Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Somebody's responsible for this minor oversight and, rest assured, when I found out who you are, heads will roll! And if Lansdale writes the story, there will be several references to drinking, female genitalia and cuddly serial killers...
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The following is an interview I conducted with him via Facebook:
ME: Have you always written fiction?
JFV: No, I haven't. I started my writing career back in 1993 as a freelance sports writer while still in high school. I branched out into fiction in 2003, and it's been all downhill from here.
ME: Was fiction something you always wanted to do?
JFV: I'm still writing sports; that's the so-called "real job." And yeah, I've always wanted to write fiction. I've always been a storyteller, someone who has wanted to inform, always wanted to entertain. Fiction-writing -- and, on the same level, sportswriting -- is a way to do all of those things at the same time.
ME:Speaking of sports writing, this novel "Turn Back the Clock" incorporates both of your disciplines, is this the first time that's happened
JFV:For me, definitely. I've always been a sports historian, so this was just another way of doing something I love. I actually learned things I didn't know while I was doing my research for it, too.
The novel begins with the events surrounding October 17, 2003: Game Seven of the American League Championship Series. My protagonist is watching the game, and after the game, his drunken thoughts lead him to the idea of building a time machine...Greg determines that if the Black Sox Scandal -- the throwing of the 1919 World Series by the White Sox -- didn't happen, that trade would be able to go through, and the "Yankee Dynasty" would be severely weakened.
ME:Anything involving a drunken protaganist is automatically a move in the right direction. Is that typical of your "heroes?"
JFV:Most of my heroes are stone-cold sober. The only reason why I had Greg intoxicated is because that is how I was on that night. The prologue to TBTC -- and essentially the entire book -- is a personal tale.
ME:Those are often our best work. I wrote Dreamers at Infinity's Core in six weeks and the characters are similar to me. Are these characters you plan to use again?
JFV:Oh no, this is a one-off tale. When I was originally plotting TBTC, I had a whole list of things that they could change with the time machine: The 1972 Olympic basketball final, the 1986 World Series, Celtics draftee Len Bias' death in 1986. But as the novel evolved and took shape, the story as it is came about, without need of the other things.
ME:Are all five of your novels self-published?
JFV: Yes, they are. I went with Lulu.com for the first four and even went with them again with a compilation of the first three novels, my Obloeron Trilogy. I went with Amazon.com's CreateSpace entity for TBTC, and I am in the process of re-releasing the others through CS for the sake of continuity.
ME:How are sales?
JFV: Unfortunately, without the backing of a big publishing house, sales are low. I'm hoping that will pick up. As for TBTC, I've sold a few copies and I'm hoping more come in as the holiday season approaches.
ME: What projects do you have in mind for the near future?
JFV:, I have the Obloeron prequels that will be coming out over the course of the next 16 months; I have a standalone sci-fi/space opera/Star Warsy novel that I will release in April. I'm currently working on a young adult zombie novel that is based in Tombstone, Arizona.
This spring, I'm going to start a novel that features a female protagonist; I haven't brainstormed that out, but I have ideas in my head about it.
I'm currently working on a young adult zombie novel that is based in Tombstone, Arizona.
This spring, I'm going to start a novel that features a female protagonist; I haven't brainstormed that out, but I have ideas in my head about it.
ME:You have quite a bit in the works.
JFV: , I have my next year planned out, and I plan on being VERY busy
You can learn more about this author by visiting his website:
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Let’s examine that question for a moment, shall we? The very phrasing of it is idiotic because it pre-supposes that there is no such thing as an unidentified object flying through the air. In other words, if you see something flying and don’t know what it is and nobody is aware of it being there it’s not real. Good to know. Call me crazy, but I might have called it “Are Flying Saucers Real?” since that’s what the average person thinks UFO means.
Still, the one-hour presentation was being run by a man who had been connected to the government-sponsored investigations into claims of saucer sightings in the 1970’s and 1980’s, so my interest was certainly piqued. On top of those credentials, he also worked at the local planetarium, a place I’ve been trying without success to locate for the better part of a decade. I figured at most it would be an interesting way to spend an hour on a Saturday afternoon.
I was wrong.
I was also about fifteen minutes late because I was watching the excellent film, “Frost vs. Nixon” and didn’t want to pause it and lose the flow. By the time I made it into the auditorium, the presenter was already deeply into his presentation…about the planets. Frowning, I sat near the back and took note of the tiny audience. There were lots of kids in the room, all of them fidgeting and making weird noises. To my right sat an intense black man with a handful of borrowed “Lost” DVD’s. On the other side sat another man providing his rapt attention and a second representative from the planetarium who interjected once in a while.
Within minutes, the presenter had displayed the planets of the solar system, and peppered the photos with obviously fake “UFO” pictures which he then pointed out were fake. His sad attempts at humor involved showing a planet or series of stars, then a fake flying saucer and cracking a half-assed one-liner meant to sound as if he’d spotted an alien spacecraft in the middle of the presentation to the sound of nervous chuckling.
I realize the presence of children automatically dumbs down the subject matter these days since the current crop of parents believes kids must be talked down to instead of made to understand adult concepts, so I wasn’t expecting greatness. I was, however, expecting a so-called man of science to be a little less condescending toward the subject of the possibility that at least a small percentage of unexplained sightings could possibly be alien spacecraft.
