truly great movies (The Dark Knight; Spider-Man 2; Batman Begins; all three Captain America movies; Avengers; Ant-Man, Wonder Woman, and, of course, Infinity War and Endgame) but it all had to start somewhere. Technically, the run started in 1978 with Superman The Movie (Boy, am I so happy they didn’t put “The Movie” at the end of “Batman”), but the run of superhero movies started with Batman.

I’m so glad I was alive at the time to enjoy it.

Come back tomorrow for my 2019 review of the movie.

*Here in 2019, I'm celebrating the Summer of '89 Movies by re-watching them and writing current reviews.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Dead Poets Society
When Harry Met Sally
Star Trek V
License to Kill
Ghostbusters 2
Lethal Weapon 2
The Abyss.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 25

This week, I got to fly.

See ya next week.

Naw, I'm just kidding. But I really did get to experience the one super power most people would select if given the choice.

A Great Father's Day Gift

My wife, boy, and parents all pitched in a bought me two flights at iFly, the indoor skydiving place just up the road from where I live. I had always wanted to try it, but never got off high center. Then, a few weeks ago, I commented that a friend of ours did a tandem jump as part of his bucket list. The wife quickly nipped that in the bud--I am the bread winner of the house--by signing me up for the indoor, safe version.

And it was a blast! If you want to read the entire story, here you go.

Brides of Death Review Complete But...

I finished proofing the fourth Calvin Carter novel. Today, I'll be formatting it and uploading it to the various bookstores. As a reminder, I go with Amazon and Kobo direct and leave the rest of Draft2Digital. Part of me thinks I ought to just use D2D, but I like the ability to use Amazon ads and I don't think you can do it without going direct with them. If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

In proofing the book, there were large sections I particularly enjoyed. Yeah, I know it's my book, but I hadn't read it in awhile. I was pleasantly surprised with some of the twists and turns. I especially liked how Carter himself was further fleshed out.

But what I realized was I think I titled it incorrectly.

Now I'm faced with the prospect of not only re-titling the book--not a huge problem because I haven't uploaded it--but having to go back and revise all my previous books. Again, with the ebooks, it's just some busy work, but not difficult.

The issue will be the paperback covers. Not the revising of the cover image, but it's the cost. At Amazon, I merely have to re-upload a new cover. No charge involved. But for IngramSpark, there will be a charge. A monetary penalty for me not reading the book sooner and knowing the title was wrong.

Lesson learned.

Reading and Learning and Taking Notes

I've been listening to THE SCAM by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg and I'm soaking in the story and the structure. I listen every morning as I get ready at home and my morning commute. Scott Brick narrates the book. I could listen to him read the phone book or algebra formulas. I love spending my mornings with him.

When I hit a passage that want to remember, I send myself a reminder on my phone. Then, when I get to my office, I do two things. I pick up the paperback I keep in my car and mark notes on the actual passages. Then, I write the notes in my Simplenote file on my computer. That way, I have notes on what I liked and what worked and how the story is told. At the end of a book I enjoy or thought was written well, I create an outline in which I place all the notes I took.

Constant learning. It's how I progress as a writer.

Do you have a way to read and learn from books you read?

Batman '89 Week

Starting tomorrow--forever Batman Day in my mind--I'll be having a few entries about the 30th anniversary of Tim Burton's Batman. I re-watched the movie last night and will have some 2019 thoughts on the film. And more.

Come back, read, and enter the conversation and the reminiscences.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

I Flew With iFly

James Bond did it in Moonraker. Tom Cruise does it all the time. Now, I count myself among the flyers. But the question was: Did I like it?

For Father's Day, my family purchased two flights at the local iFly indoor skydiving place here in Houston on the Katy Freeway. I had never done anything like it before. Back in college, a fellow Longhorn Band sax player enjoyed real skydiving and always tried to get some of us to join him. A few weeks ago, a fellow dad enjoyed his first tandem jump. Seeing that news on Facebook, I commented to the wife that it looked like fun.

