Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Times They are A-Changin'

I really try hard to keep up with what's current in fiction and film, but haven't done such a great job of keeping up with music. I'm kind of trapped in the 70s. Looking over what I normally play while I'm writing, I see a lot of Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Steely Dan and the like. I do listen to some stuff that's more current, but those acts sometimes seem like throwbacks to the 70s: White Stripes, Wolfmother, Winterpills, Bright Eyes, etc. I need to branch out.

So I got this iTunes gift card for my birthday (Thanks Jan & Pete!) and don't have any idea what to buy with it. I see the stuff on Amazon's Top 100 and usually know enough to know I'm not interested in most of what's there. So I did a Google search on "Best Albums You've Never Heard Of" and found some pretty cool stuff. One site even contained headings like "If you like these bands, you'll like ________________." The problem was I'd never even heard of any of "these bands." And most of the stuff that I thought looked cool, iTunes had never heard of either. Amazon had heard of them, but didn't have any clips to sample. (It seems most of those "Best Albums You've Never Heard Of" sites are based in the UK and are hard to find/expensive.)

But I did go to Amazon's Editors' Picks for 2008 and found some of the above albums that sounded interesting.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hard Times

These are tough times. I just read an article stating that the magazine Realms of Fantasy will be closing after its April 2009 issue. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction will be going to bi-monthly status starting with the April/May 2009 issue. There will also be no Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for 2009.

I also heard a rumor (which I hope isn't true) that The Washington Post is considering doing away with its Sunday supplement Book World, one of my favorite ways to pass the time.

All of this is, obviously, bad news for both readers and writers. I truly believe that good writing will survive, in both the short and long forms. But these trends are discouraging.

If you read, keep reading. Tell people about the good stories and novels you've read. Spread the word. As much as you're able, support good writing in all formats.

If you write, keep writing. Good writing will eventually find a home. Hang in there.

Gaiman wins Newbery

Gaiman wins the Newbery Award for The Graveyard Book. Read about it here. (Then read the book!)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Status Report

In the first four weeks of 2009 I've managed to send out as many stories as I did in all of 2008. (Yeah, 2008 was not a great year for writing, although I did get one story published, "Your Picture With Satan" in Ballista.)

I'm working on the third draft of my YA novel, currently revising Chapter 21 of 25. It probably needs another draft, but right now I think it needs to be read by somebody besides me. I've got a few people that have offered to read it (thereby giving me a break from it), so we'll see what they say before going any further. I'd love to just start shopping it around, but it probably has too many things that need to be addressed. But I really need a break from it, if only to work on a few short stories that have been brewing for awhile.

I also need a haircut. Badly. That's where I'm off to now.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Here They Are....

The 81st Annual Academy Award nominees were announced today. You can read the full list here, but for now, here are the major categories:


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire


Richard Jenkins for The Visitor
Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn for Milk
Brad Pitt for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler


Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie for Changeling
Melissa Leo for Frozen River
Meryl Streep for Doubt
Kate Winslet for The Reader


Josh Brolin for Milk
Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt
Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road


Amy Adams for Doubt
Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis for Doubt
Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler


Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry for The Reader
David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant for Milk

Although I plan to see all the films nominated for Best Picture, as yet I've only seen Slumdog Millionaire, so I can't intelligently comment on the nominations, but I will anyway. : )

I haven't heard from anyone who really thought Benjamin Button was great, but several who thought that Doubt was stellar. Of course, it's not nominated. I've heard very mixed reviews of The Reader.

I don't see how in this or any other universe that Mickey Rourke and Heath Ledger can fail to win, but stranger things have happened. Even though I haven't seen it, I hope Meryl Streep wins for Doubt. It's been far too long since she's won, but then again, she gets few roles that are worthy of her.

Okay, let's go see some movies! Let the speculations begin!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Truth About Celia (2003) - Kevin Brockmeier

If you asked me to give you just one word on what I thought of this novel it might be "sad" or "beautiful" or maybe just "Wow." Or maybe I'd just point to the book, then point to you, then point to the book again. Sometimes word descriptions just don't work. Maybe I'd just hand you the book.

The Truth About Celia is a book of interconnected short stories told from various points of view. Celia is a seven-year-old girl playing in her backyard one early spring morning while her father Christopher shows their historic house to a couple of visitors. Janet, Celia's mother, has gone to rehearse with a community orchestra. And at some point during the day, Celia simply disappears without a trace.