Instead, it became increasingly apparent that he was there to pimp the planetarium. (I can’t believe I even wrote that phrase but I really hope it catches on with the pop culture.) Even part of the presentation involved him showing us a Goggle satellite photo of the place from the sky and repeatedly showing everyone how to get there by car. What this had to with whether or not UFO’s are real is anyone’s guess.
Even more annoying than the presenter’s tendencies towards stupid humor to deemphasize the subject matter was his lack of willingness to discuss it when people asked him questions! I can’t imagine being asked to talk about writing and then brushing off a question related to why I prefer present tense narrative, yet that is the equivalent of what he did.
I was not at all surprised to hear about his connection to SETI, the rabidly anti-UFO organization that believes searching for repeating frequencies in the vastness of space is the way we’re going to locate new life and new civilizations.
The intense and very well-spoke gentleman to my right asked him about Planet X, which is the theorized tenth plant located on the other side of our sun according to some alternative researchers such as David Icke. The presenter brushed that off with vague references to the sun’s behavior as definitive proof of no tenth planet, although he admitted that the asteroid field between Mars and Jupiter might have been a planet at once time. When the man asked him why aliens would want this planet in particular, he replied with a stunningly bland, “I don’t know. We don’t know.” That became his mantra for the rest of the time.
The man left a few moments later. Ironically, a lady sitting up front decided to piggyback off his point and continue the discussion about why aliens would want to come here. The other planetarium employee said our water content alone would be reason enough. He should have run the damned thing!
The presenter somehow worked everything back to the size and scale of the universe; all fascinating stuff but not at all what was described in the pamphlet. I left in a disappointed daze, reflecting on how much better this type of thing would have been in the Nineties. As far as I was concerned, this guy had a twofold agenda: Pimp the planetarium, and gloss over the concept of UFO’s as alien piloted spacecraft with stupid jokes and lots of “I don’t know” level commentary. He accomplished both missions.
I, on the other hand, simply wasted an hour of my day.
At least it was free~
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
(noracooksmith.blogspot.com) to do the following:
I went to the dictionary and picked ten words at random. You should be able to tell this just by looking at the list. Here's the challenge. Try writing a one-paragraph short story involving at least 5 of the words on the list. You can pluralize, change tense, etc. as long as the root word remains. Feel free to post
OK, here goes and don't say I didn't warn ya:
I grew tired of waiting for the creature to answer my questions and stormed down the basement stairs. As I threw open the cellar door and peered inside, my eyes adjusting to the darkness, I wondered not for the first time if I'd started to overwork the wretched goddam thing. After all, I'd been the one to convince it not to forage for sustenance anymore and to come stay with me so that I could provide its "food." Its glowing yellow eyes stared back at me from the thick darkness of the cellar without blinking, a direct result of the stimulant effect of what it needed to consume for its surival. With a light sigh, I yanked on the string above my head, bathing the cellar in sudden light which caused the creature to instantly morph into something far more acceptable to the human eye...
Well, that was a fun five-minute exercise. Feel free to copy the instructions and try your hand at it!
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
10:00am - 7:00pm
City Sports Center In the heart of Greektown
3401 E. Lafayette
So, if you live locally come on by. I am not the only "attraction" to be found at this thing. In fact, we might have to temporarily rename this particular section of Detroit "geektown" considering the amount of unadulterated fanboy-dom that is expected to show up!
Hope to see you there!
Sunday, July 5, 2009
What do I mean by “interactive?” Are tiny underpants gnomes providing me with plot points and ideas for character development? Well, yes but that’s not the only thing I mean.
Thanks to social networking sites, seeking input has never been easier or more immediate. Whereas before I might have to wait up to two weeks for my next writers workshop to float some ideas around or ask for input on where a particular chapter should go next, now all I have to do it post a “mood” and people respond to it.
For example, the other day I found myself writing a scene where the protagonist decides to help out his friend’s sister by having a word with the loan shark who’s been strong-arming her. The question that came to mind as I was writing this was: How violent should I make this? The tone of the novel is rather dark and there are a few moments of gruesome violence but would this scene pull the reader out of the dark fantasy element?
I posted my question on Facebook and within minutes the responses started pouring in. Some felt there should be a methodical torture scene because those are more dramatic; others felt it should be a quick kill, which I kind of liked as well. Nobody seemed to favor a shoot-out scene, which would surely cause extreme rage in my friend Al. It helps to have a mixture of writers, editors and good old-fashioned readers in a Facebook Friends list because what results is a variety of mostly useful opinions.
Ironically, as I started writing the scene, it took on a life of its own and started moving into a slightly comedic direction. Still, the different viewpoints bounced around inside me noggin and I realized there were some elements of the advice I’d received that would work really well. After all, what’s more jarring than an amusing moment suddenly turning deadly serious? And since my protagonist is a little more powerful than your average human being, would he not have a different method for dealing with scum?
Thanks to a group of people listed as “friends” on a website I joined, only some of whom I know or have met personally, my head was cleared enough to write what was proving to be a difficult part of as novel that has been coming along alarmingly easily.
I have a feeling my acknowledgements page is going to be interesting this time~
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I heard about this contest from a Facebook friend who posted his own submission there. I thought I'd do the same here, since I literally just sent mine off.
Neil Armstrong quotes (What he might have said):
“That’s one small step for man, one giant…Oh, Zsa Zsa says “’hi.’”
“Hello from the moon…that boom mike was there when we landed!”