Which was why my wife jumped at the chance to see how I might do with skydiving. In a controlled environment. So I wouldn't want to jump out of a plane. Smart lady.

The Arrival

We had a 6:30 pm appointment. The wife and the boy accompanied me in the uniquely shaped building. After checking in, we made our way upstairs.

Dominating the center of a large room was the wind tunnel. It went up something like fifty feet, maybe less.  The lower ten feet or so was made of clear plastic. It gave viewers and family members a clear view of their flyers. It also provided a front-row seat to the experienced flyers then in the tunnel as they bobbed up and down, twisting and turning, flipping this way and that.

It was fun just to watch. But man did I want to get in there.

The Preparation

My team of eight consisted of a group of five teenagers, another pair of youths, and me. Our flight instructor was Woodbury. Her love of skydiving was palpable on her face as she answered all the questions I kept asking. How big was the fan in the floor? Well, actually, there are four giant fans on the roof and the air is circulated into the tunnel in that way. How does our one minute flight time equate to an actual skydiving time? It's about equal. Are our flight suits baggy because we're amateurs? Yup. It helps with wind resistance and giving instructors something to grab onto in the tunnel.

I'm not ashamed to admit I had a few Top Gun images enter my brain as I shrugged into the full-body suit. Just the mere act of zipping up and seeing myself in the suit got my blood pumping. Throw in the ear plugs, the special goggles, and the form-fitted helmet and I was ready. Did I feel the need for speed? Of course!

The First Flight

The group of five went ahead of me and I got to watch how each of them did. Some did quite well, controlling their bodies in such a way as to allow Woodbury to move her hands away, letting the kids fly solo. If they got too high, she'd grab some of the flight suit and bring them down.

Finally, it was my turn.

A hundred movie images flashed in my mind as I approached the open door. At the front of my brain was the imperative not to screw it up. Sure, it was my first ever flight but I wanted to do it well.

Upon entering the doorway, the instructions were to raise your arms, keep your chin up, and belly flop onto the fan. For each member of my flight team, Woodbury guided us as we leaned into the wind. The same was true for me. I leaned into it, smiling with my mouth closed (my wife's suggestion).The roaring wind caught me and, with Woodbury's help, I was flying.

My internal fears of not being able to do it well vanished quickly. I was able to establish a stable flight position and maintain it. The instructor's hands would zoom into my field of vision every now and then with hand-signal instructions. Open my fingers to let the air flow through them. Late in the first flight, she allowed me to use my hands as rudders. I was able to change my position, turning left then right.

All too briefly, my first minute was over. I grabbed onto the rubber handles of the doorway and brought my legs inside. Standing on the edge, I got a couple of congratulatory pats on the back from Woodbury, confirmation I did well.

Oh my gosh! It was one of the most thrilling one minutes of my life. When asked what superpower they'd want, flying is the one most people choose. It's my choice, too. Now, I got to experience it.

The Second Flight

When it came to my turn again, I exercised the upgrade I knew I wanted even before I suited up. The high flight. For the first thirty seconds of my second flight, Woodbury guided me in hand maneuvers. She pointed me in the direction of my wife and boy, each of whom had their phones recording the experience.

Then, Woodbury exchanged places with another instructor. He grabbed my flight suit at my back just behind the shoulder and my left thigh. With a change of his body's position, up we went. We turned and then we lowered. The up again, higher, and then back down. Finally, the last time, we went really high, maybe 60% the height of the entire wind tunnel. I had kept my mouth shut during both flights, but I let out a whoop on that last flight.

It's amazing how fast a minute can go when you're flying. At once brief and long.