Christopher, a writer, tries to deal with Celia's disappearance by creating stories that might explain what happened to his daughter. Sometimes they're stories of pure fantasy as in "The Green Children," a story of two children who are transported to a parallel world where their green color fades with time. Another, "Appearance, Disappearance, Levitation, Transformation, and the Divided Woman," is a tale from the point of view of Stephanie, a divorcee whose ten-year-old son Micah wants desperately to become a magician. Sometimes the connecting elements of these stories are clear, sometimes nebulous as Brockmeier bends the rules of narration to wonderful effect.

Other stories are told from Christopher's point of view, Janet's, and even Celia's. Maybe the most effective story, "The Telephone," is about Christopher receiving calls from Celia over the toy phone still in her room four years after her disappearance. Yet Christopher is torn between keeping the news of the calls to himself or sharing them with Janet while their marriage begins to slowly disintegrate.

Sad. Beautiful. Wow. I've only read seven books in 2009, but this is by far both my favorite and the one I'll think about most. Get your hands on it and read it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Birthday Loot

I got so many books as birthday presents, I called my niece Sarah to come over and help me unwrap a few. (She's a big reader also.) It was a great birthday, even though the Ravens didn't win.

All in all, I got six books for my birthday, which will come in handy sooner than expected, since Cindy will have to spend about the next 28 hours in D.C. for the inauguration. Have already started the Schaeffer biography and am salivating over the others.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Another One Already?

It's hard to believe another birthday has come around again so soon. Harder still to realize that it's my 47th. (Is it? That can't be right! Gotta be something about the math, which I was never too good at anyway.)

But I've been blessed in so many ways. I've got a wonderful wife, great friends, a great church and a job I absolutely love. I'm in better physical shape at 47 than I was at 27. As far as writing goes, I've already sent out as many stories in the last few weeks as I did in all of 2008 and am almost finished revising my YA novel.

47 isn't bad. I still think something's going on with the math, though.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Octavia E. Butler

The other day I was sent an email invitation from Nnedi Okorafor (author of one of my favorite reads from 2007, The Shadow Speaker) for a program called "The Work and Life of Octavia E. Butler." The program is being held at The National Black Writers Conference Symposium on March 28, 2009 at Medgar Evers College, CUNY in Brooklyn, NY. The program features readings & panels on the world renowned author and her contribution to literary writing. Participating writers include L.A. Banks, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, and Nnedi Okorafor. The cost for this event is $10 general admission; $5, Senior, Student, Faculty. Visit the Web site for more information.

I really wish I could attend this. I met Octavia Butler about a year before I went to Clarion in 2004. She was one of the first writers to ever show a genuine concern in this young (okay, somewhat young), inexperienced (clueless) writer. I'll never forget her wisdom and kindness and will certainly never forget the outstanding work she produced during her short life. I hope we see more programs like this, celebrating the life and work of Butler, a writer that far too many people still haven't read.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death (2009) - Charlie Huston

Ever wonder what happens at those messy crime scenes when the police are finished and everything’s been wrapped up? Ever wonder what kind of person comes in to remove all that nasty residue, scrub the blood off the walls, scoop up all the dislodged pieces of--- Well, I’ll just leave it at that.

But you do wonder, don’t you?

Just ask Webster (Web) Fillmore Goodhue, former Los Angeles elementary school teacher, current slacker. A slacker, that is, until he stumbles upon some good, not-so-honest, not-so-clean work with a small but incredibly efficient company called Clean Team. Initially Web isn’t so jazzed about the job. After all, he’s still suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (From being an elementary school teacher? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not.), still has lousy relationships with just about everyone in his life, but discovers that he’s really good at cleaning up---uh, stuff. Then, unfortunately, some really nasty stuff starts happening: turf wars against a rival “cleaning” company, hijackings, smugglings, beatings, murders... For a former elementary school teacher, Web is in way over his head. Or is he?

You’ll probably enjoy The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death if you like:

Hard-boiled fiction
Dark humor
Fast-paced, dialogue-driven fiction
Pretty gory descriptions

But in the midst of all of the above, in between all the f-bombs and beatings, you might just find a story of genuine humanity. Recommended.