“All those billions to find out this place isn’t made of edible cheese!”
“Hey, Joe! Up here even a lard-ass like you would be weightless!”
“I don’t want to alarm anyone but there are Republicans here.”
“Okay, let’s start unloading the nukes and aiming them for the Soviet…Is this thing on???”
“I never wanted to be an astronaut, I was more interested in floral design but my father was so very, very cruel…anyway, there it is, a big lifeless rock. Check, please!”
“I came up with a song about the Dark Side of the moon I’m gonna write when I get back to Earth. Nobody better steal my idea!”
“Looks like we finally found that storage area for hippy agitators!”
If you're interested, you can send your own submissions to:
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
A darling of the literary world, he may not be as well known as he should be among mainstream fiction readers. His books sell well but they aren’t sensationalistic or daring in a carnival-like attention grabbing sense.
Instead, he tends to write from the internal world, where many readers have no interest in journeying. Much like a poet, DeLillo delves deeply into the hidden revelations that are always present around us but rarely seen. His novels tend to present the world as a realm of alienation and desperation, where human experience is increasingly becoming less meaningful as technology and distance separate us from the core of our reality.
The easy way to dismiss the fact that he isn’t a household name is to say his writing isn’t for everybody. That statement does a disservice to not only the writer but also potential readers. While it may be true that the average person reads for sheer escapism, I tend to think that’s because they haven’t been taught to do anything else. Americans live in a pop culture defined by popularity and readily accessible, disposable media experiences. Pausing to think is often frowned upon, as it tends to interfere with the bottom line.
What corporations want people to start questioning the isolated aspects of suburban life and consumerism? The only time they might is when they’re marketing corporate-sponsored “rebellion” to teenagers in the forms of popular music and fashion. But adults are supposed to be discouraged from questioning their environments. Adults are supposed to muddle through life without wondering why and take the occasional break for pure escapist fun.
Nothing wrong with escapism. Human beings need to escape from time to time. What is wrong, however, is the marginalization of freedom of expression. What results after several generations of such repressiveness is the world so often portrayed in DeLillo’s work. It should come as no surprise that he was drawn to Lee Harvey Oswald’s story when he wrote “Libra.” That book was part of the basis for the Oliver Stone film, “JFK.”
There are those who feel literature should portray likable characters that make them care what happens. While it is certainly valid to want to like the subject of care, it is sometimes far more interesting to follow the exploits of someone you wouldn’t necessarily want to know in real life. A good example of this “Cosmopolis.”
Focusing on a day in he life of a self-made dot.com type billionaire, Cosmopolis is a surrealist’s foray into self-awareness and painful epiphany. As with much of DeLillo’s work, there is a pervasive disconnect between the subject and the reader. The same theme can be found in his seminal “White Noise.”
DeLillo is an acquired taste in our cookie-cutter happy ending world but one well worth investing in~
Recommended DeLillo Reading List:
The Body Artist
Saturday, May 23, 2009
The comedian was doing a show in the deep south and decided to go to one of those waffle houses they seem to love so much for breakfast. The "waffle waitress" as he referred to her took his order and he started reading a book he'd brought.
"Lookit him," someone in he restaurant said. "He's got him a book!"
Someone else stood up, hands on hips, and said, "Looks like we got us a reader."
Baffled, the comedian gazed about the room as the waffle waitress returned with his coffee and stared at him with squinty eyes. "What'choo readin' a book fer?" she asked.
The comedian shrugged. "I don't know...so I won't have to become a waffle waitress!"
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
10 novels that will change your life, realign the stars and help you figure out why there’s always for Jell-O.
(I chose to refrain from any reviewing of these books and provide only brief plot descriptions so you can make up your own minds. If you require any assistance with that, I’ll gladly do the thinking for both of us---enjoy)
RANT by Chuck Palahniuk- Can one attain immortality by going back in time and killing one’s self? That is just one of the many concepts explored in this tale of dysfunctional people who enjoy getting into car accidents.
GHOST ATLAS- by David Mitchell- An author known for his ability to interweave seemingly disparate storylines into a strangely cohesive final moment that one can blink and miss, this is Mitchell’s epic take on several different characters separated by time but perhaps not by spirit.
THE BODY ARTIST- by Don DeLillo- A surreal take on a grieving female artist living with a strange man who may or may not be the remaining essence of her deceased husband.
TERRORIST by John Updike- The literary master weaves a tale of corrupted innocence as we get to watch a young American boy of Middle Eastern descent drawn into a maze of deceit and propaganda.
IT’S SUPERMAN! By Tom De Haven- Perfect savior from Krypton? Not so much in this re-imagining of the famous tale of the immigrant from the stars. In this version he’s kind’ve dumb and simple and seems to stumble into his destiny like a rhino in a photo booth. Any character actor would kill to get the Lex Luthor part in this book.
THE PISTOL POETS by Victor Gischler- A fast-paced journey into the violent lives of, of all things, a poetry professor, a drug dealer using a dead man’s identity to get into college and a host of supporting characters with chips on their shoulders, this one is a page-turner.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO BIFF, CHRIST’S CHILDHOOD PAL by Christopher Moore- The author brings his special blend of irreverence and life-loving prose to the so-called “missing years” of Jesus’ life.
OH THE GLORY OF IT ALL! By Sean Wilsey- The first of my two non-fiction selections, this one traces the life of the author whose background includes a mother who created a peace movement and a father whose lack of interest causes some truly fascinating moments.
A MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY by Kurt Vonnegut- Supposedly Vonnegut’s “last book” until his latest last book came out a few months ago, Vonnegut expresses his sorrow and disgust at the direction the U.S. had taken during the Bush years in ways both humorous and depressing.
THE ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY by Michael Chabon- A tale of two Jewish kids in New York in the 1930’s, one American the other a Polish refugee from Nazi occupation, who create a popular superhero called The Escapist. Uniquely accessible to readers of all tastes.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
It is well known in the fiction writing world that writers get three chapters to dazzle a potential publisher before their life’s work is tossed into the scrap pile. That’s why most literary agents request that we only send the first three chapters, the conventional wisdom being that no worthwhile novel can survive the grim specter of short attention spans beyond that point.
I find that to be a gross and often inaccurate generalization based, no doubt, more on reluctance to invest the amount of time and effort necessary to truly discern whether or not a novel is worthwhile. In other words, it’s far easier to insist upon a system than to pour through piles and piles of potential time-wasters.
In my opinion, one cannot really know whether or not someone’s book is a waste of time until somewhere around the 100-page mark. I write that with the full knowledge that the average person doesn’t have the attention span to read that many pages of a book that isn’t grabbing them.
I have chosen three novels from years gone by that I stopped reading at the 100-page mark. They are “Creature” by John Saul, “Angels & Demons” by Dan Brown & the first Dresden Files novel entitled, “Storm Front.”
“Creature” by John Saul- Synopsis: The author has often, perhaps harshly, been referred to as the poor man’s Stephen King. His stories tend to be similar in theme if not tone and nobody can deny his huge success in the horror field. Unfortunately, “Creature” was a misfire that affected my views on Saul for years to come. The novel takes place in one of those small towns where football is the main religion and those who don’t play it or like it are ostracized. In traditional Dean Koontz style, there is a secret laboratory creating…wait, this is a John Saul novel, right? So I guess he bears a resemblance to two established authors. Anyway, the geeky teenage protagonist fits within the latter category, much to the chagrin of his old-fashioned thinking father. The secret lab might have the answer, though. They are pumping kids full of all sorts of steroids and other enhancements in an effort to create the perfect physical specimens. Naturally, something goes horribly wrong when the geeky kid undergoes the procedures.
Reason I Stopped Reading: At some point along the way, I stopped enjoying the premise and realized there was little else tying the events of the story together. All the clichés were there, including the “beautiful” girl the protagonist can’t have and the abusive jocks that see him as a flyspeck on the wall. The story is supposed to pick up once he becomes the creature of the title but sadly it goes nowhere fast, descending into adolescent angst and revenge fantasies. Around page 100, I grew tried of being inside this self-pitying protagonist’s mind and of the fact that nothing was happening except cardboard cutouts were being given dialogue and closed it never to open it again. Anyone I’ve ever challenged to read this book has had the exact same reaction to it.
“Angels & Demons” by Dan Brown- Synopsis: Contrary to the order of film release, this is Robert Langdon’s first adventure in the revised history universe of Dan Brown’s apparent quest to convince us that all history is BS. In this novel, Langdon is recruited to assist with the investigation of murders being committed in Vatican City during the selecting of the new Pope. Naturally, this is no simple case. In a bizarre and woefully inaccurate portrayal of the Illuminati as angry freethinkers bent on revenge, Brown creates elaborate deaths for priests as Langdon…sigh…races against time to solve the mystery.
Reason I Stopped Reading: This one was loaned to me a few years ago by a co-worker who didn’t want it back. She claimed to really enjoy it though and considered it to be quite the page-turner. I suppose if one can define that as the reader flipping through pages to find the interesting parts, she was correct. I have so many issues with Brown’s writing that it would take an entire post or twelve to truly illustrate all of them. Suffice to say in this case the “Davinci code” prequel is filled with so many clichés that it becomes almost amusing to read along and predict the next turn of events. From the “beautiful” female academic to the stern yet reasonable security force officer and the times murders our heroes arrive to mere seconds too late, this novel comes off as a first term creative writing assignment. Brown’s annoying tendency to throw in often incorrect historical factoids is bad enough, but portraying the Illuminati as this wrongfully persecuted group of well-meaning scientists from the Middle Ages ignores all evidence of an occult connection. The Catholic Church is a big ol’ easy target and Brown has no problem with descending to the lowest common denominator to sell books.
“Dresden files: Storm Front” by Jim Butcher-Synopsis: Recently two of the writers in my writers workshop who also happen to be associated with COM Publishing handed me the first two “Dresden Files” novels, sure that I would love them as much as they did. For those unfamiliar with this bestselling fantasy series, it revolves around a modern-day wizard who advertises his services and works as a consultant to the local police department.
Reason I Stopped Reading: Harry Dresden uses his magic for…well, as of this writing I don’t know what he uses his magic for. 100 pages in and he has yet to use it. That’s not the only issue I have with this book. The characterizations are annoyingly bland. Dresden is a pantywaist that spends all of his time dreading normal things like women and electronics. Apparently a wizard can’t use things like TV’s and computers because of the energy they generate. A pretty cool gimmick that, but this novel is nothing but gimmicks. The murder mystery is interesting enough but it doesn’t go anywhere. Dresden is a weenie and not likable in the slightest and his supporting cast of cynical women and one cynical man and an animated skull that employs flat sarcasm makes it feel more like a cheesy TV show than a novel. One of the workshop writers informed me that the first two novels aren’t that great but it really picks up after that. I am not a series reader. I rarely invest in anything that is longer than a trilogy (see earlier posts for more on this) and I don’t see enough in the concept to make me want to read further. F. Paul Wilson’s “Repairman Jack” series has nothing to worry about.
