Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It's been so long...

That Blogger has changed their layout. Wow.

Those of you who have been in contact with me during my blogging and flash fiction hiatus know that I've had a lot of changes in my life over the last 6 months. I got a new job that wants me to get my masters in Electrical Engineering, so writing has taken a back seat, and when that happened, blogging went right out the trunk and is now rolling around some ditch by the side of the road.

But I'm starting to get a handle on a number of things, so I might make some sort of an effort to stop by here once in a while.

With regards to writing, I have been putting in some words into my SF novel and really ratcheting it up to an average of about 1000 words a day as of late. So I'm really feeling good getting back into this.

Who knows, perhaps some more short stories or flash fiction is also going to be in order at some point. Might as well write a review or two as well because I've never stopped reading :)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jumping at Pickups. A dual Review

Wow. It's not often two novels (well one novella and one novel) can change somebodies opinion on an entire section of the publishing world, but that's just what “Jumping at Shadows” by Helen Howell and “WhitePickups” by Larry Kollar did for me with regards to the self-publishing world.
Self-published books had gotten such a bad reputation with me primarily because I had given them a try a while back. I looked for those that had gotten good reviews, perhaps had a decent sample page, heard about them via word of mouth, or were even self-published works from a best selling author who's series I had fallen in love with (but his self-pubbed stuff was crap). Very few of them were even halfway decent and I didn't bother finishing most they were so awful. The characters were 2D, the plot stupid, and the quality of the writing was horrendous. It was as if very few of the authors bothered to put them past an editor or at the very least beta readers.
So I was weary going into these two books by Helen and Larry. I really wanted them to be good and I wanted to be able to write an honest and positive review for them. And despite having read a lot of their flash fiction and knowing they were good writers, I did not have a lot of hope based on my previous track record. But oh was I wrong.

The first book I read was “Jumping at Shadows” by Helen Howell. It's a cute fantasy novella about a young girl named Belle and her friend Rosy who discover that an heirloom passed down in Belle's family has the power to allow them to teleport. But when they teleport to the strange world her ancestors are from, they find themselves in the middle of a power struggle of the highest order over the heirloom.
While this book is aimed at the YA or even MG market, and has the perfect voice for it, it came across as a solid and entertaining story for me, a guy who normally reads epic SF or literary fiction. And what it was that made it so was that it had a very unique and warm voice that made the story feel as though it was being told by a grandmother to her own granddaughters fifty years after the fact around a warm fire in a cabin by the lake. And there I was, sitting cross legged on the floor with my hands folded in my lap, silent, as the story progressed.
And even though many of the plot elements fit right in with YA and MG works, they also had a real sense of maturity much like many of the Disney movies nowadays are on the surface made for the kids, but with themes and complexities that give the adults watching their own personal level of enjoyment.
Yet what is even more amazing about it is how much detail and well scripted dialogue is peppered throughout the book, which is able to create a vivid picture of the story while not becoming overwhelming for a younger reader. Even now, three weeks after I finished reading the book, I can still picture many of the settings and characters which is in my opinion quite the accomplishment.
The only thing I think this book lacked however, was consistency with the point of view. There were some instances of head-hopping, but nothing too severe except for in two cases I remember where I was temporarily pulled out of the story. But that is getting nit-picky, especially considering this is something I see in many works supposedly looked over by professional editors. (Oh, and no typos that I caught either, which is a testament to the work in editing Helen has put in.)
Overall, I give “Jumping at Shadows” 4.5/5 stars. I highly recommend it, especially if you have a short two hour plane ride somewhere and want to read a good story cover to cover, or just to have something to read at night or really where ever.

