Book Review – Orientation: Part 1 by Christopher Nash

Normally I don’t like to reference my own work when I’m writing a book review but it does kind of explain how I stumbled across this book.  I periodically check my reviews on Amazon (if you haven’t left one, you should; reviews are great things for authors).  Usually I just plug in Henchmen right at the main search bar and see what’s there.  I did this a while back and lo and behold found another book about Henchmen.  It was originally titled Henchmen USA or something similar but has since been changed to Orientation: Part I (Henchmen USA) and was basically right up my alley.

Stories about henchmen are hardly new, but they’re usually shown as bumbling and expendable.  Just like in my own Henchmen, Christopher Nash’s henchmen are tough and smart.  His story shows a world where the supervillains have won and people line up to work for them.  Henching ain’t easy, but it’s got its perks.  Nash manages to find the humanity in his henchmen and the godlike power of the Supras they work for.

The only downside to the story is it’s only the beginning.  It feels like the first handful of chapters of a larger story arc and that’s okay, but I’d like to see more.  This book basically just introduces the major players and gives a hint at the conflict to come.  There are also places where some more editing would be beneficial.

Still, it’s a good start for a larger story and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

henchmenusanash

 

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A picture is worth…

A thousand words, right?  Well, with inflation and whatnot, a picture is worth much less than it used to be.  Back in my day a picture was worth a book, now it’s only a couple hundred words.

I’m doing a bit of experimentation.  Back when I was in college, I was a huge Simpsons fan.  I still like the show, but it’s not quite the same as it was when I was young, footloose, and fancy-free.  Anyway, there was a great episode titled 22 Short Films About Springfield that had, you guessed it, 22 short films.  About Springfield.  If you think about it, the show took some skill to put together.  The average Simpsons episode was right around twenty minutes at the time and that left less than a minute to tell each story.

Gotta be compact with that kind of run time.  In fact, a minute of dialogue amounts to something like a 120-130 words.  For those keeping score at home, that’s about half a page of text.  A two hour movie would have about 15,000 words at that rate.  Compare that to a novel – 40k+ words (Henchmen was about 72k, Arise around 90k) – and you can see just how much information can be packed into a picture.

Since I can’t draw to save my own butt, I write (and weave paracord bracelets, but that’s neither here nor there).  As an experiment, I found some pictures and tried come up with a coherent story in a couple hundred words for each image, just to see if I could make it happen.  What follows are some pictures and some extremely short stories about those pictures.

LastPhotooftheTitanic
The very last shot of the RMS Titanic as it steamed away from port in 1911.

“When the captain called for flank speed the shovels dug and the coal flew.  The ship shuddered, a living thing breathing fire and belching smoke like the devil himself.  While the passengers danced and drank and partied the trip away we slung tons of fuel into the belly of the beast and danced our own waltz of sweat and coal dust.

You can keep your fancy ladies with their fineries and petticoats begging to be pulled down.  You can kiss those ruby lips and toast with fine champaign and eat delicate caviar.  I’ll stay down here, in the beating, pulsing heart of my lady fair.  She’s clad in metal skirts but her smooth skin is hot to the touch and I’ll happily spend my life keeping her alive.”

German flying ace, ‘The Red Baron’ and his dog (1916)
Manfred Von Richtofen and his dog.

“I will never completely understand these hairless dogs that insist on standing on both legs and touching things with their strange paws, but this one is my friend and my pack-mate.  He watches out for me, brings me food and water and scratches my ears.  In turn, I keep him safe.  His hearing is pathetic and he snores all night long, but a lame dog is still a pack-mate and we are bound together in the sacred oath of the pack.

Each day he climbs aboard that loud red bird and together they soar and bark, but he always comes back to me.  Some dogs – and I feel sorry for them, the poor wasted mongrels – don’t understand what it means to be part of a pack, even if it is just a pack of two.  Every time he climbs into that bird, I wait patiently for him to come back.  I’ll wait until the end of time, right here, ready to see him and wag.”

Control room of the UB-110 German submarine, 1918
Control room of the UB-110 German submarine, circa 1918

“In school they taught us the theory of the airships, how Professor Von Cleef figured out how to conquer gravity by beating it at its own game.  Turn the wheel the right amount and the ship will go up, turn another wheel too much and the ship will go into a nosedive.  I can barely hear over the noise of the turbines but when the command comes to make the airship go I know exactly what to do.

Most people, they get in front of a wall of wheels and their brains immediately shut down.  Those people never make it through school, they never get to feel the thrum of the engines in the metal floorboards under their feet, they never get to look closely and comprehend the meaning in the apparent chaos.

