Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Western Reviews

Been reading a lot of westerns lately. Here are some capsule reviews.

Outlaw Ranger, by James Reasoner:
G. W. Braddock is a man of principles, a Texas Ranger striving to live up to the legacy of his father and to his own beliefs. He's made his home with the Rangers, but when political enemies go after the troop and force cuts in manpower, Braddock finds himself let go and adrift. He may not wear the Ranger badge legally anymore, but morally he's still a ranger and there's plenty of work to do along the frontier. Very fine story with a lot of action and some contemplative moments. Braddock struggles not only against outlaws and murderers, but against the memory of a father who had a complicated story of his own. I've never been let down yet by a James Reasoner story

 Day of the Dollar, by Ty Johnston:
This is a western screenplay. Very much of a spaghetti western type of setting and plot. It was fast moving, with more description than you typically see in screenplays. I liked that. Fun characters and a fun setting. Made me feel like I was watching a lost Man with No Name western.

One Against a Gun Horde, by Richard Prosch:
This is a collection of short western tales from Richard Prosch. The collection as a whole is very strong. My favorite was the last piece, "Police Escort." These stories are also rather unique in the western field by not being shoot-em-ups. The stories hinge primarily on character, with a healthy dose of humor.

Seven out of Hell (Edge #8), by George G. Gilman:
Another Edge book with a lot of flashbacks to incidents in the Civil War. I tend to like these. Not much of an ending on the main story. More a series of anecdotes and I guess set up for the next in the series. Still, not bad reading.

Last Chance Canyon, by James Reasoner:
What an excellent story. I loved this one. It combined my love of westerns with horror and I found it a compelling read. Highly recommended!

By the Gun, by Richard Matheson:
A collection of six longish short western stories from Richard Matheson. He proves adept at this genre, as he was with other genres. There's a bit of sameness in several of the tales, which keeps it from earning 5 stars from me. I might suggest reading one, then giving yourself a break before reading another. Good stories, though.

Doc Holliday, by Matt Braun
This is the first Matt Braun book I've read but I already ordered two more. I liked it a lot. Of course, I've always been rather interested in the character of Doc Holliday. Although I don't know the specific history, I'm pretty sure Braun took a lot of liberties with Holliday's life. That's OK. I didn't read it as a biography. The character was well drawn and there was quite a few interesting developments. I did think the book was probably a little longer than it needed to be and sections of it were pretty similar to other sections. Yet, it certainly kept me reading. It actually ends before Deadwood and the shoot out at the OK corral. I thought that would mean a sequel but apparently there is none.

King Colt, by Luke Short:
Pretty good. I didn't find it a real page turner but it kept me interested throughout. The basic plot is that a good guy has to turn outlaw temporarily to prove who the real criminal is.
Redemption Hunters, by James Reasoner:
This is the second in the "Redemption" series by James Reasoner. We return to the town of Redemption, Kansas, where a former Texas cowboy named Bill Harvey has become Sheriff. This time Harvey faces off against outlaws and a group of Pawnee who have jumped the reservation. The town is caught in the middle. Good solid storytelling.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

What I’ve Been Working On

I haven’t talked much about writing here lately, but I have been doing some. For fiction, I’ve had some problems finishing things. I’ve started close to a dozen stories, a western featuring a hero with a burned face called “The Scarred One,” another story about my heroic fantasy character Krieg, called “Where All the Souls are Hollow,” an urban fantasy piece, a sort of schlock horror piece called “HogZ,” and the list goes on.

I still have a number of pieces in various stages of completion from last year, three western tales featuring a character named Lane Gabriel, a YA fantasy tale featuring fox kits called “Farhaven,” and a prequel of sorts to “Under the Ember Star.” I like all of them but haven’t touched any of them in months now.

The Krieg piece will be finished but it’ll probably be a couple more weeks. I’ve had a very busy time at school with the research committee that I chair. The rest of the pieces? I don’t know. I’ll see how I feel when the Krieg story is done.

However, I did make very good progress this summer on another project, which is completed. Quite a few folks seemed to enjoy my humorous memoir, “Days of Beer,” and I wanted to do a print version of it. However, it just wasn’t long enough so I figured I would add some more memoir stuff about growing up in the south. Once I got started, a whole lot of stuff started coming back to me and I ended up writing another forty + thousand words of material about wacky adventures I’ve had. The vast majority of this had no relationship to beer drinking, although I did add a few items to the original Days of Beer material.

I decided to call the collection “Adventures of an Arkansawyer,” and I’m now going through the proofing process on it. It will include the Days of Beer stuff but add that extra forty thousand words. Initially it will appear in print form only, but I will do an ebook version of it down the line.

