Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year's End: 2017

2017! An unusual year for me. It started off pretty good, got better, got bad for a while, then picked up again. At the moment I’m feeling pretty good. I sure hope that rolls over into 2018. I don’t live a terribly exciting life. One big surprise was being named as an influence by the new mayor of New Orleans. That was nice. I was also featured a couple of times in the local paper and nice things were said about my writing. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big year for sales of my books, although I didn’t do much to push it this year. I also did not submit as much as I usually do.

On the writing front itself, I did finish The Scarred One, a western novella/novel that I started working on a couple of years ago. I also self published a print version of my western collection, Killing Trail, under the pseudonym Tyler Boone. In October, Cold in the Light, my first published novel, went out of print. I went through it and did a fairly minor rewrite, and will be submitting it and The Scarred One for potential publication in 2018. I’ve also got a novella called “The Razored Land” that I want to submit next year. Finally, I wrote a lot of poetry this year, far more than has been typical of me in the past.

This marks the 5th year that I’ve been keeping a word count on my production. I wrote a little more than 50,000 words of fiction and nonfiction intended for publication. That’s about the same as last year. It’s up from 2015, when I did about 44,000, but down from 2013 and 2014, with 80,000 and over 100,000 respectively. I’d like to shoot for 100,000 next year, but that seems unlikely since in the spring I’m going to be teaching introductory psychology, which I haven’t taught in 20 years. That means quite a bit more work for me.

Word count is actually pretty misleading for me, anyway. For example, I spent a couple of weeks revising Cold in the Light but actually took out words from its original count. How do I figure that into a word count? Also, I don’t count wordage from my blog posts or my journal, since those are not intended for publication. My journal for 2017, which does include my blog posts, is around 40,000 words. That’s down from years past.

Besides writing, everyone here knows I’m also a big reader. I mark my “year in books” from one birthday to the next, but Goodreads, of course, does it by calendar year. According to Goodreads, I read 69 books in 2017, 17,720 pages, at an average of 257 pages per book. The shortest book I read was Goodnight Moon, a kid’s story, at 32 pages. The longest was the SF book, Earth, by David Brin, at 704 pages. My average rating across all those book was 3.5 stars. The most popular book I read was The Girl on the Train, reviewed by over 200,000 people. The least popular was reviewed by 0 folks other than me, and that was Incredible Football Feats, which was published in 1974.

Some of my favorite reads for 2017: My Grandmother Danced, by Eve Brouwer, a wonderful novel told in poetic form. I also loved Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest, a poetry/prose chapbook by Bruce Boston and Robert Frazier. My favorite YA book was The Summer of Moonlight Secrets by Danette Haworth, although I also much enjoyed Lad: A Dog, by Albert Terhune. My favorite writing related book was Bestseller Metrics by Elaine Ash. A really fine, and uniquely written, fantasy novel that I enjoyed was Helen’s Daimones by S. E. Lindberg. A great short horror novel that I read was Dark Hours, by Sidney Williams.

I got back into Dean Koontz in 2017, after a couple of years away, and enjoyed his Frankenstein series. I very much enjoyed Ravenheart and Stormrider by David Gemmell. I loved me some Ed Gorman westerns. Perhaps my least favorite read of the year was Big Lobo, A Nevada Jim Western.

I don’t make resolutions anymore. There are certain things I will try to do. I will try to read and write as much as I can without ignoring my wife and son and other important folks in my world, and without losing my job. I’ll try to eat good food but not quite as much. I’ll try for plenty of naps and walks in nature. I’ll try to be a good person to the best of my abilities. Hope you all have a great 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

For the Love of Negatives

If you think people don't respond more strongly to negatives than to positives, then here's an example. In 2008, I reviewed Hubert Selby Jr's. Requiem for a Dream (the novel) on Goodreads. I didn't like it and made my feelings clear. The book is, in my opinion, all telling with almost no showing, and pretentious on top of that. Selby considered himself above the need to put individual character’s dialogue in separate paragraphs, and preferred such constructions as “Im” and “youre” over “I’m and “you’re.” I’m sure he did these things on purpose, and that makes it far worse to me. But certainly, if people like that sort of thing then have at it. As they say, it’s no skin off my nose.

