May 28, 2009

What's Your Summer Reading List?

Summer is getting close and it seems to be the time of year when reading lists come out of the woodwork. I'm unsure why that is, as I don't pay much attention to them. If I had scads of cash to buy the new releases coming out this season, which are popping up on many a list, I would be more inclined to seek out recommendations from critics, authors, and readers alike. As it stands, I am content to look at the plethora of less-than-new releases on my own bookshelf to find what titles I'll be reading this summer.

At present, I have about a hundred books in my collection waiting to be read for the very first time—thank you, used-book stores. I've got westerns, thrillers, young-adult fantasy, horror, literary classics, sci-fi, non-fiction, and more. And before the summer is through, I'm sure I'll have added even more titles to my shelf. So, I'm not starving for stories. But, which eight will I set aside as absolute must-reads for when I'm sweltering under a muggy Maritime sun?

1) The Dark Tower VI: Song for Susannah by Stephen King – I've pledged to myself that I will finish this incredible saga before the end of summer. There are only two books left for me to read, and the next one on deck will hopefully hold up to the cliffhanger ending King tortured readers with in Wolves of the Calla.

2) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling – It took me quite a while to bother to watch the first Harry Potter film. I was one of those movie fans who turned his nose up at it and watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy instead. It took even longer to convince myself—after admitting that I really do enjoy the movies—to at least give the first novel a chance. I did last August, really liked it, and will finally read the second book in the series.

3) Frankenstein: Prodigal Son by Dean Koontz and Kevin J. Anderson – I found this in a shop after I'd read Mary Shelley's classic, and decided I'd give it a go. However, it, and the second book in the trilogy, have done nothing but collect dust since I got them. I was waiting to find the third before starting into it, and now that I hear Koontz is finally releasing the third Frankenstein novel this summer, after an eternity of anticipation, it's about time I read book number one.

4) The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein – For a non-fiction title, I'll go with this one. I scooped it up at a library fire-sale last year. I'd seen interviews with Klein and thought the subject matter was really fascinating. I'm not heavy on reading non-fiction, so I've let it sit on the back burner ever since. Well, this summer I'm going to see if the book's content can renew my subdued outrage towards the Bush Administration.

5) The Chosen Child by Graham Masterton – J.A. Konrath credits Masterton as one of his favorites. I've read neither a Konrath novel, nor a work by Masterton, but I do enjoy Konrath's blog and the advice/rants he posts. And with the notoriety of Masterton, I thought it only fitting I should read one of his more heralded works this summer to see what all the hype is about. After all, as an aspiring horror author, I should read as much quality horror as I can.

6) Afraid by Jack Kilborn – J.A. Konrath's new "nom de guerre" has a new horror novel this year. And I won a copy. I've read reviews and interviews concerning this novel, and I like the sounds of it. I've got my hopes up for it, and will likely write a review on my own blog once I have read it.

7) The Richard Laymon Collection: Volume 18 – This is a double book I won through a contest on Ty Schwamberger's blog. I'm a sucker for a good contest and lucked out here. I recently read Laymon's Bite and liked it, so I have my fingers crossed on the two stories included with this collection—The Glory Bus and Friday Night in Beast House.

8) Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard – I absolutely loved this movie. After realizing I've really enjoyed more than one movie based on Elmore Leonard's novels, I figured I should read some of them. I've read a few that were not adapted into films, and I enjoyed them. So, this summer I'm going to read one based on my favorite film adaptation of his work.

Well, that's what my summer reading list looks like. How is yours shaping up for this season?

May 25, 2009

Blogroll Roundup II: Bride of Blogroll

The last couple of weeks have brought me some entertaining tidbits. I thought I'd share a few of them.

- Neil Gaiman has posted a couple of interesting blog entries. This one refers to the insidiously high number of people voicing their outrage against stem cell research. Actually, to be more accurate, the appallingly low number of people voicing their support for stem cell research. If you want the record to reflect an accurate portrayal of the public's views on this issue, you might want to consider getting your ass in gear and throwing in your two cents worth … especially if you are in favor of such research. I am, and I will.

- Gaiman also had this one, which was an amusing take on a fantasy reader's concerns over how long it's taking G.R.R. Martin to put out his next novel in the "Song of Ice and Fire" series. He put it rather eloquantly and plainly to the young fan ... "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch."

- Another of my favorite authors, Stephen King, has offered his picks for a summer reading list over at Entertainment Weekly Online.