It’s really like anything else; reduce it to its individual components and an airship control room is just a bunch of singular things.  Spin this, gently twist that, and the ship goes where the captain orders.  She may be in charge of the ship, but I’m the one who makes it go.”

Annie Edison Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, 1901
Annie Edison Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, circa 1901.

“Every time someone says something can’t be done someone else comes along and does it anyway.  Life is like that.  When I was a little girl I was told all kinds of things I could never do but went ahead and did them anyway.  It’s really only the small minds who accede to every little demand that comes their way; the smartest, the ones who drive the world forward, tell the demanders to take a hike.

The plunge over Niagara Falls was the most terrifying, exhilarating thing I’ve ever done.  They told me I was a fool to go over the falls in a barrel.  They said my little woman brain couldn’t possibly understand what I was doing.

Well maybe it’s a little woman brain, better suited for knitting and child-rearing than their advanced male brains, but I’m the one who did it when they were all too scared to even try.”

Here’s a tip for any writers out there, even aspiring ones.  Find a picture, any picture, and tell yourself a story.  It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be elaborate, it doesn’t even have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It just has to be a story and you’re the one who has to tell it.

Book Review: Betrayal by Sharon Brownlie

A couple months ago my son took a tumble while we were riding bikes down a little dirt hill.  He hit the brakes too hard and wound up scraping the living hell out of his knee.  Unfortunately, we were about half a mile from the house and I didn’t have my cell phone so I pushed our bikes and he limped along.  Taking a big tumble is all part and parcel of riding, but he got a pretty good gash on his knee and slammed the pavement pretty hard.  It had to hurt.

Fast forward to now and he still doesn’t want to go down the hill again even though it wasn’t the hill that caused the damage, it was his jamming on the brakes at the bottom that caused him to fall.  Oh, well, we’ll work on his bike handling skills so he can stop with more control and one day he’ll go down the hill again.

It’s funny how we let the past control us.  A single element – in this case a fall – is more memorable than all the times he did manage to make it down the hill.  The crap I took in Junior High and High school still pisses me off sometimes and arguably drove me into the waiting arms of Kenpo.  Like the saying goes, never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.  What we are now is due in no small part to what we were back then.  The choices we make – and the ones made for us – follow us forever more.

Depressing thought, right?  Here, cheer up with Tim Kreider’s take on it.

Copyright 2009 by my hero Tim Kreider
Copyright 2009 by my hero Tim Kreider

The idea that the past creates the present determines the future is at the heart of Sharon Brownlie’s Betrayal, a gritty crime drama with an antagonist that you can’t help but root for in Helen King and a group of protagonists trying to stop King’s bloody quest for revenge.  One of my theatre profs in college loved to say, “Revenge is always a good motive,” and revenge is well established and well-used in Betrayal.

One of the things I like to see in a story is the idea that the bad guy (or girl, in this case) didn’t wake up one morning and just decide to be a evil.  Real characters, just like real people, rationalize their deeds and the best of them can rationalize to the point that, yes, it makes perfect sense to follow this path.  Those people deserved what they got.  It wasn’t murder, it was revenge, and it was justifiable.

Helen King, the protagonist/antagonist, of the story wakes from heroin sleep in a rat’s nest of a room and decides this isn’t right; this isn’t what she was meant to be.  She decides she wound up in this place, in this position, because of her past and what was done to her.  Her past created her present and that, in turn, determines her future.  We all have bad times, but our bad times pale in comparison to Helen’s: molested by her father, called a liar by her mother, shuffled off and covered up by the people that should have helped her, she fell into drug abuse and prostitution.  No one has helped her.  Ever.

That horrific upbringing molds her present, and her present is hardly better than her past.  Her present situation has, in her mind, only one future ahead of it.  But no matter how well-reasoned her future path is, there are those who will want to stop her.  Thus begins the cat and mouse game with Helen cutting a swath of destruction and cops trying to stop her.

Read it for the characters.  Read it for the violence.  Read it for the revenge.  Whatever floats your goat.  Betrayal is a good read and well worth the time.

Betrayal copyright 2014 Sharon Brownlie
Betrayal copyright 2014 Sharon Brownlie

Buy it here

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How to Make Editing Easier: Simple Tips to Make Your First Draft Better

I’ve got some serious editing coming up soon. As in about 100k words worth of editing…

Silas Payton

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I’ve often heard it said about you first draft, “Just get it written.” I agree it is extremely important to finish your project, however, there is one thing to keep in mind…if the editing is too daunting, you may never take your finished crappy first draft and turn it into what you want to.