Interestingly, though, I am "still" getting comments on that review, here at the end of 2017. I got one today. Overall, it has garnered 52 comments, many of them supportive of my views but plenty that responded with personal insults against my intelligence. In contrast, my review of Robert E. Howard's "Sowers of the Thunder," one of my favorite books, has gotten one like and no comments. My review of “The Snow Leopard,” by Peter Matthiessen, which ‘is’ my favorite book, has also gotten one like and no comments.

What is that old saw about which wolf lives, the good one or the bad one? The answer is, the one you feed. I don’t believe we have to avoid negative statements or negative reviews. Folks should make clear if they don’t like something, and why. But I also believe we need to promote what we find good and worthy. That’s why I’ve been doing blog posts about my “favorite” books in various genres—not the worst books in those genres.

What do you love?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Forgotten Books Friday: Hawk of the Wilderness

Hawk of the Wilderness, by William L. Chester. Ace Books, 1935, 287 pages.

Hawk of the Wilderness is virtually a pastiche of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It features a white family exploring to the north who end up wrecked in a wild land called Nato'wa, a volcanically warmed land above the arctic circle. They are taken in by Indians, who it is suggested in the book are the ancestors of North America's Native Americans. The husband and wife are killed and their baby adopted by an Indian woman, although he ends up fleeing the tribe and living in the wilderness for many years with bears. He becomes known as Kioga, The Snow Hawk. Eventually, another exploration party arrives and Kioga meets Beth, a white woman. The two fall in love with each other but many things happen to keep them apart.

I would have loved this book when I was in my teens but I'm no longer that naïve reader. There are a number of issues with it that weakened my enjoyment. First, the good thing is that it's very well written and full of wonderful description. There is a lot of action and adventure. The problem is that there's virtually no overall plot. The majority of the book is given over to Kioga's growing up and developing his skills, and this continues at great length until I, at least, grew bored with it. The book is almost 300 pages and should probably have been less than 200. There's a reason why ERB's books tended to be short. Only in the last third to a quarter of the book, after the arrival of the other white explorers, did an overall storyline emerge. It was too late to truly salvage the novel. The plot is what creates narrative drive and there's just not enough plot here.

The ending did have the kind of nice melancholy feeling that leaves you wondering what happened next. Chester did not leave his readers wondering for long. There are three more books in this series, Kioga of the Wilderness, One Against a Wilderness, and Kioga of the Unknown Land. The first one is over 300 pages long, which makes me wary. The other two are shorter. I may try the second book in the series at some point but not right away.

Overall, I gave the book only 2 of 5 stars. I still consider it worth a read, however.

More links to forgotten books over at "Pattinase"

Friday, December 15, 2017

Bill Crider Day

There’s this guy named Bill Crider. You may have heard of him. He’s written a few books.
Well, a whole lot of books

Twenty yeas ago I would only have known Bill through his writing. I still haven’t met him personally. But because of the internet, particularly blogging and facebook, I’ve gotten to know him. Twenty years ago my judgement on Bill would have been: “Solid writer, always entertaining, with a great sense of character and an ability to capture the human qualities of the characters in his stories.” My judgment of Bill today includes that, but much more.

Through the time I’ve know Bill Crider online, he’s suffered through the loss of loved ones and has struggled with severe health issues of his own. He’s up against it now, with those same issues, but I’ve never seen him feel sorry for himself. His basic good humor always shines through. And he has always been the kind of man to give of himself to help others, both fellow writers and plain old fellow human beings.

My favorite book by Bill is Texas Vigilante. It’s a sequel to Outrage at Blanco, which introduced the character Ellie Taine. In “Vigilante,” Ellie is back on the justice trail, looking for the man who has kidnapped the daughter of a friend. I wouldn’t want Ellie on my trail if I were a criminal; I’d want her there if I needed rescuing. A very strong character.

I admire Bill Crider as a writer; I admire him much more as a man. I hope a miracle is in the offing for him. Today, particularly, I'm thinking of him. And wishing him the best. Bill is the best of us. No doubt about that. 