The Verdict

I think you can tell by this writing that I absolutely loved flying. I could have done it until closing time, taking my turns in between other flyers. I loved it so much I purchased six minutes for a future date. Next time, I hope to bring the boy into the wind tunnel

The Organization

The iFly folks here in Houston were great. All the staff worked efficiently, making sure we amateurs were safe and having a great time. Woodbury was not only a great instructor, but her enthusiasm served as an ambassador the joy of indoor skydiving. Even when she was helping each of my fight team work through our flights, you could see her grin behind her visor. Then, after we were all done, she got her own flight time. The coolest thing was her atop the wind tunnel literally standing on the wall.

If you have even an inkling of a desire to try indoor skydiving, I cannot speak more highly of the experience.

Up until tonight, snow skiing was probably my favorite sporting activity. It just got demoted to second place.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Skyscraper is a Roller Coaster of a Movie

I can't think of a more by-the-numbers spectacle movie than Skyscraper...and it's absolutely thrilling

Yes, it's Die Hard in a taller building. It's Die Hard in which the good guy has to get *into* the building. It's a little bit Jurassic Park ("Spared no expense"). Most every beat you can think of is in this movie. I knew most of them going in. Imagine you are writing this script. What would you put in?

Don't care. Enjoyed the film.

Heck, in some of the scenes getting into the building actually induced the queasy-in-my-stomach feeling I always get when standing on a high place. I can imagine watching this film on the big screen, maybe in 3D, and experience actual vertigo.

Dawayne Johnson plays, Will Sawyer, an FBI agent who, in the opening prelude, leads a hostage situation. His decision kills some of his fellows, causes him to injure his leg which leads to amputation below the knee, and makes him rethink his life. That life, ten years later, includes his wife, a combat surgeon played by Neve Campbell, and his twin children.

Johnson has been recruited by one of his former partners to provide a security analysis of The Pearl, the world's tallest  skyscraper. The owner, Zhao Long Ji, needs the security analysis for insurance purposes. Will brings his family along as the first people who will live in the residential area of the tower. He's spent six months studying the layouts and plans and knows the tower inside and out.

Which is exactly what he'll need when things go haywire. As part of the plan, Will is given a tablet with facial recognition. Once activated, only he can use it. The tablet controls everything. So it is a good thing the thief who stole Will's bag didn't get the tablet because it was in Will's jacket.

But the bad guys soon get it after Will's buddy reveals himself to be on the take. Cut to the bad guys starting a fire midway up the tower and they disable all the anti-fire protocols. What do you now how? A towering inferno. Where is Will? Outside the tower, wanted by the police. Where is his family? Inside the building because one of the kids didn't feel well and they returned to the apartment.

All of this is to say you have Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno...except the hero has to get inside the burning building. From a crane. That he has to jump across the void to get into the busted window.

Yeah, those high scenes are definitely thrilling. I even sat  up on the couch, knowing full well Johnson was going to make it, but still reveling in the moment. That's the kind of movie this is: a roller coaster. When you stand in line at the amusement park, waiting for your turn on the roller coaster, you have all that time to watch others ride the ride, hear the screams, and your anticipation builds. That's exactly what you get with Skyscraper.

Oh, and this is a spoiler, but who cares: Johnson's character doesn't fire a gun. At about the halfway mark, I made this realization, and then hoped he wouldn't have to shoot anyone. He didn't. Instead he relied on his brains and his brawn. I found that quite refreshing, as I did the emphasis on family.

Skyscraper is a roller coaster of a film, complete with high, death-defying twists and turns, that'll leave you heart beating just a little faster. It knows what kind of movie it is, understands that, and gives you all you want.

Oh, another fun game? Trying to name some of the visual beats of the film with their inspirations. Example: In Die Hard, the moment when the cop gets the radio call to check out Nakatomi Plaza, he looks up at the darkened building and sees the firefight then ongoing, via gun flashes, on the roof. There's a scene like that in Skyscraper.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 24

Slow week that ended on a high note.