(The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death was an advance reader copy provided by Amazon's Vine program.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

One Goal for 2009

One of my goals (I prefer that term to "resolutions.") for 2009 is to study more literature. For me that involves two strategies: taking my time reading specific works and reflecting more on them, including reading more literary criticism.

With that in mind, I bought Vladimir Nobokov's Lectures on Literature a few months back. In the book, Nabokov discusses seven works in detail:

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
Bleak House - Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
Swann's Way - Marcel Proust
"The Metamorphosis" - Franz Kafka
Ulysses - James Joyce

My specific goal is to read each of the above works this year, then read and reflect on what Nabokov has to say about them. (That doesn't mean I'll stop with Nabokov, but he's a good starting point.) I just finished Mansfield Park a few days ago and am in the middle of Nabokov's essay on the novel which not only is enlightening, but also makes me want to read the novel again.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Last Evenings on Earth - Roberto Bolano

You've probably heard a lot of buzz about Chilean writer Roberto Bolano (1953-2003). Much of his writing has been translated into English in the past few years, but the works you've probably heard about the most are the novels The Savage Detectives and the massive 2666, Bolano's final novel.

I'd heard so many glowing reviews about 2666 that I knew I wanted to read it, but at 900 pages I thought I'd need at least an introduction to Bolano's work before tackling three pounds worth of book. I was delighted to see that our library system carries a copy of Bolano's collection Last Evenings on Earth (translated in 2006).

It's probably important to know that Bolano was born in Chile, but later lived in Mexico, Paris and Spain. It's probably also important to know something about Chilean history and politics (which I do not), but not entirely necessary. All of the fourteen stories in this collection are narrated by men, many of them by a character named "B," certainly a stand-in for the author. In all his incarnations, "B" is a character in exile, sometimes explained, sometimes not. He is nomadic, searching for something (or someone), usually in the world of writers and poets.

Many of these narrators latch onto minor, obscure writers and poets, searching for something either unattainable or so unremarkable that no one else seems very interested in their pursuit. Yet the narrators find a strange sort of consolation and solace in these writers. Maybe it has something to do with being a stranger in a foreign country, maybe it has something to do with political leanings and the yearning to discover a better way of life. The only things certain are Bolano's unpredictability and talent.

Each story carries elements of mystery and sadness. In "Gómez Palacio," a young writer is hired to teach a poetry workshop in a rundown Mexican town, which turns out to be a very depressing experience until he takes a drive through the Mexican desert with the overweight lady who runs the workshop. The workshop director plays the narrator a tape of a woman singing rancheras and bursts into tears. Moments later, she takes the narrator to a spot in the desert where UFOs may or may not converge from time to time (although this is certainly not sf). You can't predict this stuff, but the impact of it all is stunning.

The collection's longest story, "Anne Moore's Life," appears to be a rambling travelogue of a woman who travels from country to country and lover to lover over the span of thirty years. The narrator describes what appears to be random scenes from a free-wheeling, free-spirited life that drifts in and out of relationships with no ultimate purpose, but the distant narrator is a keen observer, able to leave the reader with a strange, yet complete sketch of a woman in search of fulfillment that's never going to happen.

Bolano is a fascinating writer. I wish he were still alive. He finished the manuscript for 2666 literally on his deathbed in 2003. His final wish was to have the five-sectioned novel published in five volumes with one volume released every year. Apparently the publishers ignored his wishes. You can read the complete novel in one hardcover edition (Thank you, Heather!) or in three paperback slipcased volumes. I can't wait to tackle it and get lost in what I know will be a fascinating experience.

Friday, January 02, 2009


Okay, here it is - my list of every book (excluding graphic novels and picture books) I read or listened to in 2008:

Generation Loss (2007) – Elizabeth Hand * * * * ½
The Kragen (1969/2007) – Jack Vance * * * *
Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers (NF 2004) – Chap Clark * * * * *
The Age of Shakespeare (NF 2003) – Frank Kermode * * * *
A History of Ancient Greece (Modern Scholar, NF 2007) – Eric H. Cline * * * *
A Pack of Lies (YA 1988) – Geraldine McCaughrean * * * * *
Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft (NF 2006) – Jane Yolen * * * *
Wolves Eat Dogs (2004) – Martin Cruz Smith * * * *
iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It (NF 2006) – Steve Wozniak * * *

