Frankie Says Relax

My son has a love of modern cartoons, specifically things like Johnny Test and Pokémon. They’re frenetic shows, blasts of color with all the characters yelling because they’re so excited about what’s going on in the show at the time. Pokémon is really the worst of the two because, frankly, I find the whole thing pretty baffling.

pokemon

OH NO! A CHARGARGOTHIKON E-X FIRE TYPE IS ATTACKING MY RAEDAWNCHONG TYPE R EVOLVED! IT’S ALL VERY EXCITING AND WE SHOULD ALL BE VERY EXCITED! ALSO, I NEED A SANDWICH!

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BE EXCITED!

Johnny Test is slightly less difficult to watch. If Pokémon is seeing the world through they eyes of someone hopped up on a mountain of crystal meth, Johnny Test is seeing the world through the eyes of someone hopped up on a slightly smaller mountain of crystal meth. To be fair, I’m hardly the target audience for either show.

Both shows are exhausting to watch because everything is amped up to eleven one hundred percent of the time. When everything is full-speed, full-power, all the time the story essentially flat-lines and you move from an action-packed adventure to action porn.

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Approves of things that go to 11.

There aren’t a whole lot of literary equivalents to Pokémon or Johnny Test. It’s hard to use words to amp things up to that level, but it does happen from time to time. I think it was Matthew Reilly’s Ice Station that had a seventy page long action scene. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy Reilly’s books, but at the end of the seventy pages I was getting pretty tired of bullets flying through air. And I really like bullets flying through the air. And Reilly set the whole scene and wrote it extremely well.

It was just so long.

On the other hand, Ice Station also had killer walruses. How many time do you get to see the bad guys killed by walruses?

Action scenes in books are – as far as I’m concerned – one of the things I love about reading. But the problem is action scenes oftentimes don’t move the plot along or move the story forward. The constant running and battling and frenetic energy is cool, but it needs to be balanced with quieter times where we learn the characters can do more than shoot at each other. Even Predator (the greatest movie ever made) – a movie about a group of Special Ops getting hunted by a creature from space – had quiet, almost contemplative moments.

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Fun fact: the Predator was originally played by none other than Jean-Claude VanDamme.

Those moments give the reader an opportunity to take a breath, learn and empathize with the characters, and get a larger view of the plot. It’s in the quieter moments of Predator that we learn some important things:

  • This isn’t the first time the Predator has hunted in these jungles
  • The natives have a name for it: The demon who makes trophies of men
  • Billy can somehow sense the Predator

All action, all the time gets tedious and boring. Take a minute to ramp down the action from time to time, let everyone catch their breath, and do a bit of exploration. Then, after everyone’s had a chance to relax a bit, unleash the man-eating walruses.

Book Review – My Child, the Doberman by Michael Sherwin and Nykol DeDreu

There’s an old Simpsons episode (Season 6, Episode 22) where Lisa meets and befriends an old Jazz musician named Murphy Kenneth “Bleeding Gums” Hibbert (bet you didn’t realize he actually had a full name), better known as “Bleeding Gums” Murphy. The two share their love of Jazz and bond over music. Unfortunately, “Bleeding Gums” dies, leaving Lisa heartbroken. Homer, being Homer, attempts to console her by saying, “We’ll get you a new Jazz-man.”

Homer meant well, but the message was lost in translation from the idea to the words.

Anyone who’s ever lost a friend can attest to the fact that it’s an extremely painful thing. It doesn’t really matter if that friend is tall or short, fuzzy or furry, or has more or less than the requisite number of legs. A friend is a friend and it always hurts to lose one.

My Child, the Doberman is about a Doberman Pinscher that a friend of mine in Chicago adopted from a family in Texas. Like so many Dobermans, Baron had a rough early life. He was likely trained as a fighting dog and tossed in a dumpster when he was of no further use. Michael Sherwin (who, to be fair, I’ve known for years) and his wife Nykol DeDreu (who, to be fair, I’ve never met but she seems nice) adopted Baron and set about being his new pack.

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It does get chilly in Chicago, after all

The text of My Child, the Doberman plays out as a series of conversations between Michael and Baron as they go about their days. We see Baron experiencing his first Chicago winter, a first spring, playing and cavorting and generally being friends. The friendship comes with a tragedy, though, and I won’t lie to you; the last third or so of the book is beautiful but really hard to read. I think my dining room had a lot of dust in it, if you know what I mean.