The second book I read was “White Pickups” by Larry Kollar. In this post-apocalyptic drama, white pickup trucks start showing up around Atlanta one summer day, calling out telepathicly to people, inviting them to go for a drive, but they never come back. Within a couple days, only a small handful of humans have managed to resist the call of the trucks and find themselves in a world nearly devoid of human life. They struggle to survive, rebuild a community, and resist the urge to go for a ride themselves, as there is always a white pickup nearby, calling out to them.
This book is a prime example of how a good writer can take a silly, ridiculous idea, (hundreds of millions of mysterious white pickup trucks showing up one day to steal the souls of any human who enters them) into a fascinating read. This book has a superb cast of round characters with a wide variety of traits, both good and bad, that allowed me to latch onto them and empathize with all of their plight. It also showed a great understanding of traditional story structure, and how disrupting the flow of that traditional structure just a little in the hands of a true craftsman can create a plot that is both satisfying and genuinely surprising at the same time.
But aside from the mastery of characters and plot, what really made this book take off were the many small details about living in a post-apocalyptic world that gave the narrator an authentic and authoritative voice that I as a reader completely trusted. From the characters realizing they needed to put preservative in the gas to the stench a fridge left without power for weeks, these little things really worked. And the most amazing thing was that just about every thing that I ended up thinking would be a smart move for the community to do, they addressed shortly thereafter. I never had a moment where I yelled at them, telling them to do something completely obvious, which is something I almost always end up doing.
With the characters, Mr. Kollar also seems to have a keen understanding of human psychology, as there are many occasions when the survivors take a break as we all need to do at some point, no matter how dire our situation is, and relax. It really humanizes the characters this way, showing that they have their desires for things like entertainment, going so far as to allocate some of their generator power/gas to allow them to play video games once in a while or feeling so isolated when ones family has disappeared that sexual intimacy is one of the first things somebody will turn to in order to cope.
In summary, this book feels like it was the child of a bet the author made that he could turn any writing prompt into a brilliant story, and a bet he won. By the time I was finished, I was sold on the white pickup idea as it had become my world and I didn't bother questioning it. Everything else was so genuine, how could these phantom trucks not be real as well. I give this book a full 5/5 stars and feel this book should be heralded as the poster child for how self-publishing should be done.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What I've been up to

My blog has been errily quiet as of late, and for that I apologize. It's really amazing how participating in something like #fridayflash really gets you motivated to keep up with this blog thing, twitter, etc. But then again writing blog posts, doing twitter, and even posting flash stories here takes away precious writing/editing time for my novels and short stories which I have been working feverishly on.

Speaking of those stories, I have 2 short stories and a couple flash stories I have finished polishing up and will be submitting soon to some paying markets. They might be out there a while, but by the time I get to the bottom of my lists I hopefully will have a bunch more in the pipeline as my idea bank (literally a piggybank I put postits and index cards with ideas in) is full of stuff waiting to be written. So that's cool and I'm glad I've been able to really buckle down on those projects.

But I've also been working on my novels. My SF novel "Project Theodosius" (working title) is coming along nicely. Every once in a while I need to make a tweak to the outline, but for the most part it's good. I'm about 20k into it and the story is at the point where it is really writing itself. Even now that I'm getting into the middle sections, I'm not feeling any type of story sag as I climb the wordcount ladder towards the climax. In fact, I think there is plenty of action/intrigue to not only keep my at the edge of my seat when I'm writing, but also hopefully eventually the reader.

The mainstream novel I'm in the editing process with, "An Echo Remains" is going well. I've made the necessary macro adjustments I think I've needed to make so the story runs smoothly with a good, solid character arc. At first that was tough because it meant doing a complete overhaul on the first couple chapters, which I really didn't want to do. I guess I'm fine with line edits, but getting myself to delete an entire chapter or scene is tough and I never really want to sit down and do it. But saner opinions prevaled and I got those done with.

With those novels, I would like to have the edits done on Echo as well as the first draft of Theodosius done by the end of the summer, and looking at my schedule I should have enough time. (Even with my marathon training really ramping up) I think I will try to get a flash story on here once in a while, and a couple weeks ago I wrote one for that purpose, but I ended up liking it so much I wanted to save that one for submissions. So that's another thing I need to watch out for, is I don't want to get into the trap of never releasing any material here because I think it's all too good to be given away for free, and I don't want to just post the second-rate stories I have on here either. So hopefully I'll bite the bullet with one of these and post one.

Anyways that's what I've been up to. What about you?

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Cake Lady

My mother's birthday was this week, and as a lover of cake I wrote this whimsical piece for her and decided to share it all with you.