As I mentioned last week, I'm backing away from the every day blogging for a bit. I considered a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule...and didn't get my act together to do that this week. Still, I reviewed John Wick and Dead Poets Society at 30.

Alas, no new fiction written this week. But proofing on BRIDES OF DEATH continues well. It'll make its 1 July publication.

I did, however, get some new ideas for future stories, so that's always a good thing. Wrote them all down for my future self.

Weird. In January when I started this series, I didn't expect to have weeks in which there would be zero new writing. But that's the reality right now. I could blame life stuff, but it's not that. It's just a blank.

Which I why I'm filling up the bucket by reading new and different things.

Reading List

The novel I'm reading is one I picked up on my vacation to Corpus Christi, Texas, last week: THE SCAM by Linda Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. By my own memory, I have not read any of the Fox and O'Hare series. Yes, this isn't the first one, but I've long decided to go with the book that caught my eye and read it rather than go "Hey, this book looks cool, but it's the fourth title, so I better go back and read the first three and only then get to the book that caught my eye." Yeah, that never happens anymore.

On audio, I'm listening to two non-fiction books. AMERICAN MOONSHOT by Douglas Brinkley is helping me get ready for next month's 50th anniversary of the moon landing. BTW, it is this book that gave me my ideas.

The other audiobook dropped just this week: SONGS OF AMERICA: PATRIOTISM, PROTEST, AND THE MUSIC THAT MADE A NATION by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw. Both co-authors narrate the book. So far, McGraw reads the lyrics to the songs (from the 1700s), but I hope as we get to the 20th Century, they'll actually play the songs. This book seems tailor made for audio. Man, can Meacham write some glowing prose.

Record of the Week (Month and Year)

Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars.

So excited was I for this record (based off the three singles released ahead of the album) that my routine yesterday morning was altered. I woke, started listening, and only then visited the restroom and snagged my coffee.

As of this writing, I've heard the album all the way through twice. Gorgeous music. So many things to say about this record the words are tumbling over each other. I'll have an in-depth review probably next week, but this is the Album of the Year for me. I can't imagine any other record can top this, especially the emotional reaction on first listen.

The fourth single, Western Stars, also dropped yesterday. Here's the video:

Friday, June 14, 2019

Dead Poets Society at 30

I was twenty during the glorious summer of 1989, but one is never too old to learn the message of this movie.

Set in 1959, Dead Poets Society follows a group of boys in a boarding school and their encounters with the new English teacher, John Keating, played by Robin Williams. His distinctive, non-conformist teaching methods gets in the head of many of the youths, showing them that English not only isn't trivial, but that by using their minds, they can break out of the mold and live their lives deliberately.

The Actors

For years afterward, whenever I saw these young actors, I would invariably say "Oh, he was in Dead Poets Society." Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, and Robert Sean Leonard all shared that fate and, considering I never watched House or Sports Night (and other things they did), that mentality still pervades.

And don't get me started on Kurtwood Smith, the overbearing father to Leonard's character. Smith was so overbearing that it took me a long time before I could even watch the occasional episode of That 70s Show and allow Smith the chance to be a funny guy. As a twenty year old, I hated him.

He doesn't fare much better now that I'm fifty and a dad, but the one crucial scene where he finds Neil's body after his son killed himself (c'mon. It's a thirty-year-old movie.) is heartbreaking. Smith plays the distraught father perfectly, especially in his cries as he cradles his son's dead body. Didn't get to me in 1989. Got to me in 2019.

The Ending

What I also cherish is the ending. Loved it then, love it even more now. "O Captain, my captain," Hawke's Todd Anderson declares, stepping up on his desk, to Williams's Keating as the disgraced teacher exits the classroom. Goosebumps and tears all flowed together. It was proof Anderson got the message of all Keating's teachings. He got it, as did others.