20th Century Ghosts (2005) – Joe Hill * * * *
The Shadow Year (2008) – Jeffrey Ford * * * *
Like You'd Understand, Anyway: Stories (2007) – Jim Shepard * * * * *
In the Night Room (2004) – Peter Straub * * * *
So Yesterday (YA 2004) – Scott Westerfeld * * * *
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007) – Michael Chabon * * * * *
Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (2007) – Ellen
Datlow, ed. * * * * ½
Duma Key (2008) – Stephen King * * *

Baseball: The History of America’s Favorite Game (NF 2006) - George Vecsey * * * *
Watching Baseball Smarter (NF 2007) – Zack Hample * * * * ½
How Angel Peterson Got His Name (J NF 2003) – Gary Paulsen * * * * *
The Audacity of Hope (NF 2006) – Barack Obama * * * *
The Shadow Speaker (YA 2007) – Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu * * * * ½
You: Staying Young (NF 2007) – Michael F. Roisen and Mehmet C. Oz * * * *
The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (J-Fic 2005) – Joseph Delaney * * * * ½
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village (J-Fic 2007) – Laura Amy Schlitz/Robert Byrd * * * * ½
The Search for Joseph Tully (1974) – William H. Hallahan * * * * ½
Charm City (1999) – Laura Lippman * * * ½
Into the Wild (NF 1995) – Jon Krakauer * * * *
The Black Cauldron (J-Fic 1965) – Lloyd Alexander * * * ½
Kirby: King of Comics (NF 2008) – Mark Evanier * * * *
Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (NF 2008) – Mark Harris * * * * *

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (NF 2007) – Tim Weiner * * * * ½
What Jesus Demands from the World (NF 2006) – John Piper * * * * *
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets (NF 2008) –Sudhir Venkatesh * * * 1/2
The Dangerous Act of Worship (NF 2007) – Mark Labberton * * * * ½
A Clockwork Orange (1962) – Anthony Burgess * * * * ½
The Black Ice (1993) – Michael Connelly * * * *
Mister Pip (2006) – Lloyd Jones * * * ½
No Country for Old Men (2005) – Cormac McCarthy * * * * * (2nd X)
Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library (NF 2007) – Don Bochert * * * * ½
Like The Stars: Leading Many to Righteousness (NF 2004) – Glenn Parkinson * * * * *
Ella Minnow Pea (2001) – Mark Dunn * * * * ½

The Bush Tragedy (NF 2008) – Jacob Weisberg * * * *
The Last Lecture (NF 2008) – Randy Pausch * * * *
Sunstroke and Other Stories (2007) – Tessa Hadley * * * * ½
The Talisman (1984) – Stephen King and Peter Straub * * * * (2nd X)
This is What I Did: (YA 2007) – Ann Dee Ellis * * * * ½
Unaccustomed Earth (2008) – Jhumpa Lahiri * * *
Bird Lake Moon (J-Fic 2008) – Kevin Henkes * * *
Burger Wuss (YA 1999) – M.T. Anderson * * * * *
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (NF 2003) – Michael Lewis * * * * ½
Sunrise over Fallujah (YA 2008) – Walter Dean Myers * * *

Kit's Wilderness (YA 1999) – David Almond * * * * *
Brittle Innings (1994) – Michael Bishop * * * * ½
Tamar (YA 2007) - Mal Peet * * * * *
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) - Philip K. Dick * * * * *
Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth (NF 2008) - R. Albert Mohler Jr. * * * *
Willful Creatures: Stories (2005) - Aimee Bender * * * *
Escape from the Deep: A Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew (NF 2008) - Alex Kershaw * * * * *
Skin Hunger (YA 2007) - Kathleen Duey? * * * *
Islam at the Crossroads: Understanding Its Beliefs, History, and Conflicts (NF 2002) - Paul Marshall, Roberta Green and Lela Gilbert * * * *

Darkside (YA 2007) - Tom Becker * * *
Angels Flight (1999) - Michael Connelly * * * *
Uglies (YA 2005) - Scott Westerfeld * * * * *
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (NF 1985) - Neil Postman * * * * *
Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth about the American Voter (NF 2008) - Rick Shenkman * * * *
The Last Apprentice: Wrath of the Bloodeye (J-Fic 2008) - Joseph Delaney * * *
Eternity and Other Stories (2005) - Lucius Shepard * * * * *
Salt River (2007) - James Sallis * * * *
Five Minds for the Future (NF 2007) - Howard Gardner * * * 1/2
Longitudes & Attitudes: Exploring the World after September 11 (NF 2002) - Thomas L. Friedman * * * *

