Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: The Circle of Law

The Circle of Law owes much to Judeo-Christian tolerance with a nod to eastern philosophies as the basis for its laws. At least no one spoke like Yoda. Law is a well-written tale with splashes of situational humor as the Ancients attempt to restore order to Cadeven and end the current realm, which has helped to devastate the land after the Ancients broke up years ago over internal squabbling. It is a quick and easy read, but there are a significant number of characters vying for space on the page that might be too much to keep straight for casual readers in such a short book. The power of the Ancients seemed to ebb and flow without much sense to me despite all the explanations.

For my tastes, the action lagged a bit. Despite a sad and disturbing opening (kudos), the story tension drifted for the first third of the book. The characters seemed to get almost everything they needed without much effort. Insufficient characterizations were common. I thought Marki was about 10 in the opening. Then, 4-6 months into the story, I find out she is really seventeen and attracting two suitors. The concept of time and distance was very loose. Some journeys seemed to take a couple of days. Later, they seemed to take weeks. (The king just seemed to happen by while everyone else struggled to get up Mt. Orr.) Just how long was a gestation period? Your pregnant. Boom, here's your baby. These issues disrupted my absorption into the story.

I wish the author would have dug deeper into the conflicted characters. At the 77% mark in the story, there is a very poignant point about outliving a loved one and how difficult it is to be in love knowing one partner is going to die early in life (kudos). I wish there had been more passages like this, digging beneath the surface. Issues aside, Law is a pleasant read. Those who enjoy this genre will like the redemptive aspects of the story along with the imaginative world in which the characters live. But for me, it was a little better than an average tale. It is a top-shelf "3".

Monday, February 25, 2013

MMWUC: Need an A$$hole

Do you need a real a$$hole in your novel? How about a dumb crook? Do you ever wonder if you think like the rest of America or are out of touch because you've been working on your novel inside your home, having your food delivered, family delivered, books delivered, and garbage trucked away? There are solutions. There are educational tools right at your fingertips. I'm too old (or unwilling) to put myself in the position for some activities, but that doesn't stop me from finding the answers to these and other probing questions.

Want to see some real a$$holes? Turn on Jerry Springer and to a lesser extent, Murray Povich. "Yeah, he slept with my cousin and her mom while I was pregnant and holding down two jobs, but I love him. Ain't he adorable?" Camera pans to some six-foot toothpick who smiles so all the world can see the halitosis seep out of this half toothless mouth like a light mist. Then, he becomes sharp-witted. "Yeah, well, duh! That twernt even my kid. You slept with my Dad." "Only once," she screams. "So when is the baby due," Jerry asks the rotund, four-foot, six-inch butterball. "What'cha all taking about? I ain't pregnant now." Inspired yet? Ready for the next class.

Switch over to Judy Judy or COPS. JJ can be mean, but then again she has to deal with some real dumb crooks AND a$$holes. "Yeah, I smashed my sons piggy bank in the middle of the night to get money for some beers. Hell I'd put money in it before." His right eye twitches. "You’re an idiot," Judge Judy yells, "Tell him Officer Byrd." Barely audible Byrd says, "No bulb on there." Judge Judy stares down at the guy in jeans and tee-shirt. "You were divorced three years already. You lived in another town. What gives you the right to even go into your ex-wife's house?" He meets her stare. "The door was unlocked, it was after midnight, and I had visitation rights that day." JJ's hair tips explode on fire, "You're an idiot and a thief." Byrd shakes his head and mumbles, "A$$hole." (Favorite COPS episode is when the guy swore he didn't have any dope, yet the cop got the camera guy to move and focus on the ear, where a joint was rolled up and stuck there. The cop pulled it out eventually. The guy looked surprised, "Guess you got me.")

This girl came up when
searching for Officer Byrd.
Family Feud. No, stop laughing. Some of these people are really unintentionally funny, especially when Steve Harvey is on a roll. I usually eat my breakfast during FAST MONEY. That's the lightening round where two people have to answer questions that were asked of 100 people to see how well they match their answers. Takes all of five minutes. Just enough time to eat a bowl of oatmeal, or two eggs with ham and toast, or a cup of cereal. Try to guess along with these people. You'll find out whether you're inside the lines of what others are thinking or that you really should stay in that house and right that book: SQUIRREL INVASION: Why You Should Never Fall Asleep in Your Backyard Wearing a Peanut Butter Make-up Mask.