At times the text is fanciful, other times funny, and often very poignant. It’s a playful – and incredibly creative –  story of meeting a new friend, learning about each other, and ultimately losing a friend to cancer. Yes, dogs get cancer, too; we lost our pit bull to it last year.

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The best gift.

Sherwin’s not afraid to enjoy the playfulness of his text, to breathe life and a sense of humor into Baron’s responses.

“B: Does it ever strike you as funny that you around a bag of my poop?
Me: No, it’s part of being a responsible person.
B: YOU ARE CARRYING A  BAG FULL OF POOP!
Me: Yes, I’d rather carry it than step in it.
B: You may have thumbs and control the food, but remember you’re the one who carries the poop.”

Anyone who’s ever lost someone special knows you can’t just go out and get a new Jazz man, or a new Tina, or a new Baron. That’s what makes them special; you can’t find off-the-shelf replacement pieces. But just like Lisa got to experience “Bleeding Gums” Murphy and he likely changed her life forever, so to did Michael and Nykol get to experience Baron.

“Me; What are you looking at?
B: The world.
Me: The whole world?
B: Yes; it’s beautiful.
Me: I agree.”

And those experiences are what you have to hold tight to.

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Get your copy of My Child, the Doberman here.

Check out Michael’s blog

And, of course, one last picture of the author and Baron.

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Guest Blog Post on J.A. Konrath’s site by Silas Payton:

Excellent thoughts on communal promotion from an excellent author.

Silas Payton

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Today is a special day for me. Joe Konrath has posted a guest post by me on his site. What makes this special for me, as some of you may already know, is that Joe Konrath holds a special place in my heart. I started following his blog in 2011 once I read a number of his books, and was hooked from day one. I have since read almost every word the man has published. The inspiration and motivation from him on his blog and from the comments generated by his followers, led me to give this fiction writing a try. He and his wife were the first people to read my writing after my wife and oldest son, after which he offered me a chance to collaborate with him…seriously! On my first book! His life became too busy, and that book turned into White Lady, in his Kindle Worlds.

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Book Review – The Welcome by Tom Benson et al

For starters, the full title of the Book is The Welcome and Other Sci-Fi Stories but it just looked awkward sitting up there taking up all the space. It’s also not just Tom Benson’s work, although he was the primary author of the collection. Other writers contributed stories to The Welcome as well:

  • AA Jankiewicz
  • Pam Kesterson
  • Paul A Ruddock
  • Val Tobin
  • WK Tucker

So, that settled, let’s tuck in to the book. In case you hadn’t guess, this is a collection of science fiction stories that run the gamut from horror to hope to self-sacrifice and everything in between. It’s what I like to refer to as a smorgasbord of awesome. Tom even added a few bonus stories from his other collections including a bit of sci-fi erotica.

Like all good science fiction, the stories focus on the human elements of the narrative and use the sci-fi elements as backdrop. This kind of sci-fi gives writers whole new worlds to populate and cuts the restraining orders of reality to ribbons. Always, though, the stories come back to the people that populate those worlds and how they react to the adversity of being stuck on strange planets, eaten by blobs, put in a position where they have to sacrifice themselves to save others, or the woman who comes across a very special man.

Sometimes operatic, sometimes intimate, sometimes intimate in that way, The Welcome and Other Sci-Fi Stories provides a tasty treat of delightful morsels of science fiction. And, at only $1.99 it’s a steal.

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Get your copy here

Follow Tom on Twitter

Check out Tom’s Website

Links for the other authors in the anthology

 

From The Coming Soon Files – The Clouds Aren’t White by Rachel Wright

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Emmeline MacArthur is in the eye of the storm, a period of calm in the unstable life of political intrigue. As soon as the future looks clear, three shots from an old revolver shatter her precarious peace. In minutes Emmeline is plucked from picking dandelions with her daughter, Sophie, to standing next to the steel grave of her husband and his bullet ridden body.

In the months that pass, the assassin’s trail goes cold. Emmeline founders in a quiet depression, paralyzed by guilt and tormented by hazy nightmares. Grief leaves Emmeline adrift, barely able to be a mother. Tensions rise within the family and from without, culminating in Emmeline fleeing to Scotland, clinging to what she believes to be her husband’s last wish.

In the wilds of Scotland, Emmeline is confronted by more than she bargained for. The distance does nothing to alleviate her pain and Sophie becomes ever more distant and petulant. Emmeline stumbles through the process of grief, juggling work, motherhood, in-laws, and the notion of loving another man.