I’ve come to realize that I much prefer the writing process to the editing. Writing is an escape. It’s a creative mind dump, playing with your characters, following them on a journey as it unfolds. Editing is work. It’s reading your work of art and saying, “That doesn’t sound right. That has to change. What kind of car was that? What did I mean when I wrote — Xxxxxxxx change this later? Wow, I must have written that part when I was half asleep.”

When I write, I enter a different world and it is easy…

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It Occurs To Me…

It occurred to me earlier today that this blog was ostensibly supposed to exist to showcase my writing (which I am doing, all evidence to the contrary!) and I have managed to write about politics, formatting, martial arts, book cover design, inspirations, and writing about writing.  With the exception of a few odds and ends, though, I haven’t actually written a story here in a fairly long time.

I’d like to say I’m going to do this regularly but, you know, temet nosce.  We’ll see what happens, I guess.  I enjoy writing, so I may as well do it every now and then.  So I don’t start writing and look down a month later to find a 40k word blog post, I’ll try to limit to about 1k words (beyond that people start wanting a pillow and a Kindle not a laptop and an office desk).  A while back I wrote a blog post on images I’ve found that have been inspirational or otherwise seem like they have a story behind them.

I’ve always liked this one and felt it had a story to tell.

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To make things more interesting, I’m going to drop this one in, too and see if I can come up with a story about a face in the wall and mighty Cthulhu.

cthulhu___guerra_de_mitos_by_hectorherrera-d756h7x

The rules are simple.  Make a cohesive story incorporating both images in approximately one thousand words.  The story has to be written in a single sitting.  There is no time limit.  I can’t guarantee it will be good, but it should be interesting.  I’ve got my tequila, a bag of mixed nuts, and Penny Dreadful is on.  Let the story begin…

I awake to the sticky smell of copper.  It’s like water up my nose and the oily feeling of cheap tequila rolling down my throat.

My head hurts and my eyes hurt and I know I’ve done it again.  This much copper in the air means I’ve gone and done it again and a lot of people have paid the price for my sins.  I know I should open my eyes and see what I’ve done but I’ve seen it all before.  I’ll open my eyes and the room will be filled with blood and parts of people and broken dishes and, frankly, the table is pretty comfortable.

This was a hipster coffee joint.  It was called something delightfully tacky and desperately throwback: Brewster’s Millions or something like that.  “Get it?  We brew coffee and have a million varieties,” the dude at the counter told me when I walked in.  I could tell already I wouldn’t like him, he was too hip for his own good, but if his place would serve me good coffee at 2am, I’d be happy to stare at his goatee and feauxhawk and not laugh at him.

I wonder what set it off this time?  The rage, I mean.

The coffee was good.  Not as spectacular as they promised but maybe my computer wasn’t cool enough; I was a lone guy with a plain laptop in an inland sea of glowing apples.  I chuckled at their dirty looks, snickered at their sniggering, and generally ignored them so I could focus on my night’s work.  If they knew what I was writing would their looks change?  Would my pedestrian laptop with the giant power brick suddenly be good enough or would the Cthulhu erotica erupting from my fingers send them screaming for the hills?

One of the charming things about this place is the music and the art.  The people almost ruined it with their horrid same difference-ness, but the music made it worthwhile.  The place was based on 1920s coffee shops; they played the music and displayed the art.  Now most of the art is spattered with blood and the record player (an actual record player!) is skipping.  Irvin Aaronson is continually asking me to misbehave.  A skip and he asks me again.  A skip and he asks me again.

I need to find that record player.

I open my eyes and find pretty much exactly what I thought I’d find: the place is a wreck and everyone’s dead.  I should be sad but, like I said, this isn’t exactly the first time this has happened.  I sigh and feel around the table fr my cup.  The last thing I remember was taking a sip so there must still be some there.  My hand brushes something that feels vaguely mug-like and my tired hands drag it toward me.  Gods above, the smell of chai hits me and I shove the coffee away.  Why is it so hard to serve a plain double espresso latte without cheapening it with that vile Indian nonsense?

I glance at my glowing laptop and read the text on the screen.  It still amazes me how much fun I can have writing what essentially amounts to Japanese tentacle porn but the addition of an ancient god from Lovecraft’s mythos makes it all that much more exciting.  The last line is the woman’s brain cracking after the dread Cthulhu is finished with her.  I smile.  Dark erotica is best erotica, if you know what I mean.

