Monday, August 11, 2014
Welcome to Blog Tour 2014! Here's how it works: one author writes a blog post asking a few of his or her friends to join in, and then you go down a rabbit hole of blog posts from some of the most fascinating authors in the business. Oh, and me, of course.

I got tapped on the virtual shoulder by the one and only Kent Holloway, who wrote all about his Legend of the Winterking project, which I have watched grow and mutate over the last few months. It's a pretty exciting premise and should make for a grand trilogy. Check out his blog post here and read his stuff already. To Kent: thanks for dragging me into this (and please read only a smattering of sarcasm into that!)

Now, without further ado, here are my responses the the questions four!

1) What am I working on?

Too many things for my own good!

First, as always, I am toiling away at the third book in the Misty Johnson series, "The Reflecting Pool of Fire." I banged out the first two stories of the supernatural detective, cursed with eternal life, who patrols the streets of Washington, DC looking for answers to mysterious questions, pretty fast. The third book has taken me down a few detours, but I am working on it, slowly but surely. In the meantime, I have compiled a few short stories about everyone's favorite redheaded detective, which may see the light of day soon.

In addition, I am working on a novel in the Knightshade series, based on the book The Djinn by Kent Holloway himself. It's a loosely connected series of tales about the legacy of a secret society that operates around the world, fighting injustice. My tale is set during the Spanish Inquisition, and it's been a lot of fun to research.

Also, I am working on some short stories for various collections. I have a horror-themed Christmas short story coming out this season, plus a few other stories for Pro Se Press, including one story I've been planning for years about a moon base and some mysterious -- possibly supernatural -- interlopers.

All in all, it's a fun assortment of work. It certainly keeps me busy (and entertained!)

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It's written by me?

Seriously, though, my hope is that my work has a little bit more humor than the usual pulp or supernatural tale. When I first decided to write the Misty Johnson series, I knew I wanted to create a lighter entry in the urban fantasy genre. Too many of the tales I'd read were drenched with sex and violence, and I wanted to tell a tale that was a bit lighter. Sure, my protagonist is a tortured soul who's lived an extended (and miserable) lifespan, but she is someone who creates humor wherever she goes. She is stubborn and obstinate (as I imagine I would be if I'd lived to be 900  years old (heck, as I am now at age XX)), and out of touch with modern times, and a lot of humor comes from that. I also wanted to put a little absurdism in there and have a few characters that weren't tortured, like the happy-go-lucky Dru Chance, Misty's sidekick and comedic foil.

I've tried to keep that humor in my other writings; even the horror tales I've written have a bit of laughter in there, when appropriate.

3) Why do I write what I do?


Because it's there?

(now you can see how my first instinct is to go RIGHT to sarcasm. Perhaps that should have been answer #2?)

There are different theories about what writers should write: Write what you know is one, of course, but what do I know? Working in a hardware store in a small CT town? Being awesome? Well, those might make good books someday, but I go by the adage "write books that you want to read." While I love the classics, my heart really belongs to genre fiction. I was weaned on science fiction, fantasy and adventure tales, and my tastes tend to gravitate toward them. So, when I develop ideas, I tend to think in fanciful terms. While I have written some realistic fiction (and I have a YA book that has been percolating for about 10 years), I tend to stick with sci fi and fantasy.

4) How does my writing process work?

This is another tough one.

The biggest part of the process for me is making time. I have a lot of ideas (all of which I jot down in notebooks, and all of which I hope to get to someday. Some of my best works have stemmed from ideas that were years -- or decades -- old), but not a lot of time. So for me, I squeeze in the writing whenever I can. I keep my notebook with me at all times (I much prefer writing first drafts by hand when possible), but I try to sit down in front of the computer and work on either drafting, revising or research every day. Sometimes I do so in front of the Game Show Network, sometimes in silence. Often I'll work from a rough outline, but there have been times when I've written detailed scene-by-scene skeletons, and times when I write by the seat of my pants. I try to use as many skills as I can, like a musician who can improvise or sight read or play a well rehearsed piece.