Emmeline MacArthur’s story is about love, the love which bonds a family, that compels a mother’s sacrifice, and the love which creates the framework of grief. The Clouds Aren’t White forces the question, what if the worst were to happen?

Check out Rachel’s Website
Check out her blog

Grab a copy on Amazon (Available for pre-order now or purchase on Feb 1, 2016)

And now for a little Q&A session with Rachel

Tell us a little about yourself?

I am a Colorado resident. I am a mother to a fantastic little girl who loves owls and ballet. I also have one of the most supportive husbands in the world. As I’m doing publicity for The Clouds Aren’t White, he’s more than once expressed his concern that I’m not finishing the draft for my second novel, due out in December.

Tell us your latest news

My latest news has to be the upcoming release of my debut novel, February 1st. I’m immensely proud of this project. It’s incredible to see it online. I’m waiting for the proof copy of the paperback edition which is incredibly exciting.

When and why did you begin writing?

I began writing when I was taught how to hold a pencil. I have little stories from first grade (for all non US citizens-age 6). I was a voracious reader. I have clear memories (because it still happens) of picking up the condiment bottles when my parents would take us out to dinner to read the labels. I also read the menus, where the place little bios, everything. I began writing because so many wonderful books transported me to such fantastic places that I could not keep in my love for them. Writing stories was an escape for me.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I was halfway through the first draft of The Clouds Aren’t White. I have probably twenty stories sitting in the dark corners of my laptop, comprised of about 20 pages each, that I threw away because they just weren’t “the one.” With The Clouds Aren’t White I finally found a story that I wanted to tell, that I thought needed to be told.

What inspired you to write your first book?

My husband. I’m actually serious. Every story I started and then proceeded to scrap he would get disappointed because I wasn’t happy with it. Through every little step he encouraged me to keep writing, to keep working. So I wrote it because of him.

How did you come up with the title?

The title came about in a weird way. I was actually painting, I’m not very talented but its fun, and I was trying to get the sky just right and I kept looking at the photo that I was painting from at the sky is this mass of colors. Because white isn’t really white. There are yellow-whites, blue-whites, green-whites…just ask anyone who has painted the interior of a house, they’ll tell you. And the novel is so wound around terrible events in Emmeline’s life that I wanted to capture the depth of her experience and also that light can be found even in the darkest of times (oh gosh, I’m quoting Rowling).

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I really want my readers to grasp the amount of dedication that Emmeline has to her family, particularly her husband and daughter. As mothers and wives, our worth is so often (how do I say this delicately?) overlooked. I want readers to see the worth of such a strong woman, the necessity of a support network, the love we bear our children. Emmeline is the definition of a feminist, she chooses her own path, not letting even her parents dictate to her, and follows through.

What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?

Probably all the fantasy books I’ve read. One of my favorite memories is when I went to my dad, age 11-I think, and told him I had exhausted my reading material and I needed more. We weren’t well off so there was no going to B&N for me. He sent me out to our “freezer room” (Just an outbuilding with two freezers for meat and piles and piles of everything else) I was told to look for a box set of books, white, called Lord of the Rings and another called The Hobbit. I stayed in that room for three hours until my mother came out, livid, that she was calling me for dinner and hadn’t gotten a reply. Lord of the Rings exposed me to true stories. I don’t write fantasy, but Tolkien so clearly enunciates the friendship between his characters and how those friendships change the course of Middle Earth. It has stuck with me and definitely altered who I am as a writer.

What book are you reading now?

A Picture of Dorian Grey, which is done really well. For some reason I haven’t read it before. I also just finished A Monk of Fife, which is about a Scot who is with Joan of Arc in her last moments. Its a fantastic read, I encourage everyone to read it who is remotely interested in France or history or Joan of Arc. Also The Hobbit. Because those books are like old friends.

What are your current projects?

I am incredibly excited about my current project. It has no name yet. I’ve written down almost thirty titles and none of them convey what I want to convey. Quite the opposite of my first book. This novel is set in Paris and spans the years from 1960-1988. At the beginning of the book you meet, in Dallas, Texas, a man on his death bed who gives a sort of death-bed confession to his doctor. He’s dying of cancer at age 55. Before he has a chance to tell his deepest and longest kept secret, he passes, leaving his family completely unaware of his life in Paris. The book then flashes back to 1960 when David leave his home in Illinois for Paris. The book is based on a true story, and one I think that an author would have a hard time coming up with themselves.