“Already did it, brother,” I say to Irvin.  He’s still carrying on about misbehaving.  My skull aches and my muscles protest but if experience has taught me anything it’s taught me I should get out of here before the fuzz shows up.  The room swirls a bit but my feet stay down and my head stays up and that’s good enough for me.  Ctrl key plus S equals save.  I don’t want to the few sentences I managed to write before the world came crashing down.

“Who was it this time?” I ask, looking around the room.  It’s a bunch of dead hipsters.  Who, in this place, could be important enough for my tender mercies?

The air swirls with energy and one of the corpses twitches.  A face, her face, appears on the wall.  I can’t say exactly who I work for or how I do what I do, but when they absolutely, positively need someone destroyed, I’m the one they call.  “This one was close to a formula that would let humans walk between the worlds.”

“Would that really be so bad?” I ask.  “They’re not that bad.”

“Would you want humans invading your space?” she asks.

“Not really, no,” I say.  “But surely I didn’t have to kill them all.”

“You will do as we say,” she says.  “Now get out before the authorities find you.  Don’t forget your agreement with House of Light.”

“How can I forget when you’ve got me tearing my way though every coffee shop in the country?”

Her face is already gone, fucked off back to the light realms, leaving me once again to deal with their mess.  I sigh and pack up my laptop.  They say the House of Darkness is a harsh mistress, but the House of Light is just as bad.  They’re both mental if you ask me.  They struggle eternally for control but neither side will ever win and people just get stuck in the crossfire.  All that wasted energies and all those crushed lives and the sides continue on their merry way stabbing each other in the back and slitting each other’s throats.

It’s sad, really.  I try to not get involved, but being of the hitmen drops me into the mess from time to time.  It sucks, but at least it pays well and gives me plenty of free time to write stories about beautiful women and ancient scaly gods.  It may not be a beautiful life, but it beats spending eight hours a day in fabric covered box.

So, there you go.  Just slightly over a thousand words, relatively coherent, and has a face in the wall and Cthulhu.

Goin Postal – Book Review

I need to read this one.

echoesofthepen

rhodapicAnother prolific book reviewer and facebook group activist in her own right, it gives me great pleasure to present my first review of one of her books, Goin Postal & The Creek by Rhoda D’Etorre…

Rhoda D’Ettore was born in Woodbury, New Jersey, into a family of 5 siblings–which has provided her with plenty of comical material. She began working at the United States Postal Service at 25 years old, and over the past 15 years has accumulated many humorous stories about situations that the public never gets to know about. Her first eBook, “Goin’ Postal: True Stories of a U.S. Postal Worker” was so popular that readers requested it in paperback. Recently, she published the humorous “Goin’ Postal” in paperback along with another story entitled, “The Creek: Where Stories of the Past Come Alive”. Combining these two into one book may seem strange, as one is humorous and the other…

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RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES!

I was reading the news today and came across an interesting article about Texas and it got me thinking about how that article would make one hell of a good book.

Texans are an interesting bunch.  Inside Texas you’ll likely never meet a nicer group of people provided you don’t go pissing on the Alamo.  Their politics, however, are the stuff of legend.  Texas is back in the news again now because they want their gold back from Fort Knox.  For the few people who have been living in a cave, on Mars, with their fingers in their ears, Fort Knox is the US Gold (and other important stuff) depository.  It’s one of the most secure places on the planet, a place guaranteed to earn you several bullets should you be foolhardy enough to try to knock it off.  Unless you’re these guys, but they were really only there for the Cheetos.

Rico, Kowalski, Private, and the Skipper.
Rico, Kowalski, Private, and the Skipper.

It must be my writer’s mind that looked at that story about Texas wanting its gold back and saw not just strange goings on, but the framework for an excellent thriller.  So, in honor of the day after the 4th of July, let’s take a look at a story in the news and see if we can’t plot it out into a seriously cool book.

Now, normally I don’t write out full plots or character sketches of any of my books.  I’m what’s called a pantser, in that I write by the seat of my pants, so this is an exercise in changing and growing as an author.

Plot: Texas is transporting its gold from Fort Knox to the safer shores of Texas proper.  The gold is essentially untouchable now and will be completely untouchable once it hits the Texan border where every Texas Ranger in the state will be waiting to receive it.  Even this guy:

Already practicing his spinning back kick.
Already practicing his spinning back kick.