Glenda woke up on her birthday with a pleasant surprise on her nightstand: her husband had left her a small slice of raspberry cake with orange meringue topping. She gobbled up the pastry in a flash, almost missing the note he left on the plate.
“My dearest love, I hope you enjoyed your breakfast, just a hint of what’s to come later today for you. Make sure you’re home by five for your big surprise.”
Glenda, spurred forward by the sugar rush, bypassed her normal morning coffee, and as soon as she was ready, departed out into the town.
Her first stop was to the nail salon. If there were any day to pamper herself, today was it. The workers startled her as soon as she walked in with a happy birthday cheer. She smiled and thanked them, especially when she saw the piece of black forest cake they had waiting for her. This was quite unusual, but her lust for cake coupled with the scent of the dark chocolate reduced the treat to mere three small crumbs too small for even a mouse in a single minute.
After her nails, she went to visit her mother. Still living by herself and feisty as ever, Glenda’s mother wouldn’t let her leave until she had a piece of homemade carrot cake.
When she went to the library to return a book, the librarians were waiting for her with lemon cake topped with chocolate frosting. The same thing at City Hall, but this time marble with white frosting.
At department store, school, post office, and even the mechanic, she was greeted with a cheer and a slice of cake. By now her stomach was filling up and she looked down at her watch, it was four thirty. She still had to go to the pharmacy, but as much as she liked cake, she dreaded what inevitably waited for her there.
Her old friend from school was behind the counter, holding something behind her back. Glenda mentally repeated to herself her husband’s promise of a big surprise and that she needed to save room. She must to buckle down and no matter how—
Red velvet.
There it was, the one cake she could never resist. Glenda picked up her pace and sprinted the remaining feet to the cake. She tried to eat it slow, savoring each bite, but the rich flavor and creamy frosting implored her keep going.
But now she had done it. With her gut about to burst, she paid for her prescription and drove back home to her husband waiting for her in their kitchen. On the counter next to him was a bouquet of flowers in her favorite vase as well as a small chocolate cake. “Two of your favorites.” He said. “Surprise.”
Glenda stepped closer to the cake. She could barely think of eating, but she had to know. Her husband nodded and said, “Chocolate buttercream.”
She turned away, bracing herself on the kitchen table. “I’m so sorry.”
“What for?”
“As much as I want to. I can’t. I’m too full from…eating cake all day.”
He put his arm around her. “How much did you—”
“Everywhere I went there was cake. I couldn’t help myself. It all looked so good. It must have been, I don’t know, fifteen to twenty pieces.”
Her husband backed away from her and started laughing. “How many errands did you run today?”
“Fifteen to twenty. What’s so funny?”
“I didn’t think you’d be that busy on your birthday. I thought you might stop at a couple places. The pharmacy for sure, that’s why they got the red velet—”
“It was you?” She asked, turning back to her husband. “You gave them all of that cake?”
“All except your mother, yes.”
“How many cakes were out there for me today?”
“Thirty five.” He said with a smug grin. “And don’t worry about this one. I baked it fresh about an hour ago: It’ll keep a for a while.”
“I think I could have at least one little slice.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I was going to write about rejection letters...

I was going to write about rejection letters seeing that on Monday I received my first ever one. It felt like a rite of passage and to be honest it wasn't all that painful. In fact, it was exciting to feel like a real member of the writing community. An odd reaction from what I understood to be a painful thing for a newbie to see, but I owe it to all my stabby friends not holding back punches to both make me a better writer but to also realize that my work is not perfect and will never be. Understanding that I am not god's gift to the writing world is one of the things that made this a positive experience.

And to further work my way through the disappointment, I even sent my story (An expansion of "The Townhome" that I turned into a short story) to 4 other places.

But the neat thing was that on Tuesday, the very day after my first rejection, "The Townhome" was accepted by Larks Literary Magazine. It's not exactly The New Yorker, but I'm excited none the less. Still, I'm left wondering if I should have set my sights higher and started with the Glimmer Trains, New Yorker, etc. and worked my way down to the lesser known markets.

However I was quite limited in where I could send that particular story because it was in my mind a "reprint" in that it was the same story I had previously published here, just expanded and refined. (part of the reason I've stopped posting my flash stories regularly) So when you take out the markets that do not accept reprints, I had lost those top tier publications.

What is probably unfortunate in my painless submission process is that I will be even more restrictive now in when I decide to post a story up here on my blog. I want to be able to go after those top tier markets and work my way down.

I had thought about only putting stories up on my blog that I did not want to submit anywhere, but in that case I would be watering down the writing I put up here. So I've decided that I will just have to publish the occasional story here and recognizable that it probably won't be able to be sent anywhere major and bite that bullet, because you all are part of the reason I've grown as much as I have.