This book will be better than my first. The story is just fantastic.

Do you see writing as a career?

I have so many things I’d like to do with my life, but yes, I do see it as a career. I’m not sure I’ll ever make a living off of it, but I will continue to write. Its in my DNA.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

I didn’t get scrivener until after I had finished the first draft. I would change that. Writing a book in microsoft word is a terrible experience. I’m a scrivener fanatic now.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Is it weird if I say JK Rowling? No. She made reading fun for a whole generation of kids. She gave us one of the best stories and created a whole new world. She is the Tolkien of our time. But again its the relationships and the love and how friendship is so incredibly powerful and that it lasts beyond a person’s lifetime.

Who designed the covers?

Dave Hansow. He has an amazing non-profit called Light Gives Heat that works with women in Uganda to give them a livelihood making and selling jewelry. He also has created a tv show called The Find which tells the stories of people who are making a difference in the world, creating jobs and changing people’s lives. He’s a great designer and really captured the book and my ideas about the cover.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

You’re going to want to give up. After your first draft. After the first edit. After the 20th edit. After getting rejected by agents and websites and bookstores. Don’t give up. If writing makes you happy, keep writing. I’ve wanted to give up, many times. But not today.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

What else would I have to say, but thank you. This book is a piece of me, thank you for letting it see the light of day.

What makes you laugh/cry?

My daughter. Everyday. My grandmother passed away late last year and she was closer to me than my mother. I mourn her light in my life and our conversations.

Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?

The Queen. Of England. She’s phenomenal and she’s seen so much of history. It would be amazing to talk with her about what she’s witnessed.

Other than writing do you have any hobbies?

Reading. I do a little embroidery and dabble in painting.

What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

I just started Madam Secretary which is wonderful. Oh the English and Swedish, Wallander, then Doc Martin. My husband and I watch a lot of BBC shows.

If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?

A historian. At one point I really wanted to go work at the Vatican.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Sure, here’s an excerpt:

Paris isn’t Paris. Paris is a hundred different cities thrown into a pot and then cast out into the wind. It was this Paris that David found when he was looking for ancient Roman ruins and the Viking invasion of the Ile de la Cite and the labyrinth of revolutionary era streets. Paris is grey in January. Dirty grey marble, grey trees, grey mist burrowing into the alleys and settling down to rain for several days. Anyone who is anyone leaves Paris during January, just as they do when the summer sun beats down on the pavement.

It was this grey Paris that David found on January 11th, 1960. A Paris darkened by soot and the grime of centuries. It was into this less than sparkling city that David traveled by bus from Orly airport, but he saw nothing of the soot or grime. He hardly saw people. David who knew so much of the city’s history, saw Napoleon, the celts, the early Franks on the Ile de la Cité, even Hitler posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. David’s eyes shone with childlike joy.

Everywhere he looked, Parisians bustled about, oblivious to the fact that above them, a man drunk in their every movement as though he were dying of thirst and they the only water.

The grimy bus disgorged David in the fifth arrondissement, the corner of Rue Jussieu and Rue Saint-Jacques, in the middle of the Sorbonne’s campus. David remained where he dropped his bags, his gaze bent down Rue Saint-Jacques. Paris wasn’t meant to be stopped, not for an enraptured American. David was jostled this way and that until he picked up his two suitcases and set off down the street. David passed more classical architecture, barren walnut trees, and ornate metal scrollwork on balconies until he stopped in front of an unassuming front with only the world ‘hotel’, on a small sign, designating it as such.

After checking in, using his most polite French, he unpacked his few possessions in room 49, and rereading his letter regarding the grant, David felt almost deflated. He had left backwater Illinois, left all the places that held so many frightful memories, and yet peace failed to come. He felt as uncomfortable as he had in the train station in Chicago sitting across from Bertie Phillips.

Within ten minutes the door to room 49 shut with a rattle of the windowpane.  David retraced his steps and soon found  a quiet, unassuming café where he could sit in peace; in comfortable silence. The café that was delivered came at the end of an impeccably tailored waiter, all back and white perfection. It was delicious, it was metropolitan, it was Paris. Geography had done nothing to change David. He began to regret his hasty departure, the pain, the secrets that lay buried underneath his calm exterior. Life had become a farce.  And so, before the coffee had even cooled, David left two francs on the table and walked in the opposite direction of his hotel. The rain began slowly, one drop at a time creating small dots of darker grey on the concrete until those dots began to merge into larger puddles. David couldn’t place when the downpour started, only that it had. Parisians fled in every direction, towards covered doorways or fabric awnings or onto buses. Meanwhile David walked, on and on through the drizzle, through the halos of gold cast by the streetlights and the reflection of the classical architecture on the streets. David saw the whole of Paris that day, while others fled the deluge, he alone saw the magic poured out on the pavement.