The reason for starting out in print is because of what happened with Days of Beer as an ebook only publication. I had hoped the book would attract more attention around my home town of Charleston, Arkansas but it really didn’t. A few people did read and enjoy it and let me know, but for the most part it went nowhere. I know a lot of folks in that area aren’t yet into reading electronic materials so I want to see if the print book does better there. Anyway, I’ll announce further information about this work as it becomes available. 


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two Poems

I wrote the following poem a few weeks ago now, but lest anyone be concerned, it does not reflect my current feelings. It was me on my commute harking back to a much earlier time in my life. I imagine most people go through phases like this. They just don’t write about them.


I see a pinprick of sun,
red on clouds to the east.
All else is gray.
My empty heart.

I am a wave passing through.
Leaving a moment’s ripple,
that soon dies away.
No trail behind me where I went.
No path ahead where I go.

The world is a hollow place
and I have left no mark.


Even when I’m feeling good I don’t tend to write upbeat poetry. I guess I’m just a moody SOB. But in an effort to be more positive, I have constructed the following ditty. I do hope you enjoy.


Saw a little bird hop hopping all around
Eating the seed I’d spread on the ground

He hopped to the left and hopped to the right
He hopped all day; it was quite a sight

You could see his hopping was all for fun
As he bopped around in the glorious sun

The day passed sweetly and evening fell
Then came cat, without his bell


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sleep Paralysis Event

Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon typically associated with dream sleep. Normally, one is paralyzed during dream sleep to keep you from acting out your dreams. It's highly adaptive given that responding to dream imagery as if it were real could be fatal. The paralysis is supposed to be perfectly coordinated with the dreams. When one wakes up from a dream, the paralysis should end at the same time.

In sleep paralysis, the paralysis persists after the dream has ended. This usually lasts no more than 30 seconds to a minute, although sometimes it can last considerably longer and be extremely frightening to those who experience it. I've had sleep paralysis attacks but never any that lasted more than ten to fifteen seconds. Until last night.

Sleep paralysis generally takes two forms. In the first, and more common form, the individual awakens completely and the eyes open, but the body remains paralyzed from the neck down. The person has no residual dreaming experiences but is wide awake. In the second form of the phenomenon, the person wakes up and becomes aware of their paralysis, but there remain some dream elements involved with the experience. In such cases the eyes often remain closed.

I had the second kind of experience last night. I woke up from a dream and knew that I was awake. But when I went to move I found I could not. I immediately recognized it as a sleep paralysis event so I didn't panic. At first I just tried to "force" myself to move. Then a new twist entered my experience. I seemed to hurl myself into a completely black space. It felt infinite and totally empty. It was definitely discomforting.

I've learned in the past that straining to move seldom works, so I relaxed my body, which has generally worked for me before. Unfortunately, it didn't this time. And by now this paralysis event had continued well past the longest one I'd ever had before. I resumed straining, trying to force my legs to press outward and my arms to lift. It 'felt' as if I were turning around and around in the black space but I could tell intellectually that I wasn't actually moving. I felt a little snick of fear then because this was going on much longer than ever before, and the totally black space felt very unpleasant. I stopped straining to move again and just started saying over and over to myself: "It'll pass. It'll pass."

A moment later it did and I sat up in bed, breathing rather rapidly. I soon returned to sleep and had no further issues, but it still feels a bit weird to me this morning. A bit unsettling, I should say. But grist for the mill.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

25 Song Personal History

I picked up this meme over at Broken Bullhorn. It's supposed to be a snapshot of your personal history with music, I think. I just did it quick, trying to remember songs at various points in my life that were important to me.

1. Crimson and Clover – Tommy James and the Shondelles
2. Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers – Z. Z. Top
3. Last Child -- Aerosmith
4.  Head East – Never Been Any Reason
5.  Roundabout – Yes
6. White Room – Cream
7. Slow Ride – Foghat
8. Lazy -- Deep Purple
9. Bad Company – Bad Company
10. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zepplin
11. Mississippi Queen -- Mountain
12. Carry on my Wayward Son – Kansas
13. The Black Widow – Alice Cooper
14. Snowblind – Black Sabbath
15. Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones
16. All along the watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
17. Ace of Spades – Motorhead
18. Shout at the Devil – Motley Crue
19. Leper Messiah – Metallica
20. Peace Sells – Megadeth
21. Celtic Frost – Procreation of the Wicked
22. Deaf Forever – Motorhead
23. Bummer – Monster Magnet
24. Down with the Sickness – Disturbed
15. Funeral Bell -- Black Label society

Friday, September 05, 2014

Spawn of Dyscrasia

Spawn of Dyscrasia, by S.E. Lindberg, IGNIS Publishing LLC, Dyscrasia Fiction ™  235 pages. Front cover by Ken Kelly.