As you can see, these three novels are very different from each other but they do share one common thing: They all did extremely well. Despite my dislike of them and my theory that 100 pages is enough to determine the potential lousiness of a novel, these three books are very popular.
Imagine, then, how many great novels have been overlooked or discarded because of the three chapter rule~
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Here are some examples:
Excerpt: Christopher MacLeod, of 17A Oliver St. in Hudson, and Christopher Nadeau, of 20 Tanglewood Way in Merrimack, were initially charged in May following an undercover police investigation called Operation Spring Cleanup.
Excerpt: [Christopher] Nadeau was accused in the death of 2-year-old Zoe Zimmerman, of Stafford, according to court records.
Excerpt: (My favorite) With Maine's spring turkey season over, an interesting situation is developing over who can claim the state record wild turkey. Thus far, two hunters have stepped forward with truly braggable birds, with statistics that appear to eclipse previous state records.
The two hunters are Christopher Nadeau, a U.S. Navy Petty Officer from Brunswick, and Mark Norwood of Trenton.Nadeau, a bow hunter, was hunting in Wells.
Excerpt: Members of the NGLBTCC event's committee include Burkett, David Lazarus, Christopher Nadeau, Angie Petty and Toni Pack
I assure you I am not a drug dealing, child murdering, turket shootin' gay teen! I've never shot turkeys or attacked a child in my life!!!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Of course I’m talking about mobsters and the love they inspire in us all. Having recently gotten back into “The Sopranos” reruns courtesy of my library, I started thinking: What is it about these scumbags we find so darned fascinating? Is it the lifestyle, the attitude, the feeling of being allowed inside to see a secret society? How should I know? I don’t get paid to write these things!
However, in the fine dual traditions of American obsession with criminals and lists, I thought I’d compile a list of the top ten movie & TV gangsters of all time.
10. BIG PUSSY- For the name alone, this guy deserves to be on the list. It’s so much fun to say. He only ranks tenth because he’s a henchman but his tenure on “The Sopranos” revealed a character with surprising depth and an inherent likeability. Watching him betray his childhood friend is actually painful for the viewer.
9. SONNY STEELGRAVE- What a great name, huh? It makes no sense when considering he’s supposed to be a member of La Cosa Nostra, but the first story arc of the acclaimed “Wiseguy” series was more about archetypes than accuracy. And Ray Sharkey’s portrayal of a multi-faceted mobster on the rise is as memorable as his suicide scene when he realizes his best friend was a federal agent.
8. PAUL VITTI- The idea of a mobster seeing a psychiatrist for panic attacks was prime comedy subject mater before The Sopranos made it a serious plot point. Billy Crystal is unfairly disregarded when the “Analyze This/That” films are discussed because Deniro’s channeling of every gangster he ever portrayed into one bundle of hilarious, disturbing neurosis is a fitting swan song to that period of his career.
7. CAGNEY’S PUBLIC ENEMY CHARACTER- Define tragedy: An angry youngster with no way out of the life he chose headed for a fall. That might sound like a cliché but it wasn’t in the 1930’s. The idea of the tragic gangster was a new one in those days, meaning Cagney had nothing to draw from when he brilliantly portrayed his tortured Irish wiseguy.
6. RAY LUCA- In the days before episodic story arcs were all the rage, the Michael Mann produced Anthony Yerkovich create “Crime Story” told the ongoing tale of tough cop Michael Torello and up and coming gangster Ray Luca in stylish fashion. Luca was an Italian wiseguy who hooked up with the Jewish mob in the 1960’s to forge a potentially powerful empire stretching from Chicago to Las Vegas. Despite the fact that he was a worthless psychopath, Luca’s character was so cool you couldn’t help but care what happened to him.
5. EG ROBINSON (KEY LARGO)- The only Bogie film that rivals “Casablanca” in its greatness, Key Largo concerns a bunch of mismatched characters trapped in a hotel in Florida during hurricane season and the unfortunate arrival of banished gangster Johnny Rocco portrayed with brilliant relish by Edward G Robinson. It’s obvious his character is a sort of “what if Al Capone had survived” and he plays a man desperate to reclaim his kingdom with a dark, desperate intensity. Best. Performance. Ever.
4. FAT TONY- He advertises his services in churches. He once tried to convince a courtroom that Bart Simpson was the Don of Springfield. He helped Marge establish a pretzel wagon empire by muscling out other snack merchants. Every time he is seen at the bottomless pit, he and his boys are throwing a tightly wrapped “carpet” into it. Voiced by Joe Montegna, Fat Tony epitomizes every Mafia stereotype in a way that’s actually charming. It was only a matter of time before he was shown driving through the streets of Springfield with a cigar jutting from his mouth to the Sopranos theme song.