Writing school is all around us. Just need some imagination.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Southern Scotch

Like Quentin Tarantino movies? Like violence and mayhem? Enjoy a bit of magical realism in a retribution tale in America instead of discovering ice as in One Hundred Years of Solitude? This is your book. Southern Scotch is fast paced, twisty, and even has a good sense of character growth (or retardation) in it. It is well written and without many of the grammatical gotchas that plague many self-published books. It even has a dark sense of humor sprinkled throughout it reminiscent of Elmore Leonard.

All-seeing (despite one eye) and seemingly all-knowing Boss McTavin starts out as a lovable lump with issues, but a mistaken beating changes his life, and he becomes some sort of Avenging Angel with Jackie Chan-like physical abilities. With a reluctant grifter as Robin to his Batman, they move forward to avenge wrongs done to both of them. The story is centered in Atlanta and delves into the seedy side of life. It is a world that most of us probably have never seen or know about, but which the author does a good job bringing to life as the Dynamic Duo execute Boss's plan, that unfortunately has holes in it, relies on some good luck, and features some horrific bad turns for the Duo.

While I enjoyed the book, I must admit that there were times when I got lost in what was really happening. Sometimes the descriptions weren't grounded enough for me to form the necessary mental image. This may be unimportant to some readers just along for the ride, but it did bug me. The author took risks with the point-of-view, but pulls it off. The ending was awkward: every time I thought I was done, there was another ending and then another one. To me, it took away some of the magical nature of Boss and his situation. I have no problem with those who give this book a "5" rating. For me, this is top-shelf "4".  

Monday, February 18, 2013

MMWUC: Simplicity

Some days you just have to be reminded to focus on what is most important to you in the long run, short run, this week, today, or in the next hour. Whether it is a novel or a word, as long as you move it forward, that's what counts. And yes, losing 10,000 words through a great edit is moving forward.

I've been hammering on a short story that was nothing more than a spit of a memory, a lost night that meant nothing over forty years ago, that wasn't even an important night for me, but for someone else. I've been dragging characters around on the page like Linus with his blanket, sloshing them through the ink, so they could leave their mark on my MC. I've pulled other thoughts, feelings, emotions, and stories absolutely unrelated to this story and made them related like an unknown sibling found, embraced, and folded into the family. I've tapped into locations I've never been to and let Google Earth make them come alive. And I've watched on music video over a hundred times in the past week, making it speak to me in the haunting tone I want to bring to the story. I want slosh Samuel Addams beer on the reader; sniff the salty air of Asbury Park in the 1970s; touch a dead body that rises again; hear the voices in my head--my MC's head; and see the loves of my MC's life as clear as the person in the mirror in the morning.

The story wants to run out of bounds, but I keep reining it in, focusing it on the laser sharp original intent. After 3,100 additional words on Sunday, it is now 5,973 words. 973 beyond what is required, mandated, allowed. Tomorrow and the next day and the next, I will focus on editing it to make it sharper. Always focusing. Tightening. And if it should remain beyond this goal after the good editing fight is over, perhaps it will whisper that it was intended for another goal, and I am only a tool used to give it birth. Focus on that! And write.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: The Next Planet Over

Got Link?

The Next Planet Over by Dennis Burns is a futuristic novella that taps into some of the fears, actions, and reactions surrounding the rebirth then eventual decay of human existence on this rock, rendering it uninhabitable. These people must move on. Bottom line: the story needed to be extended. The fine characters needed more depth, especially given their situation. While I do get the punch line at the end (which would be a big spoiler if mentioned here), there were several points that weren't wrapped up satisfactorily for me, especially the climax. Others might be okay with it--the end justifying the means by which we got there.

The story telling is fine and the writing adequate (like most self-pubbed stories, there are some grammatical issues, but nothing horrible). Some geo-political touches and environmental points made in the story are surface thin. Is the author trying to be sincere, ironic, or sarcastic with them? I could not put a pulse on the intent. It causes the story to lose some traction as a tense science fiction drama occasionally.

Still, it's a nice rainy afternoon or bedtime read with a lot of nifty futuristic gadgets and gizmos that the point-of-view character explains, sometimes a bit more than necessary, slowing the story a bit. The world-building is solid, and I never felt like I was being beaten up by the prose. For me, this is a three. Except for the ending "shocker," it's an average read with a few surprises and twists as you would expect, but only minimal characterization. But, this is a story for sci-fi buffs. For them, I can bump it up to a tepid "4".