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And now it's my turn to spread the love. I've tapped the following authors on the shoulder (or at least the joint where their tentacles attach to their thoraces):

First up is the fantastic Sean Sweeney, author of the Jaclyn Johnson series, including Federal Agent, Rogue Agent and more. He's ultra-prolific and a fun guy. Check out his website at: http://www.seansweeneyauthor.com

Next we have the talented Rick Nichols, author of the John Logan thrillers as the Eastlander Saga. Learn more about Rick and his works here: http://ricknicholsonline.com 

Finally, we have a man of many talents, the one and only Jim Beard comic book writer, pop culture historian and pulp author. Check out his work at: http://sgtjanus.blogspot.com
Friday, August 8, 2014

Let’s see here. On this blog, I think I agree with you morethan I did on your last one. But, since I’m a bit of an extremist when it comes to Al, I figured, I add my thoughts as well.
My Own Eyes – I didn’t like it. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever heard; or the worst thing from Al. But, it just wasn’t too funny. It wasn’t very catchy. It just wasn’t the kind of thing I’m into.  
Lame Claim to Fame – This was a better song; still not my favorite of his. What I did like is that I hear this conversation all the time from people. I knew a guy that knows some famous person. So what? I was once in the same building as Alanis Morisette. So? Did you bang her? No? Then I don’t really care! And I loved that he makes fun of this kind of thing. I also applaud him for the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. The song would not be complete without that! Also, it was great that he brought up the YouTube video thing. Back in the day, there was some feeling of accomplishment to write “first” in the comment section in a video that gets millions of views. I was able to manage that once!
What bugs the crap out of me though is that I really don’t appreciate him saying that it’s a “claim to fame.” Fame is obtained by people having a public outlet to them, not them knowing people. This whole song is backwards. Anyway, if you wanted a lame claim to fame, I have the absolute lowest of the low claims. In the movie 8 seconds, a cowboy dies (sorry I didn’t say “spoilers.” But, that movie came out like 20 years ago, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything) in my hometown of Cheyenne. The studio came out to that rodeo one day and asked for us to count to 8 while their sound guys recorded the noise. So, I was a SMALL part of a soundtrack during a short scene in a movie that nobody saw. That’s about as lame as it gets. THAT is what Al should’ve been singing about.  
First world problems – This song reminded me a lot of his other song, “Why Does This Always Happen to Me.” It was a fun, but not great, sounding music with a lot of funny lines. What bothers me most was the video. I think he should’ve used meme-like scenes in there. There are whole, commonly shared memes called “First World Problems” which gives these same styles of jokes. He could’ve easily had a woman that looks like that girl put her hand on her head in frustration. Though I liked it, I think this is another one where he missed a lot of good opportunities. 
Sports Song – I really don’t want to like this song. I’m not a big fan of marching band music. And I don’t really like high school sports of any type. That said, I like making fun of sports fans. As a nerd, my favorite video on the subject can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIUQw1w5OqM. So, though I don’t really like the music, it does give me a smile.  
Mission Statements – It seems like every corporate rally I’ve ever been to plays this same song. Lol. I really can’t say too much more than that, other than I need to bring this song up at our next team meeting. I think anyone in the corporate environment would get a kick out of it.  
Jackson Park Express – I liked your thoughts on this song, Mr. Steeves. That helped me appreciate it more. Yes, I’ve had what seems like full relationships in my head with people who don’t even know I exist. So, yes, that helps me to tolerate it more. To compliment it, I did like several lines like, “She looked at me in a way that asked: "Did you have a nose job or something?” I often think what kind of look that was, exactly. Many of these non-ending songs are funny at first, but lose their energy after 8 minutes or so. However, I did really love “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.”
Thursday, August 7, 2014
I reviewed the direct parodies off of the new Weird Al album already (and provided a chance for super fan Lloyd Garcia to rebut). Now I want to take a look at the original songs (turns out most of these are "style parodies," which I did not realize until recently. Having very little knowledge of music hurts me here, it seems).

6) My Own Eyes -- I have to say, some of my least favorite Weird Al songs fit into the "Bizarre for their own sake" gross-out genre. He's had some good ones in the past, but this one just strikes me as a chance for him to string together odd images (a couple of which are actually funny).

5) Lame Claim to Fame -- This one has a good concept, but it gets old a bit quickly. Though there are a few clever bits (Steve Carrell at the Taco Bell, for example), it's kind of one-note. Also, it seems like the first person narrator is so proud of these brushes with fate that he would NOT think his claims are lame...