3. TONY SOPRANO- Just when we thought the Mafia was old hat, they pulled us back in! Creator David Chase found a way to breathe new life into a tired genre by introducing us to a conflicted mobster whose desire to provide a normal life or his family creates an avalanche of disasters. We get to see his dysfunctional childhood, his horrible mother and conniving sister and the daily pressures of the life he lives. I won’t say he’s likable but “compelling” is an accurate word choice.
2. MICHAEL CORLEONE- Talk about your Shakespearean tragedies! Mario Puzo’s book describes Al Pacino’s iconic heir apparent to the Corleone throne as vaguely effeminate and in no way interested in being part of the Family Business. But the untimely butchering of his hotheaded brother and attempted murder of his father drives Michael away from his wholesome life-path and on a direct heading for Mobsterville. Even by the underrated third film he still thinks he can get out, but yet another tragic death (this one his fault) destroys all hope for redemption and he dies a sad, withdrawn old man.
1. JABBA THE HUTT- I saved the best (and fattest) for last. Nobody can match Jabba’s greatness. He’s a giant worm and he still rules the galactic underworld with an iron…claw? This is a gangster who lives in a palace, for god's sake! He’s referred to as “exalted” and gets to watch chicks dance for his pleasure at night before feeding them to a mutated carnivorous beast. Shall I even bother to mention that Jedi mind tricks don’t work on him? Who hasn’t daydreamed about that very same life?
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
Nobody really knows the answer to that last question, but there are some interesting theories regarding it. I tend to favor the one that says it is primarily the result of instinct honed over time, but feedback is essential to the development of this skill. That’s where writers’ workshops and honest friends come in handy.
When I first tried my hand at serious writing in my teens, I naturally gravitated toward novels. That was what I read and that was what I thought was the pinnacle of fiction writing. However, a few college level creative writing courses forced me out of my comfort zone and into the realm of short story writing. Years later a science fiction writers workshop would do the same thing.
I discovered a previously untapped potential in the shorter forms, especially in the field of genre fiction where often the pay-off or hook is an important component of the tale being told. I found I truly enjoyed reading short fiction in most of its formats and genres and so I began writing my own.
Man, did it suck in the beginning! Imitative, derivative, and lackluster are the words that come to mind when I think back to those early days of short story writing. Possessing none of the progress I’d made in my novel writing attempts, it was a period of starting over from scratch for me. Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to catch up.
Still, there were some humiliations and harsh criticisms along the way. I mentioned one of them some months back where an entire roomful of aspiring writers took turns ridiculing one of my stories for its clichés only later to realize it had been a first draft. Some of them didn’t care, some of them did. That was when I realized it doesn’t pay to practice empathy in this field unless it is reciprocal.
Still, I leanred some harsh lessons that summer in Lawrence, Kansas, chief among them not to show anybody what I’ve written until I can no longer tell if it’s crap. Sadly, it was during this learning curve experience that I showed a couple stories to a friend of mine whose taste in literature I consider to be mostly very good. One of them was a novella about a private investigator who literally finds himself taking a case in hell. The other was a parody of cute, fuzzy alien stories.
He didn’t like either one of them.
In fact, he hated the fuzzy alien one with a passion unrivaled. Unfortunately, I had to hear about it from a mutual friend first. This friend advised me that the reader of my hopeful little satire expressed to him some measure of trepidation over how exactly to let him know he hated my story. I’m not exaggerating my word choices here. He hated it.
Naturally I approached him and told him how disappointed I was that he didn’t feel able to just come to me and tell me how he felt about the story. He apologized and proceeded to tell me what eh felt didn’t work. I got the distinct impression he didn’t know what I was parodying, but some of his points were valid. I thought the concept of furry little aliens who have conned almost every human on the planet into thinking they’re harmless except the crew that brought them to Earth was rather amusing, but his criticisms were so negative I put it away and never even attempted a rewrite.
Similarly, the private eye tale was one he felt was written well but contained one major cliché that ruined the story. I was aware of the cliché and included it as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the idea that this particular development would be inevitable in hell. It probably didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, so I re-thiought that one too but never did any kind of rewrite.
Yes, I was a tad discouraged but I also was in the midst of changing my approach to writing. The fuzzy alien story was from my earlier stage of experimentalism. My writing changed after that, improving markedly according to James Gunn, author of several science fiction stories and creator of the first college level curriculum on science fiction in the United States. Ironically, I later abandoned SF and moved toward more of a dark fantasy and magical realism approach to my work.
That was when everything took off for me. I honed my instincts with those stories, becoming disturbingly good at writing stories about murderous psychopaths who saw themselves as the heroes in their own melodramas. My mother’s psychological background has always served me well when delving into the inner working of the demented mind. Make of that what you will.
As the eyars have marched ever onward toward oblivion, I have developed a certain litmus test for bad storytelling. I’ve reached a point where my instincts usually know when to discard an idea while still in the conceptual stage, although a few pieces of drek filter through as early drafts to be discarded soon after.
Currently I’m working on a collection of short stories. I think most of them are pretty good. I’ve learned quite a bit over the years and it seems to be working when I sit down to breathe life into these tales that randomly come to mind. None of them so far have given me that “uh-oh” feeling that says I am toiling away at garbage. Of course, I often wait a while once the first draft is completed to go back and review what I did. I try to read with the eye of an objective reader, sometimes a painful experience. But it’s worth it when I am finished and don’t feel the urge to toss it into the fireplace.
How do writers know when they’ve written bad stories? I think we just hope for the best and abandon the work to the scrutiny of others~
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
2. I am listening to... The insipid, whiney sounds of customers with unrealistic expectations who somehow seem pleased with their experiences when they are finished talking to me.