- Hell Notes is reporting that there is a writing contest going on for unpublished horror authors—wait a tick, I'm one of those. The name of the contest is "Fresh Blood" and the winner will receive a contract for paperback publication in Leisure Book's 2011 line-up. Not only that, but ChiZine Publications will give a contract for a limited edition hardcover release that same year. The whole contest is being organized by Leisure Books, ChiZine Magazine, and Rue Morgue Magazine.

God, I'm tempted to enter that. The deadline is September 30, so there's time, but they want the manuscript to be between 80,000 and 90,000 words, which is well above where my manuscript is currently sitting. Either I would have to shave it down a lot or come up with a brand-new, finished manuscript before the deadline. Four months to write a ready-to-go novel? The odds of me accomplishing something like that are questionable at best.

- Joe Moore posted a very good article over at The Kill Zone, here, about Kurt Vonnegut's "eight rules for writing fiction", specifically how a writer should start writing his story as close to the end as possible. I've only read a couple of Vonnegut's books, but his talent is undeniable and how he writes is as entertaining as what he writes. Moore's ponderings on the subject of "rule #5" are insightful and worth a look-see.

- I have the song, "Don't Stop Believing'," by Journey stuck in my head now thanks to these two blog posts from Bookgasm and Writing It Out. Could've been worse. Could've been something by Styxx.

- Pub Rants posted a cool little link over a week ago to a site I'd never heard of: Market Leap. This blog o' mine isn't exactly up to snuff yet, but when it is I'll have to remember this site to monitor my popularity. I might actually be popular one day. Yahoo.

- And finally, I can't recall exactly where this blog came to my attention, but the new Writer's Forensics Blog started this month and I think it's going to be on my blogroll for quite some time. It's got some great posts in it's infancy, particularly the one about cell phone tapping. Check it out.

May 19, 2009

Book Review: "Starfinder" by John Marco


If Starfinder is just the first in a trilogy, or even a series of titles, I may end up becoming a dedicated follower. Though I am far and away from being considered a young adult, which is the demographic this fantasy novel is aimed at, I am youthful at heart and have yet to lose my imagination and wonder. John Marco has stumbled upon a tale here that taps right into those facets.

The main character, Moth, has turned thirteen and longs to grow up so he can fulfill his dream of becoming a Skyknight, as mankind is reaching a technological age of flight never before imagined. Due to his modest stature in the world, he doesn't hold out hope to achieve his goals in the near future, though friends like Fiona, Skyhigh, and his guardian Leroux (a long retired member of the legendary Eldrin Knights) help him to hang on to his dreams.

The morning after his birthday, after being told yet another tall tale by Leroux in the middle of the night, Moth finds himself on a secret mission to fulfill a promise Lereux made to an old friend from the other side of the fabled Reach—an expanse of mist and mystery between Moth's world and the world of the Skylords. With Fiona and Leroux's kestrel, Lady Esme, at his side, Moth crosses the Reach to find a world he hadn't dared imagine. But, Fiona's ambitious grandfather, Rendor, is in pursuit because Moth carries a treasure promised to an alleged wizard named Merceron.

And, that's just the first few chapters.

I will admit that the story had me shaking my head a few times during the first act, because I was having a heck of a time figuring out the motivations of some of the characters. There came a point, even, when I was tempted to put the book down because I felt the backstory was being ignored in a sense—not unlike some of those infernal episodes of Lost. Thankfully, Marco ties up every loose end I thought I saw, and in good time as the story progressed. The relationships between the characters are developed well, and when it appeared the story and the characters would take a—dare I say—formulaic turn, Marco gives his readers a view of three-dimensional, complex people (and that's a liberal use of the word given the creatures appearing in the story). No relationship in the book is a pat black-and-white archetype, as it all seems very genuine and plausible in spite of the extraordinary events unfolding.

Full disclosure, I won this book, rather than buying it at my local indy bookstore. That being said, I will heartily recommend Starfinder to any fan of YA fantasy or well-written tales of adventure. While Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy remains at the tippy top of my YA fantasy favorites, I don't think it is unfair to imagine there will be comparison between that trilogy and whatever John Marco has up his sleeve with this one.

As a side note, I really love the cover art by Tom Kidd. Every time I glanced at the cover when I picked up the novel to start reading again, I picked out some new minute detail relevant to the story. Nice stuff from another talented artist.

May 18, 2009

A Few Programs I Downloaded Last Week

Advanced System Care 3, a freeware Windows system management program, is working a small wonder on my computer. My machine isn't working at warp speed, but there is a noticeable difference in the start-up speed and overall performance. If you're looking for something simple, cheap, and (thus far for me at any rate) reliable for your computer, I'd recommend giving the program a try.

