Friday, January 01, 2021

What I Did during the Lockdown

I don’t need to tell you about 2020 in general. We lived through it. Except for those of us who didn’t. And there were far too many who didn’t. Personally, I started the year excited about some writing projects I had going. I also started my 34th year teaching, just as I’d started 33 years before. It had become routine—until March 10, a Tuesday, which was my last normal day. We had face to face classes on Wednesday the 11th but already knew we were going fully online as a University on Monday. I’d never taught an online course; most of our students had never taken one. Panic ensued on every front, including mine. I had about three days to master Zoom and get a ton of notes up on Brightspace, our web-based backup for our classes. I don’t know how I accomplished it. I didn’t sleep much.

Without a doubt, this was the hardest teaching year of my life, including my very first year when I had to teach three brand new classes I’d never taught before. And I was also a lot older to boot. One of the worst parts of it all was missing out on the personal interactions with students, both in class and in my advising capacity. I didn’t realize how important those interactions were to me. Somehow, I made it through, and I know I’m very lucky to have a job that 1) continued, 2) paid me a decent wage, and 3) allowed me considerable flexibility in how I did my work.

As for the lockdown, not being able to go to restaurants, or to movies, or to festivals, or out to visit folks, well, for the most part it was a piece of cake. Those of you who thrive on social activities may not want to hear that, but I’m intensely introverted and it just didn’t bother me. Sure, I missed going out to eat on occasion, and I didn’t like wearing a mask to do groceries or to get take-out, but—for me—these were minor frustrations. I missed, much more, not being able to hang out with friends, to hit the bar for a beer, or have a meal out with my son and his family. Overall, though, the lockdown was not much of a problem for me and gave me more time to fiddle around with my books, which is always a great pleasure.

As for writing, 2020 would have to rank as very good for me, at least in my top three years ever. I had two novels published, both under pseudonyms for Wolfpack Publishing. And I wrote three complete novels, as well as various short stories. I completed over 230,000 words of fiction for publication, which bettered my previous best production by about 50,000 words. One of the three novels I wrote has already been published, “Vengeance of the Black Rose,” and the other two are scheduled for publication in 2021. I won’t talk more about those until they’re hatched.

As of the start of 2021, I’m beginning a new novel today, which is under contract. And other contracts are looming so if I can keep up the writing it should be another good year. I hope most sincerely that we can get past the Covid Pandemic and return to a more normal world. I want to be back in the classroom without a mask on, able to get up close to speak to students, able to see clearly their facial expressions, and their smiles. I want to get back to hanging out more with my son and seeing my grandson more. I’m looking forward to an easier time shopping for groceries and visiting doctors and eating out, and going to bookstores. And I’m hoping that all of you will have a better year, too, and will see recovery from the tribulations of 2020. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Princess Bride, By William Goldman

 

30th anniversary edition, 414 pages: Harcourt, INC



It took me a long time to watch the movie, The Princess Bride. I was put off by the title, which doesn’t sound like something most youngish men would be attracted to. When I finally watched it with my wife, I loved it. I’m also not a big market for humor but the humor of the movie was subtle and struck just the proper cord with me (other than the Billy Crystal sequence, which I’m not a fan of).

In 2020, again because of my wife, I read a book by Cary Elwes called “As You Wish,” about the making of the movie. He emphasized the respect that director Carl Reiner had for the original book and how almost all of the dialogue that I’d found funny in the movie came directly from the book. So, I ordered the book myself, the 30th anniversary edition, which contains a section of a potential sequel that was never written called “Buttercup’s Baby.” Here is my report.

First and foremost, I liked it. Indeed, all the best dialogue and scenes from the movie appeared in the book first. The one scene in the movie that was most heavily altered was the Billy Crystal/ Miracle Max scene, and that is the only one I don’t care for. That being said, I have to admit I think the movie is better than the book. And I almost never say that. The movie The Outlaw Josey Wales is better than the book it came from. I consider the movie Jaws and the book Jaws to be about even. Other than that, the book is better—always.

So why is The Princess Bride an exception? Please don’t get me wrong, the book is quite good and without it the movie wouldn’t exist. The book can stand on its own and needs make no apologies for what it is. But, the movie is better because of an interesting irony, which is not quite an irony when you look closely!

Throughout the book, William Goldman, the author, maintains a fiction within a fiction that he is not the original writer of the story, that he only abridged a much older classic work by a fellow named S. Morgenstern. He states that what he did is take out everything but the “good parts.” There’s a lengthy section at the front of the book where Goldman sets this inside joke up, and he continues the fiction throughout, with frequent asides (printed in italics) within the body of the book to describe what he left out (supposedly).

Although this was funny initially, it felt to me as if it went on too long, especially with the inserts and asides within the book proper. To me, the joke eventually became a little stale, while the material within the actual story kept moving forward with fresh humor. The movie left most of this material out. Thus the irony. The movie kept only the “good parts” of the book. However, since Goldman wrote the screenplay, too, what we really have is a case of the writer revising his previously work and realizing that certain original bits weren’t necessary.