We want to think Anderson and the other boys went on to adulthood in the 1960s continuing to think for themselves and making a difference in the world. Maybe they did, but they would have had to do it during that turbulent decade. What would they have made of John Kennedy's death? Or the war in Vietnam? Would any of them have been drafted? Or would they have enlisted, given that some of their dads might've been World War II veterans? What about Watergate, the 1980s, or September 11?

Those boys in 1959 would be in their sixties and seventies now. Do you think they'd still be reading poetry? Do you think they used poetry--or wrote their own--to woo their wives? Do you think they read poetry to their children? Better yet, do you think they sent their kids to Welton Academy?

Those are questions the movies doesn't answer, but they're still fun to ponder.

The Legacy and the Lasting Message

What isn't in question is how good this movie remains. A seminal movie in my way of thinking about the world and my place in it, I've loved this movie's message in how I live my life. Don't like the music I like? Tough. Don't like the books I read or the TV shows I like? Oh well. I'm not contrarian. I just like what I like and don't need anyone else to criticize my choices.

Dead Poets Society taught me not only to appreciate poetry (yeah, I bought a book of poetry as a direct result of this movie) but to appreciate life. I always did (my parents and grandparents instilled a love of life from my earliest memories), but after this movie--and after Neil's suicide in the film--my twenty-year-old self relished all that life brought, the good and the bad, the valleys and the mountaintops. Cut to me becoming a dad and life becomes even more precious. Throw in the undertones of Robin Williams's sad death, and his message about living life to the fullest becomes even more poignant.

This is a movie for the ages, one of my favorites starring Robin Williams, and one all should see and revisit throughout the seasons of our lives.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

John Wick

Better late than never, right?

Five years after this film debuted, the wife and I caught this movie last night. The good words on this 2014 film starring Keanu Reeves have always been good, but it was a recommendation from NPR's the Pop Culture podcast that first put the movie on my radar. Granted, it was a while ago, but any film not of the usual NPR type but still recommended by NPR is worth a look.

Then, on a recent episode of Fatman Beyond, writer Marc Bernardin talked about the third one in such a way to finally compel me to start watching this franchise. The one piece of knowledge I knew going in was the entire series of events was started because Wick's dog died. Could that really be the reason?


The film opens with Wick morose over the recent death by illness of his wife. He takes out his frustrations by driving on an airport parking lot very, very fast in his 1969 Ford Mustang. Then, one day, he receives a gift from his dead wife in the form of a beagle puppy. The corresponding note brings more sadness and tears, but Wick gamely warms up to the dog. It's the last act his wife did for him, so the dog is really special.

And alive. Well, until the son of a Russian mobster takes a shine to the car and decides it should belong to him. Iosef and his comrades break into Wick's house, beat him up, kill his dog, and leave with the car.

In a movie full of wonderfully stylized violence, the various scenes of bad guys learning what Iosef did and to whom are great. Even Iosef's father, Viggo, upon getting a phone call about his son's mistake, just hangs up the phone. You see, he knows, he KNOWS, what's coming.

He tries to prevent it. But we know how this movie ends before we even begin.

The violence is well choreographed and violent. It was, um, "good" to see a hit man actually knowing where to aim his gun. I'm talking about the numerous head shots he dishes out. There were a lot of "pop pop" in the action scenes, where Wick would deliver one bullet to the torso and another to the head.

But Wick wasn't some dude who never got hurt. No, he was vulnerable. He got bloodied, stabbed, and shot. It made the character a little bit more believable.

I say the following with full reverence: About halfway through the film, I asked the wife if she thought Keanu actually memorized dialogue because he always seemed to be speaking in reaction to something someone else said. And the dialogue was so normal, I wouldn't have been surprised if Keanu improved some of it. Again, not a knock. Just an observation.

Like the NPR folks said, this is a movie that knows exactly what it is: a shoot'em up thriller. In a way, it's like a kaiju movie in that you are only there to see the shooting. You don't need--want?--hardly any backstory. Actually, Wick's nebulous backstory worked to the film's advantage. You don't need John Wick: The Prequel. He is what he is. Just put guns in Keanu's hands and tell him to shoot and fight.