This Picture – Writing the Other Side

They were actually BFFs off-screen.
They were actually BFFs off-screen.

I stumbled across this picture several months ago and loved it. I still think Aliens is toward the top of my favorite movies list. In addition to the slow build that everyone in the audience knew was coming, the movie had a lot to say about who the monsters really were. As Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) says, “You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.

Burke, Carter J. proceeds to run, leaving everyone to die horribly in the face of the Xenomorph onslaught. Of course he gets caught by an alien. There’s a scene in the book that shows (sorry, tells) him glued to the wall, waking up just in time for the egg in front of him to open and you know his death is going to be delightfully uncomfortable.

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Comeuppance. Heck yeah.

In fact, you could make the argument that the true villain of the movie was really Burke and the Weyland/Yutani corporation all along. The aliens and Marines were just along for the ride and didn’t find each other’s company agreeable.

Anyway, back to the picture. It’s a still shot, probably from the production that shows our two heroines: the small, squishy one and the gloriously armored one. The alien queen gets a bad rap in the movie, but to be fair, she was as much a tragic hero as Ripley. I say tragic because, in the end, the alien queen fails and her children all die in fiery inferno.

Her tragedy comes down to motivations. It’s motivation that should drive a character. Even the bad guys have motivations for what they do and guess what? No matter how loathsome the bad guys may be, they all think their reasons are very good reasons for doing what they’re doing.

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Don’t gasp. It’s true. We can all justify our actions at any given time. The reason for this is because we, as humans, are exceptionally good at lying to ourselves. Whatever it is we’re doing, we have managed to convince ourselves it is the correct thing to do.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, if you’re going to write the antagonist in the story you have to keep something squarely in mind: whoever the bad guy (or girl) is, they are doing what they’re doing because they think it’s the correct thing to do. Then you get to the really cool part: exploring those reasons. You may come to find that the reasons are noble, after all, just not in the context of the story you’re trying to tell.

Now, take another look at Aliens and examine the main actors in the movie. By my reckoning you’ve got three major players represented in the story.

  • The Marines (and Ripley)
  • The Weyland/Yutani Corporation (and Burke)
  • The aliens (and the Queen)

Every single one of them has a valid motivation for their actions. The Marines (and Ripley) want to do their jobs and go home. Those jobs include saving colonists and eliminating a threat. They’re attempting to realize that goal by killing all the aliens. The Company (Weyland/Yutani and its representative Carter J. Burke) wants to make profits for its employees and shareholders. It attempts to achieve its goal by bringing aliens back home. In their minds the value of the aliens as a study far outweighs both the hive and the lives of the Marines. The aliens simply want to live. They attempt to achieve their goal by capturing colonists and using them as both nurseries and food.

By putting all these groups with differing and mutually exclusive goals in one place you create our good buddy conflict. And you do it in such a way that the conflict becomes much more nuanced; now it becomes less like to say “So-and-so did x because he’s a big dumb jerk-face.” The parties in the conflict now have very valid reasons and, interestingly enough, the varying conflicts have become MECE.

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This means the resolutions for each possible outcome aren’t compatible with the other outcomes and at least one of the outcomes must occur. This is the nature of conflict. Let’s face it, it’s just not very fun if the conflict resolution is everyone just walking away.

In Aliens, there was no way that was going to happen, each party had a vested interest in their own goals. Most importantly, each party felt their goals were, in fact, not only attainable, but actually good things to do.

So, when you look at it that way, who’s the real villain? In the context of the movie it’s Burke and the aliens because the movie is ultimately about Ripley and the Marines. Told from another point of view, though, a struggling colony of aliens was wiped out by aggressors from beyond the stars or a potentially huge revenue stream was eliminated by shortsightedness.

Really look at your villains and you might see them in a different perspective. In my mind, the picture of the alien queen and Ripley will always be called “Two Lovely Ladies” because if you look hard enough, it’s pretty difficult to call either one of them a villain. It’s just that their goals contrary to each other.