I will try to do more of the reviews that I had gotten into writing as well as perhaps even getting back to selecting a #FridayFlash of the month as I'm still reading the great work the community is putting out each week. When when I'm feeling teacherly, I'll spout out my writing advice columns. But on the whole, there will be a significant decrease in the fiction that I put out here on my blog. Nevertheless, thank you all again.

So I guess this would have to be a celebration post encompassing a couple pretty exciting milestones in my writing career. Still, there are some good learning moments for me in this whole process and I look forward to putting it all to good use in the future.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Watercolors from Another Life

Still pretty busy with the new condo, but still got a quick little one out. Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

The watercolor with its large, bulky frame hanging on my living room wall was my prized possession. Not that it was particularly good and not that I paid a lot for it, but it inspired almost every major decision I had ever made. It had the ability to draw me in and and seemed to extol wisdom from the very canvas.
Before I proposed to my wife, I spent hours on the couch in a nervous fit. It was the painting that got me to settle down and ask her. When I needed consolation when I lost my job, I found it in the dreary colors of that old European town. Even when I began drafting the plans for my dream home, how the painting would be lit by the sun was a major consideration.
Nobody else understood my obsession with it. My wife, parents, and children were baffled. But it was harmless and they accepted it as one of my quirks.
I used to dream that I was the artist in another life. It was the only explanation I could think of for my connection to it. At least this is how I explained it to my family and friends.
But when, for my birthday, my son decided to have my painting re-framed into something less absurd, I nearly had a heart attack. For the first time, the signature in the bottom corner became visible.
I wanted to feel revulsion, but instead I felt closer to it. I hated myself and my claims that I was the artist in another life, but the connection was still there. I ran my fingers over the bold black signature in the corner that read, ‘A Hitler.’

Friday, March 30, 2012


Posted just on the edge of Friday/Saturday, but it's still good. Closed on a house today and almost forgot about this. Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

Mark ripped the cable from Thom’s guitar. The amplifier crackled with static followed by a droning hum.
“What was that for?”
“You’re off beat again.”
Thom took a seat on the old, beat up couch, sinking deep into the cushions. “I can’t take this anymore. I don’t get what you want. I was playing to the clicks...I don’t even know where to begin.”
“It wasn't much, but I heard it. The only reason I'm bringing this up is because we should strive towards perfection.” said Mark. “Not silver level perfection, not gold level perfection, but--”
“Platinum. I get it. You’ve told us a hundred times.”
“Then why do you look so confused?”
“How come you don’t get that we’re humans? You know, real life musicians. We’re not robots. If you need perfection every single time to the 256th of a beat, perhaps you should consider a career in techno.”
“That’s not what I expect and you know it. I want us to strive towards that level of excellence, but”
Thom lifted his guitar over his head, laying it on his lap. He ran his swollen fingers gently across the strings, pressing them down just enough to touch the fretboard, but the guitar remained silent.
“You could have fooled me with that whole 'platinum' perfection thing and the way you’ve treated all of us. And if this isn’t going to change at all, let me know because there are plenty of things I’d rather spend my time on.”
“Are’re not thinking of leaving, are you?” asked Mark.
“The other guys and me, all of us, we’ve talked about it for a while. We’re at our breaking point. This was supposed to be fun. What happened to that?”
“I told you. The fun will come. But we have to make it first.”
“How’s that going to happen when the entire band dreads coming to rehearsal, studio sessions, and even shows?” Thom said. "The reason we sound so flat half the time is because we’re so afraid to make a mistake that we can’t put any life into the songs. This isn’t healthy.”
“Then maybe you should leave. If playing the songs the way they were written is too hard for you, perhaps you’re in the wrong band. I need people who can play.”
Thom pressed his lips up against his teeth and sucked in, making the sound of a balloon when air is slowly let out. He stood up, picked up his guitar, and packed it away. “I can play. You know I can play. But it won’t be with you anymore. It’s not worth it.”
“Give me back my key.” Mark held out his hand like a teacher demanding a student give up a toy they’ve been hiding.
“I’m gonna get the truck tomorrow so I can get my amp out of here. Then you can have your fucking key.” Thom picked up his guitar case and left the room, flipping Mark the bird as he turned the corner.

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