We’re talking a pretty serious amount of money in a relatively small package.  According to the article we’re looking at about $650 million dollars that takes up about twenty square feet.  Gold’s heavy stuff, though, so it will take some serious hardware to haul it off and you can rest assured the gold will be guarded by a bunch of trigger happy dudes with machine guns.  The convoy won’t be stopping from the time it leaves Fort Knox, Kentucky until it’s safe in the bosom of Texas.  Depending on the route the convoy will go through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas or Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma.  If they’re smart (and can damn well bet they will be), there will be two convoys, each taking a different route.  Of course, it’s also possible the gold will be airlifted out.  That would be the smart way to do it, but one guy with a surface to air missile can ruin the whole plan, so for the purposes of the narration, we’ll force them to take the longer overland route.

The guys driving the convoy and the Texas politicians who want their gold back will be the good guys.  For now, anyway.  We’ll have a twist in the plot.  At any rate, we need some bad guys.  A small team should suffice, with all but two of them being disposable.  The head of the team will be a former Recon Marine (Marines are less commonly used than Army or Navy Special Forces and are also cooler anyway.  Semper Fi).  He’s tough, but smart, and was sold down the river in Iraq or Pakistan when he and his team were caught behind enemy lines.  We’ll later find out one of our Texas senators sent them into the village for nefarious purposes and made the call to abandon him to his fate in that Mid East Hell Hole.  His partner will be a woman from that region.  She saved him after he dived to save her brother from stray machine gun fire from either Taliban or pre-ISIS forces.  Together they made it out and made their way back to the US to take care of the Texas Senator who ordered the strike to cover up his drug running side-line.  There will be some others, including a getaway driver who just had a kid (movie speak for you’re gonna die before the show is over) and a completely loose cannon that jeopardizes the whole mission when he gets greedy.

Did a GIS for Loose Cannon and got this.  It'll do.
Did a GIS for Loose Cannon and got this. It’ll do.

On the “good guy” side of the lawn we’ll have another special forces guy in charge of the convoy.  He’ll know our hero and be the guy that turned and walked away from a fire fight when the Senator told him to.  He’s a greedy bastard but he’ll have a change of heart and redeem himself before the end of the book.  He’ll also get killed in the end, but he’ll die a hero’s death, so it’s all good.  We’ll also see more about the Senator and his various wheelings and dealings.  There will be a smattering of other characters, mostly disposable.

By a twist of fate and the blessings of Fortuna, our anti-heroes manage to find the right truck and get the gold.  This should take less than a third of the book.  The second act will introduce the twist.  This is where we’ll find out more about the Senator spearheading the whole drive to get the gold back to Texas and his ultimate intentions for it.  He wants it back, safe and secure in Texas, so he can use it to buy a Mexican drug cartel or bribe officials to look the other way while his Mid East drugs are brought up through Mexico into Texas.  That’s why he sent our good guy’s team into that hell hole and that’s why he abandoned them when they didn’t find what they were looking for.  He’s using the backdrop of the war to camouflage his international drug ring.

shocked
An evil politician? NO WAY!

When our politician learns his gold has been hijacked he does the only logical thing he can think of: send in a handpicked team of Texas Rangers lead by Slag Rockjaw to get the money back.  Rangers are supposed to be incorruptible, but these guys fell from the purer faith when copious amounts of money were thrown at them.

Now the Rangers are hunting the Marine and his partner, the former Army spec ops guy is hunting the Marine and his partner.  The Marine and his partner have a shit ton of gold but they’ve also uncovered evidence (during the heist they’ll find a note from the politician to some cartel leader) that the politician is not on the up and up.  When the Army spec ops guy joins the Marine it will be the end of the second act, but they’ll be trapped in a shack, surrounded by Texas Rangers.

Through some kind of chicanery the group will escape and start to make their way to Dallas where they’ll turn the gold over to the people of Texas and spill the beans about our bad Senator.  The Texas Rangers are tracking them, though, and the Rangers never miss their mark.  Gun fights will ensue, the Army spec ops guy will join the “bad guys” and, together, they’ll fight off the Texas Rangers.  The final battle will be between the Marine and the head Texas Ranger, mano a mano, in a knife fight to the death in the middle of the Texas desert.

lobsterknifefighting

In the falling action, or the denouement if you’re so inclined, the Senator will attempt to escape to Mexico, only to be captured by Texas Rangers and brought to justice.  Our hero and heroine will marry and all will be right in the world.  We’ll also find out that our hero managed to secret away a couple gold bars (a fact recognized by the Rangers but considered an okay thing considering what they did), and they’ll live happily ever after.