Well, I’m impressed. This is an entertaining fantasy novel that—I would argue—rises to the level of art. I judge that in a couple of ways. First, the actual prose here is simply lovely. It has the kind of poetry and descriptiveness to it that I constantly seek for but seldom find. Note: by lovely I don’t mean that it is sweet and bucolic. Quite the reverse. There are plenty of gore-rich scenes, enough to do a horror novel proud. But the language is so vivid and rich that you can just revel in it. At least, I did.

Second, the thing that really raises this book to the level of art is the fact that the author creates an almost entirely alien world, with many surrealistic elements, and yet never lets the imaginative veil of the story slip. There’s never a moment when you see through the strangeness of the created world to catch a glimpse of the mundane world behind it. This is the equivalent of an actor maintaining a character they are playing even outside the world of a particular film. But, a book typically takes a lot longer to write than an actor would spend living inside a character for a movie. Maintaining the illusion in a novel is hard enough even when the story is much more realistic than the fantasy world Lindberg has created here. I can imagine that doing so took a tremendous amount of focus and attention during the actual writing process. That in itself suggests an artist at work.

The world itself is endlessly fascinating and—in my experience—unique. Although there are beings in the world that resemble insects, and reptiles, and birds, none of them is quite what they seem. You can’t simple file one of the creatures under the label “ant,” or “dragon,” for example, and then feel you’ve captured its essence. They may resemble such beings, but they are not such beings. They are something different, although completely consistent within themselves throughout the story.

Although I enjoyed the book immensely, there is a caveat for the reader that I also want to mention. I would suggest that this book is not one that readers can “toss off casually.” In other words, it demands concentration and focus.  Because the author never makes a slip in world building, it means that if you try to read it with half a mind you’ll probably miss something important. I can pick up the typical thriller or western, for example, skip a page here and there, or let it lay for a week and then pick it up again, without any problem. I quickly found that I couldn’t do this with Spawn of Dyscrasia. I needed to immerse myself in the work in order to truly appreciate it.

All in all, I rate this book very highly. I read it in paperback form and am glad I did because I really like this cover as well and will be happy to see it on my shelves. (The cover is by Ken Kelly, who will be no stranger to readers of fantasy.) There is also a Kindle version of the book, though. The paperback is available from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and will run you a little less than $14.00 bucks at either site. The Kindle version is $4.99. There is currently no Nook version.

This is actually the second book of Dyscrasia fiction, by the way. The first is called Lords of Dyscrasia. I’ve not read that one and didn’t feel like I needed to in order to understand what was happening here. A third book is planned and it looks like it will be more closely linked to Spawn than Spawn was to Lords. I’ll be starting Lords of Dyscrasia soon, and will be looking forward to the new book.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Review of Metallica: This Monster Lives

Metallica: This Monster Lives, the inside story of Some Kind of Monster, the documentary movie. Written by Joe Berlinger (the filmmaker) and Greg Milner.

I gave this three and a half stars. This is about the making of the Metallica documentary called Some Kind of Monster. The primary filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, wrote the book, with help from someone named Greg Milner. I’d never heard of either of them but then I never pay much attention to moviemakers. I've seen the movie, though, and thought it was pretty good. This gives a lot more detail and gives information that couldn't be fitted into a movie.  Here's what I liked best, 1) the stuff about Metallica and the extra details that the movie didn't show, 2) the reasons why some material that was filmed didn't make it into the movie, 3) the way in which the material was often presented out of chronological order in order to show the "essence" of the story rather than an absolute straight ahead telling, and 4) the reactions of Metallica to the movie.

Other than the fact that I don’t really buy the “essence” comment, I liked all this material. Showing material out of chronological order is manipulating the material to tell a story in a certain way and to make certain points arrived at by the filmmakers. I understand why it’s done, for dramatic effect. Although Berlinger seems to feel strongly about the “essence” of the story concept, he admits that this is a selection process, and since they filmed thousands of hours and had to cut it down to movie length you can imagine that making such choices was pretty tough.

What I didn't care as much for: a lot of information given by Joe Berlinger about his previous documentaries and how much he grew as a person while making this one. I'm in no way, shape, or form a movie buff, or even interested in the whole field of film. This material might prove much more interesting to someone who is. It was well written and flowed with the other material for the most part. I just didn’t really care. My sole interest was in the band.

The one film-related thing I did find interesting was that Berlinger is the guy who handled the filming of Blair Witch 2, which was critically lambasted but which was actually far superior to the original Blair Witch movie. That movie was a completely faked documentary, or mockumentary. In other words, Blair Witch 1 was one of the silliest moments in film history. Berlinger talked about how he didn’t like the concept of the mockumentary and I absolutely agree with him and this upped my respect for him considerably. He also talked about how the failure of Blair Witch 2 triggered a long period of depression for him and made him think his career was over. I could sympathize with him here for sure.

All in all, I liked the book quite a lot. It was perhaps a little long, and I might have liked more selected pieces of dialogue from the band, but it was worth my time.