4) First Word Problems -- Another one that seems a bit one note and could be repetitive, but I feel like the specificity of his examples really work. Plus, like Tacky, I really want to hate these people, so I am on board with mocking them.

3) Sports Song -- It's a fun style to parody, what with the fight song rahs and the marching band remixes. Plus, it sounds a LOT like how some sports novices I know actually speak. This one makes me smile.

2) Mission Statement -- Part of me wants to put this at number one. It vies for my favorite track on the whole album. I love so much about it. For one thing, it's a great style parody of Crosby Stills Nash and/or Young (I love me some Suite: Judy Blue Eyes). Juxtaposing their style with song lyrics that are entirely corporate NewSpeak is brilliant. I know a lot of people who really talk like this, and it's so ludicrous to hear it in a concentrated form. Primo stuff.

1) Jackson Park Express -- Normally, I don't love Al's overly long disc-enders (Albuquerque is not a favorite of mine, nor is Genius in France), but I love this one for some reason. Perhaps it's the poignant love story at the center. Perhaps it's the belief that men actually do construct these fantasies and interpretations of gestures in their own minds when they see someone who is purdy. Maybe it's the great attention to detail or my role as a commuter. I dunno what it is, but this song makes me happy.

What do you think, fellow Weird Al fans?
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
I already ranted about how I didn't like the title of this flick and about some of the plot elements I didn't love, so now it's time to talk about what I DID enjoy.

And there's a lot.

I have repeatedly stated on this blog that I am drawn to characters. If a work has interesting, relatable, well drawn characters, I can forgive a lot of failings, and they will keep pulling me back again and again. As great as the action sequences were in The Avengers, it was the humor and the arcs for the major characters that made the movie for me.

And, of course, what I loved most about Guardians of the Galaxy was the presentation of the characters.

Sure, I am predisposed to enjoy a flick that has "Escape" in the soundtrack, and, while some action sequences were hard to watch, others were great (like the escape from Kyln). But I loved the characters and was pleased that most of the best humor came from them and their distinct personalities.

Again, I'll try to divorce my enjoyment of the flick from my preconceptions of the characters in the comics (just having Drax and Gamora with no Adam Warlock would be enough to irk me. Also -- where was Pip the Troll?!)

Speaking of Drax, he might have been my favorite. While his monologues about his losses were a bit forced, I loved that he had pathos and motivation. I also enjoyed the running gag about his inability to  understand figurative language (though it was conveniently ignored a couple times, I let that slide).

Gamora may have been the weak link, simply because she was the "straight man." The Jerry Seinfelds and Michael Bluths of the world rarely get the best moments, but she was passable.

I wasn't sure I'd like Will Tippin as Rocket, but I found myself charmed. The line about him kicking grass may be my favorite movie line in ages, and I laughed out loud in the theater.

Groot, well, everyone loves the childlike character, and he fit the bill. The character animation was fantastic.

And Star-Lord was a hoot as well. His final solution to beating Ronan was exactly what I would do, and he pulled it off well. That was his character in a nutshell.

The movie had strong themes of teamwork, redemption and building a family. Nothing groundbreaking, but a lot of fun. In fact, I think that is a good way to describe the entire flick. Everything about it was a bit familiar, but the ingredients were mixed in such a specific way, with such enthusiasm, that I could not help but enjoy it, and that is high praise indeed.

Now, as for Lucy... well, that is a blog for tomorrow, eh?
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Let me start off by saying, despite my devotion to the classic iteration of the GotG team, I really, truly enjoyed the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I loved the characters and the humor, and, overall, I'd give it a solid B+, counting it in the top four or five Marvel flicks. Tomorrow, I'll write about what I liked (there is a lot), but for now, let me start with what did not work for me (in no particular order).

Big Set Pieces: I realize this is a big budget, sci-fi action flick, and it needs big set pieces every so often. I loved the prison break, for example, but a couple other sections did not work for me. Specifically, the big "pod race" scene was a bust. I understand that the story needed to separate the team to set up future dynamics, but I did not like how it was done. Quill has to explain to us the capabilities of the ships (he does so at least twice), and we are "treated" to a nonsensical chase sequence that frankly bored me (and gave me a headache). Also, during the climax, I really liked the bits that focused on our heroes, but I had no use for the giant atmospheric battle between the ships and the other ships with the energy web and whatnot. It seemed superfluous and thrown in there just to make everything "grander."