Anyway, was it worth a read? Absolutely. And if I’d read it before seeing the movie, especially if I’d read it at a young age, I imagine it would have had a far greater impact on me and I probably would have liked it even better!

 

 

 

Monday, November 09, 2020

Six of my favorite hardboiled detective heroes:

Guest Post, By Sidney Williams:

(Thanks to Charles for letting me drop by and chat here a bit.)

I have a new hardboiled novel called Fool’s Run from the Gordian Knot mystery imprint on the horizon. It releases Nov. 22. That means of late, I’m getting asked about favorite fictional detectives.

If I’m pressed to pick a favorite, I have to say all of ‘em because I’ve read and enjoyed detective novels since I was in high school, and I’ve sampled for years.

All are influences of course, though I tried to make my hero, Si Reardon fresh and different. His adventure is a bit of a caper and a bit of mystery at the same time. It’s also a bit noir and a bit hardboiled as well. If you’re in the camp that draws a line, the noir protagonist’s usually an anti-hero. Si’s a bit of that and accepts a dirty job from my hopefully modern variation on a femme fatale. She’s a lawyer working as a “special counsel” who helps fix things, a bit on the dark side, confident and in control. Si’s journey leads him from darkness to a battle for survival.

I guess above all the hardboiled school is about an individual on a tough journey, a matter of quests and questions.

 So, favorites? Well, I can name a few, some you’ll expect, some that might not be as familiar.

Mitchell Tobin created by Tucker Coe (Donald E. Westlake)

Many tend to think of Donald E. Westlake as a comic caper writer because of his Dortmunder books, but he wrote a lot of hardboiled fiction along with the comic and not just as Richard Stark focusing on the thief Parker. Mitch Tobin’s a cop booted from the force because he was busy with an extramarital affair when he should have been on the job. As he works to repair his life and symbolically build a wall around his back yard, he gets roped into some powerful tales with interesting mystery plots, starting with Kind of Love, Kinds of Death. In that one, he’s hired by a mob boss. I discovered that book as a kid when it was reissued by Charter, and happily all the Tobin ebooks are readily available these days.

Matthew Scudder created by Lawrence Block

I read Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine as a kid as well. I first encountered Matt Scudder, another cop who’d left the force, in A Candle for the Bag Lady, a novella. In that tale, Scudder took it upon himself to solve the murder of the titular character. Responsible for a death on the job, Scudder drank and lit candles in Catholic churches, ever seeking rebirth. That story was a great introduction, and later I connected the dots between it and Block’s Writer’s Digest column and other work. The Scudder tales are a powerful character study as Scudder copes with alcoholism, and the tales are great hardboiled novels as well. The flashback entry When the Sacred Ginmill Closes is a standout.

Ed Noon created by Michael Avallone

Writer’s Digest—again—released an audio tape on mystery writing when I was young. It featured Michael Avallone who made mention of his TV tie-in work, and of course his hero Ed Noon. I had to scour used paperback shops to find early ones, but I got a kick out of Noon’s breezy voice. I like the early, traditional hardboiled Noons best including The Tall Dolores, but the spy-era books are fun too. Ed goes to work for the president. Avallone’s son, David, has reissued most of the novels as ebooks these days, usually nicely priced.

 Philip Marlowe created by Raymond Chandler

Of course Marlowe’s a favorite. I started with Farewell, My Lovely and followed Marlowe from there. The Marlowe tales, to me, are the ultimate in romanticized private eye fare. Chandler pretty much defined noir language and offered up a tough sleuth with a soul, and I loved what he was doing.

The Continental Op created by Dashiell Hammett

I read The Maltese Falcon early on in my reading life and when a TV miniseries happened along, I picked up The Dain Curse. That’s a later tale featuring Hammett’s unnamed operative from the Continental Detective Agency. I think he considered Dain a lesser entry. It’s interesting, but above all it was a gateway to the short stories in The Big Knockover including “The Gutting of Couffignal” in which The Op battles heavily robbers on an island that’s home to the very rich. Red Harverst came my way as well, and in later years, I’ve come to like Hammett more and more and to understand what he was doing with The Op’s gritty, pragmatic problem-solving.

 Lew Archer created by Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar)

Around the time I discovered Marlowe, I ran across The Drowning Pool by MacDonald in the tie-in edition with the Paul Newman film. Archer clicked with me the most of all the detective heroes. There’s something spiritual in Archer’s encounters with troubled family and reverberations from the past. I segued from The Drowning Pool to the later works, perhaps not fully appreciating the texture early on. But one summer, I devoured The Moving Target, The Goodbye Look, The Blue Hammer and the rest and waited for more that would sadly never come.

 I could go on and on, of course. I love the early Mac novels from Thomas B. Dewey, Kinsey Millhone from Sue Grafton, Spenser from Robert B. Parker and a host of newer heroes who’ve come down the pike, but I’ll stop here.

Since it’s a bit different of a different novel for me, there’s a Fool’s Run giveaway going on Goodreads. You might win a free signed copy and get to sample it for free.