I think it was Catherine, over at The Poisoned Apple, who mentioned in her blog about a freeware word processor called WriteMonkey. The appeal of it to me was reading how it worked in full screen mode, and is customizable enough and simple enough to work with a simple black screen (or whatever color background you want), and whatever font size, style, and color you want. I installed it this weekend and set it up with a black background and a white 12-point Trebuchet font. It's fantastic and just what I need to focus on my monitor screen and type, type, t-y-p-e without so much as a Windows task bar to tempt me away from my writing.

Another neat bit of software I found was called HD Search and Stats. It lets you perform a search for any textual file on your computer, plus perform searches within those files for certain words. That's a godsend for me. I have innumerable blog archives downloaded on my USB drive, but try putting a gun to my head to see if I can find a specific blog entry I want to re-read. Now, I just point to a folder, tell the program what words I'm looking for and it gives me a list with the files that received the biggest hits. No more searching blindly for an entry on writing, or a book review, or some witty anecdote. I'll just let the software search for me. Me likey.

May 17, 2009

Under Review

I've never considered myself much of a critic. Opinionated, sure, but a critic? As far as Wagging The Fox goes, it's still in it's infancy and I'm always wondering as I write an entry what direction I want to take it in. As an aspiring author, I find it a little ridiculous to use a blog to promote myself when I have no published works towards which to direct potential readers. I'm also using an online handle instead of my real name, so it would be all the more ludicrous unless I became more open to taking off the proverbial mask. As a commentator on pop culture, I'm simply one more small voice in a very loud crowd, drowned out by those who are more ingrained with the current trends. I could create a fan site of sorts, dedicated to one of my favorite writers, but there are so many of those in existence already. I doubt it would be a productive use of my time to publicly worship the work of others when I ought to be writing my own.

A few book reviews might be manageable, though. I'm constantly reading and should be able to give some kind of opinion of my favorite novels and the most recent ones I've read. The one problem with turning a chunk of this blog into a book review is that I rarely have opportunities to read the most recent titles on bookshelves. When so many of the book blogs and sites deal with reviewing the current and upcoming releases, my attempts would appear severely dated.

John Marco's Starfinder is quite new, however, and after winning a signed copy from the author himself via Kimberly Swan's Darque Review, I am tearing through it with rapidity. If nothing else, I will be able to write at least one book review on a title released in 2009. The exercise could do double-duty,even, acting as one more review for a fantasy novel and also as an example of my reviewing style ... assuming I have one. So sometime in the week I'll sit down in front of the old clunker and mash out a review for an actual new release.

In the meantime, a few of the blogs I frequent have reviews of their own posted already for Starfinder. You can read those at Bookgasm ... Darque Reviews ... and Mrs. Magoo Reads.

May 16, 2009

Read It Again For The First Time

Author, Jim Baxter, posted his answer to a challenge from SF Signal concerning books we would all like to read again for the first time. It's about a month old, which is apparently a lifetime in blog years, but I thought I would list some of the books I wouldn't mind reading again for the first time.

As much as we all love certain novels and stories, no rereading of the story is going to recapture the emotions and sensations that come with being taken up by the writing and the characters the very first time our eyes scan the pages. For me, I'm not one to read novels again and again. I have my reading time allotted as it is to the books I haven't read yet. There are absolutely, however, a handful of titles I would love to experience again as if for the first time.

At the top of the list may be Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Required reading in high school, it remains the novel to beat for me. So many of the novels we read in school were a chore at the time (Fifth Business, I'm looking in your direction), but the story and characters in this classic tale captivated me. To this day, I can credit this book as one of the key reasons why I wanted to become a writer. It is a gorgeous novel, and one of these days I will read it again—maybe enough time will have gone by that it actually will feel like the first time reading it.

I must, of course, include Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series of books. It all started when an online acquaintance recommended I read The Gunslinger. It only took the first chapter to grab me, and now this series about Roland of Gilead has me spellbound. I have two more books left to read in the series (Song for Susannah and The Dark Tower), but I'm almost hesitant to read them this summer because it will mean the journey will be over, and there'll be no more books in the series to experience for the first time.

Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (a title on Jim Baxter's list as well) and Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass each appeared on my radar when the film adaptations were announced. Rather than rush to the theaters, I bought the books. Pullman's work, I read before renting the DVD, while I saw Omega Man and Will Smith's tolerable performance before reading the novella. In the case of reading Pullman, I became someone who scrutinized the film, while Matheson's novella became even better experiencing it in the wake of seeing two comparatively subpar movies.