The Overused MacGuffin: Look, I am a big fan of the Infinity Gems (or stones, if you must), and I like the idea of the buildup to something greater. But I think the "chase for the glowing energy source that makes the bad guy all powerful" trope has worn a bit thin. Part of the problem, I think, is that the three stones (The Cosmic Cube (Tesseract), the Aether and the... purple one), while ostensibly representing the Space, Reality and Power gems, all kind of act the same. They glow. They give the bad guy power. One is blue, one red, one purple. Other than that, well, there's not much else. Look, it's not that different from the Ark of the Covenant or the Maltese Falcon (as Quill points out), but I would like to see this dynamic retired for a bit in Marvel flicks.

Too Many Bad Guys: Actually, there are too many good guys too, I think. The Xandarians (since we cannot use Skrulls or Shi'ar) are presented as the ones we root for, but they are just kind of stand ins. We only know they look like humans, that they want peace (though Nova Prime is not a great negotiator), and they have a prison planet where they let things slide. We get very little about the Kree; we only know Ronan wants to destroy Xandar because he is... mad? Look, I love Lee Pace (Ned the Pie-man!), but he is wasted here, as the Ninth Doctor was in Thor 2. I have no idea what he wants, and it just muddles matters to have Thanos in the mix because... we want to set him up for a future sequel, I guess? I felt the same about Nebula (who is nothing without Doctor Druid to seduce!). She seemed shoehorned in there so we will recognize her when she pops up later. She had little motivation and little to do, which was a waste. It felt like there were two or three extra layers of plot tacked onto the bad guys, yet they still weren't meaty enough to warrant my interest.

Still, I did love the movie, and I'll explain why tomorrow!

(thanks to Jane Breheney for most of the really good points in this rant)
Monday, August 4, 2014
Confession: I have been known to yell "get off my lawn" (at least metaphorically. I don't actually have a lawn). I am the kind of person who almost boycotted Captain America: The Winter Soldier because I could not stand the comic book story arc that inspired part of the movie. I have been having similar feelings about Guardians of the Galaxy. By now, I have already seen the flick (my review is forthcoming), but I almost did not. Thankfully, my sainted girlfriend helped break me of my stubbornness, but, lest I be forced to turn in my crotchety crown, let me explain why I was reluctant to see a flick that looked funny and fun (with a great soundtrack to boot).

The short answer is, these ain't the Guardians of the Galaxy. Sure, there was a Guardians of the Galaxy comic that featured Star-Lord, Groot, Rocket, Drax and Gamora, and it was written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, whose work on Legion Lost I adored. But that comic came out a half-dozen years ago and was really a repurposing of a trademark that had existed at Marvel since the late 1960s. If they had just called this team the "Protectors of Space" or something, I would not have had an issue. But, since I am a fan of the classic Guardians, I kinda did.

The original tale is bereft of humor (it's like the reimagined BSG -- bleak), so it would not have been the right property to adapt into the light, fun-filled movie that Marvel wanted, but it's a great story nonetheless. Each member of the Guardians team is the last of his or her kind. Vance Astro was a 20th century astronaut who was put in suspended animation for his trip to the stars... only to arrive 1000 years later to find that humans had developed faster than light travel and beaten him there.

He joins up with a native, Yondu (I am sad they used the Yondu name (and the signature Yaka arrow) in the movie. I love Michael Rooker, but my Yondu has a bigger fin and is more spiritual than roguish) and they team up with survivors of an alien massacre. The lizard like Brotherhood of the Badoon have taken over Earth and its solar colonies and slaughtered billions, including the genetically modified people of Jupiter, Pluto and (we later learn) Mercury. So we get the super strong Jovian, Charlie-27, and the cool as ice (and hot as fire) Plutonian Martinex. We also get the mysterious "One-who-knows" Starhawk (and, along with him, the lovely Aleta) and the Mercurial Mercurian Nikki.

The Guardians fight the Badoon in their own time, and cross over with the Defenders (who lend a hand) and the Avengers, who need all the help they can get against a time traveling cosmic baddie (the Guardians all get honorary Avengers memberships for their trouble). The team had a great run in the 1970s, and I really, truly enjoyed their 90s comic series (which is often forgotten amidst the weaker 90s Marvel fair). They are one of my favorite teams of all time... which is why I pretend this movie has some other title. That way, I can hold out hope that Charlie, Martinex and the gang will finally make it on the screen.