Monday, February 11, 2013

MMWUC: Pope Rick?

The writing job isn't going to well at the moment. Sales are very slow. Is it me or the market? My next promotional push is two months away. The poetry book is two months away. I got offered $15 for fifteen two-hundred word articles about the tensile strength of spider webs (that's a half-a-penny per word). I passed. There has to be something better.

Then this morning I see that there is an opening in Vatican City. I'm going to submit my resume to the College of Cardinals to see if I can't get the plum position of Pope. Hey, I'm Catholic. I've read the Bible, beginning to end, including all the begotting. I belonged to the Newman Club in college. My wife was the church organist at the Milwaukee Basilica. I know where my church is, and I visit it a few times a year. Heck, A MATTER OF FAITH deals with a lot of catholic dogma, a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. I can declare things with authority. I've seen the movie, Dogma, about thirty times, and The Ten Commandments a dozen times. I figure I can make some much needed changes and still have time to write on the side.

For one thing, the popemobile is lame. I'd convert the latest batmobile for my use. You'd scare the crap out of sinners and get to more people faster, people who need to see you. God's representative would once again be seen as all powerful and cool. Buddy Christ in Dogma might have been over the top, but it proposed moving the relationship in the right direction. I'd push that. The hat has to go. Hats lost their luster after JFK went without one at his inauguration, and it would get rid of the high-paid Cardinal whose soul (sic) job seems to be making sure the hat doesn't tip over. I'd keep the cape. In my papacy, I'm a superhero, as a Pope should be. I'd get rid of the forty pounds of vestments for one blinding-white, light-weight, bullet-proof vest with a cross in front, fish on each bicep, and the question, "Got God?" emblazoned on the back.

Also, too many Cardinals, Bishops, and other hanger-oners shuffling around Vatican City. You want to do the Lord's work, get out of the finery and visit a slum or at least a suburban enclave where heathenism seems to exist with impunity on television. Women priests? Yeah, I'm for that. We had a woman Pope once! Priests marry? Sure, why not? The only reason it was stopped was because of bad inheritance laws for Papal families. Fix that. Don't castrate the priests. Fish on Friday...I might actually bring that back. I'm a fisherman, and I need every excuse possible to put out a line, put up my feet, and pop a cold one. And these changes are only for starters. Yes, this might be the beginning of a beautiful story. Next, Pope Rick Versus the Alien Invasion.

Monday, February 4, 2013

MMWUC: No excuses

It's your Monday Morning Wake-Up Call, especially if you're a writer. Groundhog's Day is over. SuperBowl has been played. (I lost my bet with Sydney.) Christmas decorations have better been taken down by now. Yeah, sure, Valentine's Day is coming up, but most writers are probably looking for a new angle rather than another Hallmark sweet story.

- - - Turtle Love - - -

Johnny loves Debbie, but Debbie is an alien incapable of love, so Johnny tries to find a brain to transplant into Debbie. He finds Doreen, whose brain he believes has hardly been used. She's addicted to shoes she can't afford, pungent nail polish that is changed every eight hours, and turtles, and not even Ninja turtles, real-life boxer turtles. She's perfect for the swap. Unfortunately, Johnny finds out that he has a soft-spot for reptiles, loves the smell of fresh nail polish, and realizes that Doreen has some measure of fiduciary responsibility because she never buys the shoes she can't afford. She just plasters the walls in her rent-controlled two bedroom flat with pictures of them. When Johnny starts hanging out with Doreen more than Debbie, Debbie's dormant emotional synapses snap to life when the smell of Silver Streakiness nail polish follows Johnny home one night. Debbie's passion is ignited. Johnny, exhausted by attending an all night rave with Doreen, doesn't notice and falls asleep.

Debbie stalks the pair with pure hatred--not a hard thing to do because if they aren't home they're at the pet store where Doreen works. When Debbie confronts the pair, she says, "I hate you." Johnny pees in his pants in fear; Doreen screams so shrill dogs cry; the turtles slip into their shells. Debbie's eyes glow with laser intensity as she stares at the two of them.

"I never knew you could do that," Doreen says.

"Love must have been the next to the hatred synapse," Debbie responds.

They step over Johnny's melted corpse. The turtles follow.

- - - Or, Something Like That - - -

Now, get out there and make a day of it!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

To Bee or not to Bee

Aunt Bee says, "Howdy." Man, did we run!