Our Lady of Pain (2008) - Elena Forbes * * *
Running Blind (2000) - Lee Child * 1/2
Brave New World (1932) - Aldous Huxley * * * *
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow (NF YA 2005) - Susan Campbell Bartoletti * * * * 1/2
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008) - David Wroblewski * * * *
Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy (NF 2008) - Steve Monsma
* * * * 1/2
Out Stealing Horses (2007) - Per Petterson * * * *
Eighth Grade Bites: The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Book 1 (YA 2007) - Heather Brewer * * * *
The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (NF 2008) - Timothy Keller * * * * *

Too Many Women (1947) - Rex Stout * * * *
Notes from Underground (1864) - Fyodor Dostoevsky * * * * *
Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons and Other Pop Culture Icons (NF 2002) - David Dark
* * * * *
The Outsiders (YA 1967) - S.E. Hinton * * * *
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) - John le Carre * * * *
Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations (NF YA 2008) - Alex & Brett Harris * * * * 1/2
The Scarlet Letter (1850) - Nathaniel Hawthorne * * * * *
The New York Trilogy (1985, 1986) - Paul Auster * * * * *
Coronado: Stories (2006) - Dennis Lehane * * *
A Welcome Grave (2007) - Michael Koryta * * * * 1/2

City of Ember (J-Fic 2003) - Jeanne DuPrau * * * *
Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner (NF 2005) - Dean Karnazes * * * 1/2
The Gargoyle (2008) - Andrew Davidson * * * 1/2
Painted Devils: Strange Stories (1979) - Robert Aickman * * * *
Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His First Case (J-Fic 2007) - Shane Peacock * * * *
Midnight on Mourn Street (2008) - Christopher Conlon * * * 1/2
Consolation of Philosophy (NF 524) - Boethius * * * * 1/2
Islam: The Religion and the People (NF 2008) - Bernard Lewis, Buntzie Ellis Churchill * * * *
Starting Friction (Poetry 2008) - Tenea D. Johnson * * * *
The Iliad - Homer * * * * 1/2
The Post-American World (NF 2008) - Fareed Zakaria * * * *
The Snowman’s Children (2002) - Glen Hirshberg * * * * *

Thirteen Reasons Why (YA 2007) - Jay Asher * * * *
The Shack (2008) - William P. Young *
Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Callling (NF 2008) - Andy Crouch * * * * *
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko (NF 2008) - Blake Bell * * * * *
Share Your Master’s Happiness (NF 2005) - Glenn Parkinson * * * * *
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (NF 2008) - Michael Pollan * * * * 1/2
The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (NF 2008) - Jane Mayer * * * * 1/2
Living Dead Girl (YA 2008) - Elizabeth Scott * * * *
The Knife of Never Letting Go (YA 2008) - Patrick Ness * * * *
Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) - Kurt Vonnegut * * * * *

Howard Who?: Stories (1986/2006) - Howard Waldrop * * * *
The Killer Inside Me (1952) - Jim Thompson * * * * 1/2
The Graveyard Book (J-Fic 2008) - Neil Gaiman * * * * *
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves (YA 2008) - M.T. Anderson * * * * *
The Brass Verdict (2008) - Michael Connelly * * * 1/2
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005/2008) - Stieg Larsson * * * * *
Understanding Movies: The Art and History of Film (2008 Modern Scholar) - Raphael Shargel * * *
Rear Window and Other Stories (1984) - Cornell Woolrich * * * *

Thursday, January 01, 2009

December Books Read

Sorry the pictures are a mess, but I'm pressed for time. Cindy and I are running in a New Years 5K in a little while, so we've got to get geared up. (Literally. The high today is 37.) So here we go...


Howard Who?: Stories (1986/2006) - Howard Waldrop

The Killer Inside Me (1952) - Jim Thompson

The Graveyard Book (J-Fic 2008) - Neil Gaiman

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves (YA 2008) - M.T. Anderson

The Brass Verdict (2008) - Michael Connelly

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005/2008) - Stieg Larsson

Understanding Movies: The Art and History of Film (2008 Modern Scholar) - Raphael Shargel (not pictured)

Rear Window and Other Stories (1984) - Cornell Woolrich