I can dream, can't I?

Coming up -- my review of the actual, y'know, movie and junk,
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Guest reviewer Lloyd Garcia responds to my thoughts on the parodies on the latest Weird Al album:

Inactive: As you mentioned that you don’t hear a lot of music these days, I also have a problem hearing newer music. Even more than that, I almost completely miss out on music videos. The original song, Radioactive has a music video that appears to be Fight Club, but with muppets! That said, I’m a bit frustrated Al did not make a video for this song. There were so many opportunities he had to make the funniest video of his career with that set up. But, he failed to release a video for that track. As a want-to-be Couch Potato (another good Al tune), I identify to this song. Maybe not so much in my actions, but definitely in thought. And I enjoy the beat. So, I liked the song. Then again, I celebrate his discography, so that’s not really saying anything noteworthy.

Handy: As a former hardware store employee, I think my biggest surprise from Rich was that it was not his favorite track. It’s not mine, so I get it. I just figured that would be up there on his list. He enjoys Hardware Store on many more levels than I do. And I feel that this song is superior to that one. I also recall having conversations with people at Ace, Home Depot and Lowes over this song. I feel it’s partially my job to help Al out by letting others know that he has a new album out. That’s why I joke when I say that I helped him get that #1 spot. I did after all, if only in a very small way.

Tacky: What a tacky song this is. Of course, that’s why we like it. So, another surprise that I had while reading Rich’s blog post was how he hasn’t heard this song in entirety, just “snippets….here and there.” I can NOT get away from that song. It’s everywhere I go. I think I hear it every day, and I don’t own the track. It’s at the gym, in the mall, over PA systems at running events. Even the Overly Attached Girlfriend made fun of it being overplayed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i_G-XEOGO0). If I ever cared for that song, it was a long time ago. So, having this parody make me Happy! (see what I did there?) I enjoy it. It gets my foot taping in a way the original does not. As far as the video, I would’ve liked seeing bigger stars in it. I get that Rich liked the choices in it. But, it didn’t compare to Seth Green and William Shatner, the way White and Nerdy did when Al released his earlier album. As far as cosplaying goes, I’d join you at a convention wearing another outfit from this video. Cosplay seems to be more fun if a buddy or a group is doing it with you.
Word Crimes: I liked it. And there was no way I could hear this song without immediately thinking of Rich Steeves, Mat Bacon and Grammarly. I actually followed up to make sure they all shared it at some point. True story! Anyway, I’m not much of a grammar nazi. But, I have enough of them in my life to know what to look for. I think he did a good job. I get that some may have wanted more content, but the song doesn’t last hours the way Mat may want to see a proper lesson contain. So, only a small portion could be inserted. As such, I’m glad he touched on grammar, spelling, numbers, homophones and other things instead of just hit one area. I also loved the Prince dig! For those who are not aware, there’s been a rivalry going on between those two stars for years. I remember him first talking about it on the Martha Quinn (such a hottie) show back on MTV 20 years ago or so. But, since the original tune (Blurred Lines) is on my running playlist, I may have to add this one as well!  
Foil: I’m not the biggest fan of this song. And it’s mainly because it just kind of ends sporadically. There should’ve been something there to release the song to. The first time I heard it was on my cell phone while in my car. I only listened to it, since I was driving. And I thought that I lost cell coverage. So, I re-loaded the song only to realize that it was a problem with the engineering, not the coverage. I pulled up the original song (that I was previously unfamiliar with). And to my sadness, I found that it did have another verse and a whole better sound to the ending. My theory was that Al could only think of two things tin foil is good for, so just ended the song abruptly after the 2nd verse. Don’t get me wrong, those are the two biggest uses of tin foil (at least for comedic purposes), but there are other things to use foil for. He could’ve had a verse of the numerous ways to use foil and make jokes around those if he can’t just think of a whole verse worth of jokes for rabbit ears. Anyway, as creative as he is, I felt cheated somehow. Call me over critical if you want. But, don’t forget, I’m also one of his biggest fans, if not THE biggest.

Great thoughts here. I'll tackle the original tunes on the album mañana!

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