John Wick delivers this simple recipe in spades. Really enjoyed the movie and will definitely be checking out John Wick 2 (and 3) this summer.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 23

Sometimes it's the smallest things that can have a big impact.

Fiction Writing Stalled

Over the past month, the new fiction writing has been in a bit of a holding pattern. While I'm still proofing and re-reading the next Calvin Carter novel, BRIDES OF DEATH, there's no new stories flowing from my keyboard. And I've pretty much zeroed in on the culprit.

Blogging. I kind of fell into a blog-per-day schedule by accident. When I finally realized it, however, I wanted to keep the streak going. Why? Because it's a streak. Yes, I was enjoying it, but lots of my writing energy was focused on getting out the next day's blog vs. new fiction. My recent trip to Corpus Christ corresponded to 1 June and I made the decision not to force myself to write something every day. I will develop a schedule--likely Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday--but I want to make it memorable and consistent. If something jumps to mind or there's an anniversary, I'll write more. But my main focus should be writing new stories, not always new blog entries.

Planning the To Be Read Pile for Vacations

A key part of planning for any travel is to decide what I'm going to read on the trip. The family and I went to Corpus Christi, Texas, this past week. We frolicked in the Gulf of Mexico, fished, toured the city, and ate seafood every night. T'was a great week.

Leading up to the vacation, I had meticulously planned out the items I would bring. I brought my Kobo ereader, my iPad for some comics, a small pile of actual comics anchored by the newest Star Wars comics #108 (a continuation of the original Marvel Comics run), the latest issue of Men's Journal, the latest issue of Back Issue focusing on the 30th anniversary of the first Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman movie, and a Time Magazine anniversary issue on D-Day.

I was going to be gone for six days.

What did I actually read? Half of Men's Journal (night one), about 75% of the D-Day magazine (every morning), and that was it. Everything else didn't even leave my bag.

Because I bought a few paperbacks: The Scam by Linda Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, First Counsel by Brad Meltzer, two Longarm novels by James Reasoner, and a Shell Scott sampler by Richard Prather. I read four chapters of The Scam and that was it.

Funny how meticulous planning can go off course for the best of reasons: spending time with the family.  Look, I love reading and read something every morning, but after days of touristy things, I was pretty tired.

Oh, and I wrote zero words of new fiction despite bringing the Chromebook. It was truly a reset time.

Happenstance TV Watching

What we did each night was watch some TV. During the regular TV season, the wife and I have a few staple shows we watch together and a few we watch separately. Down in Corpus, we watched together every night while the boy entertained himself with YouTube and other streaming shows.

Now, we subscribe to Netflix and Amazon and the streaming-compatible DVD player in the rented condo likely could have been programmed with our passwords, but each night, we opted to "just see what's on." One night was a DVD my wife bought from Half Price for $2. It was for a show called "Maggie," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It wasn't great. One night was a 1983 Charles Bronson film "10 to Midnight," a markedly better movie but by no means great. We both chuckled about 80s action movies/police movies, especially considering the abrupt ending. The other nights were unmemorable except for the bulk of Lethal Weapon 2.

As I've written before, as nice as it is to have so much content available at our fingertips on demand, it's kinda neat to just channel surf and land on something.

That One Little Thing

So how does all this non-writing relate to writing? Well, it happened on Thursday morning on our way out of town. I specifically brought some old proof copies of a few of my books to leave in the condo. Instead, I delivered them to one of those free-standing neighborhood library pop-ups. Seeing as how these were proofs copies, all my marks-ups were scattered through the pages. So I penned a note inside each book letting future readers know what these books were, why they were marked up, but hoping they'd enjoy the story.

And I signed them.