3. I talk......But no one really listens.
4. I love......But no one really believes it.
5. My best friend......Showed himself to be quite the stand-up guy recently.
6. My first real kiss...Transported me to a land populated by leprechauns and talking bunny rabbits, where the light of the world was sparked by the smiles of the happy people and nowhere was their pain or suffering. Then I had my first sexual experience and everybody was disappointed.
7. Love is......A closing door. That's a line from a song I wrote some years ago. If you're wondering about the next line, it rhymes with door, refers to a woman who performs sex acts for money, and is preceded by the word "lying."
8. Marriage is......What people make of it which, from observation, is something truly annoying and cult-like, especially if you're a member of Degeneration-X and below.
9. Somewhere, someone is thinking....... "Chris Nadeau undertstands me. He really gets me. Some day I'm going to hide under his bed and cut off his skin so I can wear it and we can become one. But first, would you like fries with that?"
10. I'll always be grateful for......The little things that make life worth living. The old lady sliding on the ice whose feet fly upwards at an angle as she hits the ground, mostly unhurt. Roadkill and the fascinaing stains it leaves in my street during seasonal changes. Neo-cons and their insane ramblings that make mine sound so much more rational. Organized religion, because it breeds the sort of discontent I require for my anarchy movement. Oh, and movie theater popcorn!
11. The last time I really cried was because...... I was relieved that she wasn't still in bed with me in the morning. Ba-dump-dump! Honestly, I was drunk so I don't remember the exact reason: I think it had something to do with the fact that I couldn't feel my extremities and I was dangling from the back of a turnip truck on the interstate. But I won't bore you with the rest of a story to which everyone can relate.
12. My cell phone........ kicks ass! And I'm not just saying that because I work for the company that sells it, I'm also saying it 'cause I don't wanna lose my job!
13. When I wake up in the morning......My feet hurt.
14. Before I go to bed...... I like to read. Some day perhaps someone will teach me how.
15. Right now I am thinking about....another blogger.
16. Babies are...... demonic beings whose true purpose is to enslave the human race and then morph into the very slaves they're creating. DON'T STEAL MY IDEA!!! NORA!!!
17. I get on Myspace...... and shake my head in disgust.
18. Today I..... am alone with my thoughts; get the turnip truck ready.
19. Tomorrow I will be.... listening to the insipid, whiney sounds of customers with unrealistic expectations who somehow seem pleased with their experiences when they are finished talking to me
20. I really want to be.....at peace.
21. Someone that will most likely repost this is...... Hopefully Nora, my colleague and drinking buddy.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Due to my work schedule, I have Tuesdays off right now and so am able to bear witness to the horror that is daytime TV. Programming geared toward soccer moms, which seems to completely ignore retirees fills the TV screens from about 9:00a.m. until 5:00p.m. daily.
The other day I happened upon a soap opera and paid attention to some of the ads. What struck me most was their frequency. The same commercials must have run three times apiece in the time I watched, which comprised less than an hour overall. The content of those ads was, in my opinion, reprehensible and irresponsible.
In keeping with the modern American mentality of ignoring reality in favor of material gain, these ads glorified the idealized soccer mom with too much free time on her hands giddily shopping and indulging her every urge. Never mind that the barbarians are at the gates, these women are driving gas guzzling SUV’s while sporting sensible hairdos and grinning from ear to ear.
Frankly, it was disgusting. I realize the soap opera programming block is designed to appeal to the fantasy lives of mostly female audiences while presenting them with enough tragedy to feel good about themselves, but must the ads portray a world of obnoxious excess in a nation suffering an unsure economic future? Is there an argument to be made that, as former Executive-in-Chimp Dubya said, we just need to keep shoppin’ and everything will get better? No.
It should be obvious to anyone with a modicum of intelligence that nothing trickles down in hard times. The rich don’t spend and when they don’t spend, it falls to those of us in the middle class to pick up the tab. The poor sure as hell can’t do it, although Rush Limbaugh would love to tax them anyway, according to his “Tax the Poor” initiative.
Sadly, the middle class is often the forgotten stepchild of American society. As generally strong earners who can’t stop working, middle class people are encouraged to support a rather demented economy with ads that make people think they need non-essential goods. As if that isn’t enough, there is a strong undercurrent of unrealistic opportunity that had no small part in the current state of affairs.
But let’s forget about the pursuit of giant screen TV’s and get rich quick real estate scams for a moment. Let’s put aside the fact that advertising for SUV’s and min-vans was so successful it derailed the automotive industry as soon as the inevitable increase in gas prices took place. Let’s instead focus on the here and now.
The here is the aforementioned United States with the uncertain future, and the now is a situation where people have only begrudgingly accepted that sad fact. Instead of a “we’re in this together” approach to the problem, we get splintered, fragmented reactions ranging from panic to denial.
I waited until now to mention the fact that we are also at war. It doesn’t matter whether you think it is a just war or not. During World War II, people understood the need for sacrifice and commonality. There were conscientious objectors even then, although nowhere near as many as Iraq has created. We rationed back then. We had posters advising us to refrain from excessive spending and usage of materials and we did.
Since then, we’ve mutated into a consumer culture. Americans no longer value moderation and public service. It’s all about what we can get, how much the world owes us, and what we can hold onto when times are hard. And what of those who should know better? What are they doing?