 


Giveaway  Link

Visit Sid online at SidisAlive.com

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Thomas McNulty's Book Corral

I just discovered Thomas McNulty's Book Corral. Thomas is a lifelong reader, a collector, and a writer himself. He seems to have a particular love for westerns. I haven't met Thomas but he has a lot of interesting stuff to say about his love of reading and about books.

Thomas does some video blogs as well and below I link to one that a friend of mine turned me onto yesterday. Thomas reviews some westerns, both older and newer books. He mentions James Reasoner and Jory Sherman, two fine authors that I read regularly. At about 5:03 in, he also talks about a newer book called "The Scarred One" by Tyler Boone (That would be me).

Thomas's comments made my day.  I recommend them highly. 😉


Check it out!


The Scarred One at Amazon


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Legend of the Black Rose

Though I didn’t grow up in the literal pulp era, I started reading paperback fiction in the 1960s and 70s that was a direct descendent of the pulps. One of the first authors I fell in love with was Louis L’Amour, who started in the pulps. The first published novel that I wrote was Swords of Talera, in the tradition of  Edgar Rice Burroughs, the pulp writer who gave us John Carter of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes. Today, pulp fiction has come to mean colorful, thrilling tales, with plenty of action, larger than life characters, and exciting derring-do. And when I want a fun read I go looking for exactly that kind of work.

Teleport to the present, and I’m both amazed and honored that I’ve been able to write some of the same kind of stories and see them published. Writing is, quite often, hard work. But the sheer joy to be found in immersing oneself in an exciting tale cannot be denied. Quite simply, I love it.

On January 1, 2020, I officially started working on a pulp fiction book to be called Vengeance of the Black Rose. It was to be the 3rd book in a series about a female hero known as “The Black Rose,” who is most directly a literary descendent of such masked avengers as Zorro and the Lone Ranger. That book was just published on October 14, my birthday, and one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever gotten.

The series as a whole is a fun read. Catalina Christina Rivera (The Black Rose) is a young woman who grew up along the Texas/Mexico border in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She has a keen sense of justice and a character that is sometimes prickly but always empathic for the wounded and the frail. She has a great supporting cast around her, and is adept with many weapons but particularly favors the Urumi, the whip-sword—a unique tool to be sure.

Richard Prosch, a friend and an author who frequently gets five star reviews from me for his work, was intimately involved in the development of the Black Rose character, and he wrote the first two books in the series: Legend of the Black Rose, and The Sword of the Black Rose. I read the first one while working on my entry and it sent me enthusiastically to my keyboard to put down my own take on the character.


And so we come to Vengeance of the Black Rose. Catalina travels with several companions to the small mission of San Javier del Amor, only to find the mission burned and many of its inhabitants slain. Others have been taken away in chains, particularly many children. The raider who took the children seems to be more than a bandit, and perhaps more than human. He is called “The Beast,” or sometimes “El Tigre.” Catalina trails him into Mexico, only to discover El Tigre’s plan to raise a new Aztec empire.

In confronting El Tigre, Catalina loses a close friend. She’ll need every ounce of skill she possesses to save her remaining friends and to take her vengeance. I had fun writing this story and I have a feeling you might have fun reading it. I hope you’ll check it out:

  •                             


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

2019 - 2020 Reading Stats

Some of you may remember that I record my reading year from October 14 (my birthday) to October 13 of the next year. Then I typically give a report on it. So, here is my reading report for October 2019 to October 2020.

I wasn’t particularly surprised that my number of read books this year was down from last year, which was a record setting year for me with 129 completed books. I was somewhat surprised that it was much lower than my typical average of 90 to 100 books read a year. I only finished 66 books this past year, which is my lowest number since 2001/2002.

I’m pretty sure I know the reasons why the number is down so much. First, the Covid pandemic has taken its toll on me. It’s added considerably to my workload at school, requiring both more time reassuring students and much more time learning a whole new approach to teaching. I’m still not satisfied with all my adjustments. Covid has also affected my mood, although as an introvert I don’t think it’s caused me any kind of real depression. But, when I do get a few minutes off I’ve often chosen mindless video games over the cognitive involvement of reading. It’s a stress escape behavior.

The second reason why my reading numbers is down, however, is much more positive. I’ve completed three 74,000 word (roughly) novels in the past year, and I’m proud of all of them. This has upped my nonfiction reading, for research purposes, but a lot of that is on line or articles that don’t get counted in my book totals. In addition, where I used to sit down in the evening for an hour or two with a good book, I’m often returning to my computer these days to finish my word count for the day—a necessary action to meet deadlines and to work around my regular job hours.

As far as details go. My SF reading was up this year, with 12 books in that genre. It was my go to genre apparently. Perhaps another escape since the books I wrote had nothing to do with SF. My westerns and thrillers were at 9 each, which was well down from the 20+ in each last year. The 5 nonfiction books I read were all research related. 2 of the 3 poetry books I read were also research related.

The only other interesting thing is that last year, for the first time, I started separating out “Men’s adventure Novels” as a genre. I had 5 then, and 5 more this year so that seems pretty stable. At any rate, thanks for letting me indulge myself once more in “talkin’ about books.” Till next year!