That one little thing sparked the proverbial pilot light in my writing soul that had been too long at a low flame. Why? If I hazard a guess, it's because I was ultimately sharing those stories with others. As much as I enjoy spinning these yarns, I really enjoy sharing them. Yeah, I know ALL writers enjoy sharing their stories, but that doesn't make it untrue.

Moreover, the writing portion of the equation is the one thing over which we writers have 100% control, as JA Konrath so brilliantly pointed out this week.


I've written here about controlling the controllables. Well, earlier this week, prolific author JA Konrath discussed marketing plans by writers. He has a sobering verdict: most are bad.

However, he offered a ray of light to all writers (or all creatives) in the form of a message he'd send to his younger self:

"One brand, one genre, stop experimenting, stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series. Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted, have great covers and descriptions, keep length under 75k words, and make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms."

Head on over to the main post for his in-depth pathway that led him to this conclusion. It is chock full of details.

That's it for this week. A non-writing week full of barely reading. But that's not bad right?

Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-Day at 75: News from the Radio

There are countless things to read and watch and listen to today to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I've been enjoying Time magazine's D-Day: 24 Hours That Changed the World all week long. 

But what has fascinated me for a few weeks now are the actual radio recordings of how the new broke on 6 June 1944. In our age of 24/7, wall-to-wall news coverage featuring video, the radio was the only source of instant communication. 

Here is a link to the real-time radio broadcasts as sponsored by the World War II Foundation. Spend some time listening today and imagine what it was like to have news break in, mention the invasion, and then back to regularly scheduled programming. Hard to do, huh?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 22

Lots of good writing things this week.

Dana King Asks an Important Question

On his blog this week, author Dana King asks the questions we all ask: why don't my books sell better? It's not meant to be a "whine" as he states, but a clear-eyed observation. He makes many points, but this one struck me hard:

"A few years ago I realized both my current series read like novels based on 70s crime movies. I love 70s crime movies, so to me this is not a bad thing. Of course, 70s crime movies were popular forty to fifty years ago, so having that as my wheelhouse is a distinctly limiting factor."

You see, I'm the same way...but my reading wheelhouse is old pulp fiction. So some of my writing is for tastes now 80 years old. Like Dana, I'm fine with that, but I've also come to realize the audience for the kinds of books I've, to date, written, are older.

Read his post and comment.

JA Konrath Ponders a Certain Type of Book

JA Konrath's lengthy post on Wednesday is how he may have come to revisit the old adage about writing things people want to read: "Don't write shit."

It is a fascinating deep-dive exploration into our reading habits, review numbers, and writing. Read his post and comment. Be sure to read the comments and JA's responses.

These two posts pose honest questions about the life of a writer, what we produce, and how the public reads.

A Back to the Future Post

While Dana and JA were asking serious questions, I was aglow having watched the entire Back to the Future trilogy. It was a suggestion my boy made on Memorial Day weekend and I happily took him up on it.

I got to thinking about George McFly and when he knew his son was a time traveler. Maybe it'll make you think differently about the series. And I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Calvin Carter Paperbacks

I took a few hours over the holiday weekend to revise and fix up my paperback files for both HELL DRAGON and AZTEC SWORD. This is one of the more tedious aspects of doing covers. A few of my text pieces were not inside the approved borders (not according to my graphics files, BTW), but not according to the folks at Amazon and Ingram Spark. It was lots of backs and forths, tweaking this and that, resaving, re-uploading, resubmitting, and waiting for the review cycle to finish. It was off and on all week long. But, in the end, the paperbacks are now live at Amazon. I'm still in the review process with Ingram, but it'll be over soon. Then, I'll be able to order copies of those books for sale.

The Summer Writing Session: End of Week 1

Fourteen weeks of summer. Fourteen weeks to get writing project(s) done. I'm in end-of-school mode this week and proofing the next Carter book, BRIDES OF DEATH, so I didn't get any new writing done. But today starts a new month. New fiction is on the horizon.

How about y'all? Got any cool writing projects for the summer?