Isn’t it obvious? They’re reaping the benefits of our stupidity and arrogance. They know us better than we know ourselves. They see the hollowness in our eyes and hear the lack of conviction in our words. They prey upon our desires and disregard our needs. Maybe there’s a conspiracy involving government and large corporations and maybe there isn’t. Either way, nothing can take place without our consent or inaction.
If nobody says anything, it didn’t really happen. If nobody complains, it is assumed we don’t have a problem with what’s happening. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t complain about the economy and then indulge our excesses.
Advertisers should be ashamed of themselves, but so should we~
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Not as easy as you might think!
1. Where is your cell phone? Desk
2. Your hair? Vanishing
3. Your mother? Missed
4. Your father? Tragedy
5.. Your favorite thing? Reading
6. Your dream last night? Nothing
7. Your favorite drink? Coffee
8. Your dream/goal? Bestseller
9. What Room are you in? Office
10. Your hobby? Demagoguery
11. Your fear? Mediocrity
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Nirvana
13. Where were you last night? Library
14. Something that you aren’t? Annoying
15. Breakfast? Rarely
16. Wish list item? Royalties
17. Where you grew up? Michigan
18. Last thing you ate? Diunner
19. What are you wearing? Sweater
20. Your TV? Antiquated
21. Your pets? Entertaining
22. Friends? Generous
23. Your life? Evolving
24. Your mood? Eh
25. Missing someone? Yep
26. Your car? Massive
27. Something you’re not wearing? Thong :(
28. Your favorite store? Borders
29. Your favorite color? Blue-Green
30. When is the last time you laughed? Earlier
31. Last time you cried? 2008
32. Who will resend this? jesus
33. One place that I go to over and over? Work
34. One person who emails me regularly: Minister Faust, 'cause he loves me so. Shit, I broke the one-word rule.
35. Favorite place to eat: Udipi
36. One place I would like to go right now? Japan
37. One person I think will respond: Irrelevant
38. One TV show I watch all the time: Lost
Pretty lame, I know. Blame the "recovering Baptist" from whom I stole this. Until my book is out, I don't really have much else to say~
Friday, January 9, 2009
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Pretend to enjoy:
MOST PECULIAR READING TASTE- Autobiographies of non-famous people. If someone can make him or herself interesting without the benefit of fame and publicity junkets prior to publication, that is a real writer. Two recommendations are “7 Tattoos” by Peter Trachtenberg & “Oh the Glory of it All” by Sean Wilsey.
MOST POLITICALLY INCORRECT NOVEL YOU HAVE READ-All of his novels are, but Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent novel “Snuff” is the all-time winner. (Describe plot)
TWO BOOKS YOU THREW DOWN IN DISGUST, HALF-FINISHED- Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons” was so predictable that I actually found myself saying, “OK, this is gonna happen next” and it did! After 100 pages, I simple couldn’t take it anymore. John Saul’s “Creature” started off as intriguing and became so ludicrous in its characterizations that I could no longer finish reading it, either…I was nineteen!
LEAST FAVORITE LITERARY GENRE- It’s easy to pick on the Romance field as it is the most formulaic and least creative of the literary genres. But it was never intended to be more than that, so I refuse to take unfair advantage. Instead, I choose the science fiction sub-genre known as “cyber-punk,” a once revolutionary movement that is now a sad echo that refuses to fade away. Even its godfather, William Gibson, has all but abandoned it.
BEST ONE-HIT WONDER” NOVEL-Richard Bowes’ “Minions of the Moon” is a masterpiece of mood, suspense and characterization. I suspect this might be a pseudonym for a more well known writer, but if not, it’s the most impressive one-hit wonder I’ve ever encountered.
WORST NOVEL RECOMMENDED BY SOMEONE YOU USUALLY RESPECT- My mom, the woman who taught me to love the written word, recommended Dean Koontz’s “The Bad Place.” Not a terrible novel at all, but once you discover it’s a direct rip-off of Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” complete with the witty private eye couple, it gets a very low rating indeed.
LOVED BY CRITICS HATED BY YOU- Like snowflakes, it’s impossible to reach out and grab all the things that fly in front of my eyes when I think of the much-lauded garbage the critics tend to love. Most of the books I read don’t feature the New York Times Bestseller tag on them. But one novel I absolutely hated came from a writer I absolutely adore. The award-winning “Something Wicked This Way Comes” did not appeal to me at all with its alienating writing style and agonizingly slow pace.
BOOK YOU THINK WOULD MAKE A GREAT FILM THAT WILL PROBABLY NEVER GET MADE- James Morrow’s “Towing Jehovah.” At on time my favorite novel, this tale of the death of God and how we dispose of his corpse is at turns funny, philosophical and suspenseful. Never happen.
ONE WRITER WHOSE PROSE REMINDS YOU OF THE WORK OF A THIRD GRADER- Anne Rice! Next?
STRANGEST IDEA FOR A NOVEL THAT SUCCEEDED ADMIRABLY- Bradley Denton’s “Buddy Holly is Alive & Well on Ganymede.” Any novel featuring killer cyborg dogs, aliens and a live TV broadcast from the surface of one of Jupiter’s moons with a clueless Buddy Holly could fall apart under its own eccentricities in the hands of a lesser writer.
There, suck on that for a while. Easy, easy! There's enough to go around!