For more about Bill Crider Day, check out Patti Abbott's Blog.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Charles Recommends: Westerns:

My Sword and Planet recommendations were well received, so, to continue my Charles Recommends feature, I’m going to pick westerns this time.  Again, I’m limiting myself to one book per author. These combine my favorites along with books that I think somehow helped to define or expand the genre. Here are my top recommendations. Feel free to argue or offer your own recs. I’ve got more than five this time. There are a lot more westerns out there than there are Sword and Planet novels.

1. To Tame a Land, by Louis L’Amour: Although I have seen L’Amour slammed in recent years for his supposedly vaunted western accuracy and for the redundancy of many of his tales, he is still “my” favorite western author, and I’ve read just about everything by him. To Tame a Land wasn’t my first L’Amour, but it was one of the early ones. A young boy and his Pa get left behind in Indian Country. The boy grows up to be a gunfighter. It really engaged my imagination and I’ve reread this particular book more times than any other in my collection.

2. No Survivors, by Will Henry: This was the first book by Henry that I read, and I’ve never found anything else by him to match it. It’s written as an autobiography by a man named John Clayton. Clayton fought in the Civil War, then later was present at Custer’s Last Stand. He lived with both Indians and whites. Just a really fascinating tale with lots of historical connections. 

3. Dark Trail, by Ed Gorman: Gorman writes with equal ease in many genres but my favorite works by him are westerns. Dark Trail is #4 in his Leo Guild series. Guild is one of my favorite characters in western fiction. He’s older, more worn, but he rises to the occasion. This particular book has Guild helping his ex-wife save the man she left him for.

4. Apache Tears, by Robert MacLeod: A revenge novel, but one that rises above the standard. Powerful and emotional. It strongly affected me the first time I read it. One of my absolutely favorite non-L’Amour westerns.


5. Doc Holliday The Gunfighter, by Matt Braun: This is the first Matt Braun book I've read but I immediately ordered two more. It’s a good introduction to his work. 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 were 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 shootout at the OK corral. I thought that would mean a sequel but apparently there is none.

6. The Name’s Buchanan, by Jonas Ward (AKA William Ard): I only recently found out that the first six Buchanan books were written by a writer named William Ard. The seventh was started by Ard before he died, and finished by Robert Silverberg. The eighth was written by Brian Garfield and the rest by William R. Cox. I didn't know this when I first read through various books in the series and I judged all of them as by the same writer, not realizing that Jonas Ward was actually four different people. I went back to look at the works I'd reviewed in the series and found that I liked the Ard books considerably better than the later books by another author. This book was the first in the series, written by Ard, and is really a solid four-star work in my book.

7. Appaloosa, by Robert B. Parker. This is the first book in the Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch series by Parker. I liked it very much. I actually read the third book in this series first, "Brimstone," and I liked it but thought it was very weak on description. This first one didn't have that problem. The description wasn't outstanding but it was pretty good and the book wasn't just dialogue, although there was a lot. I thought the action was better in this one too. Definitely a good reason to read the first in the series first.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Dear Diary

Dear Diary:

More books arrived today, many of them undocumented immigrants. Of course, I did not turn them away. I have a big heart and sufficient resources at present to accept them. But I feel the first flickers of concern.

The book population in my house seems to be growing almost exponentially. Already the shelving resources are being strained. Certainly I can double or even triple-up for a while. But what if the present pace continues, or even increases? What will I do then?

There is a further concern as well, a much bigger concern. I haven't had time to get to know all the new books in my home. And I'm beginning to hear rumblings of discontent. I hear whispers, questions about why some books get shelved while others are stacked on the floor, or even placed in boxes in closets. Why are some selected for reading and others not? Dissatisfaction appears to be growing among my population of tomes.

Lately, I have sensed an underlying hostility in some of the whispers. They often cease when I enter the room. Up until this point, I have kept a pretty tight leash on my collection. But I'm beginning to sense a revolution brewing. I would round up the malcontents and send them to book mooch if I could identify them reliably. But I cannot bear to punish one book for the sins of another.

And so I wonder.... How long before they strike?