As a kid, I loved Roald Dahl stories, and The Witches topped them all. Not only do I wish I could fall into this story again for the first time, but I wish I was eleven-years-old again when I did. Every step of the way in that tale, I was that young boy who was turned into a mouse as the witches congregated in the hotel. No children's story was as easy to envision as this one, and I would relish an opportunity to be a kid again and step into Dahl's world one more time.

May 15, 2009

Not Since I Was A Kid

I ate a banana split for dessert tonight . I didn't need it, as my waistline will attest, but I haven't had one since I was a tween. I guess there was some point in my teen years when fruit and ice-cream were segregated—Dairy Queen's strawberry Blizzards don't count, and it's been years since I've had one of those too.

The idea for it just came by chance when I noticed the kitchen was supplied with ice-cream, bananas, and whipped cream—no chopped peanuts, I'm afraid. There have been plenty of instances, I'm sure, when those ingredients have been in supply simultaneously in the past, yet I never considered combining them until tonight.

FYI: It was gooood.

Are there any childhood treats you haven't had since you were in your formative years? I wonder if I could still stomach peanut butter and sardine crackers? ... Don't ask.

May 13, 2009

A New Wag for My Blog

Since I am turning into a bit of a contest addict these days, I figured I should add a little sidebar with links to some of the contests I'm currently entered in. I decided upon that after entering yet another contest today.

This time, it through A Community for Bookworms and Lana Lovely's contest. Just one more blog to add to my ever increasing list, though I have actually pared it down some this week.

And, if you're a horror fan, Horror and Fantasy Book Review has a contest in motion to giveaway a copy of Brian Keene's Ghost Walk to the winner. I'm entered. And, browsing the blog, I came across another talented horror author to watch out for by the name of Bentley Little. So many books, so little time.

One final contest that's open. Interviews With Authors has an good interview up with Stephen Zimmer concerning his first novel, The Exodus Gate. It's the first book in a series of five, and it sounds like it could be a really fun read. I hope I win. :) Whoever wins the giveaway will receive, "A signed copy of the book, a poster of the cover art,a set of 7 glossy, full color art cards with illustrations from the book,a bookmark, and an 8X10 of the cover art!"

Not too shabby.

May 12, 2009

The Dreaded Second Novel

It's going to happen eventually. I'm going to have to start that second novel. Which, to me, is kind of humorous considering my first novel has yet to be submitted to an agent or editor. But, it's the reality of what my life has become. If nothing else, I'm a writer. Published or not, it's what I'll do for the rest of my days.

I know little when it comes to what exactly the second novel will be about, but I do know it will take considerably less time to write than the first. Of course, when I started writing the first one I had no delusions of getting it into print. It was simply a creative outlet. And, I made innumerable mistakes along the way in writing it. If I knew then what I know now about that first novel, and writing as a craft, I'd have been well on my way to writing the second one ... or have abandoned the entire notion of being a writer. Maybe I would have adopted some other pipe-dream—I hear there's money in acting.

It's been six years since I first decided to write a ghost story. In those six years, my state of mind towards writing has run the gamut. At times, attacking the words on the page like a starved wolverine with disregard to anything else for hours on end. Other times, tucking the blasted manuscript out of sight and telling myself it's foolish and feckless to even consider becoming an author. For six years I have been both the isolated wordsmith concerned only with putting pen to paper and the disenchanted wannabe too reticent and cast down to entertain the idea of seeing my words in print. And everything in between.

Lately, I've been a bit of both. I'm a daydreamer and a realist—two pieces of my psyche in constant conflict. I recognize the odds of a novel getting published are somewhere around 20,000:1, and that was before the recession. I also see books on shelves which defy all concept of legibility, and I hear someone has signed Joe the Plumber to a six-figure deal for his rantings and ravings.

If Joe the Plumber, Lauren Conrad, and lord knows who else can allegedly write publishable books, there's no reason on Earth why I can't too. I may never see a single story of mine sitting on a bookshelf in my local bookstore, let alone on the NYT bestseller list, but I can sure as sugar write those stories and hold some measure of pride for doing something I love to do. The only other option is to not do it, and what kind of a choice is that?

May 11, 2009

What's On My Blogroll This Week?

I get to go online once a week if I'm lucky—twice if the stars are aligned just right. This means I need to get about a week's worth of my online to-do list completed in a couple of hours, and that's assuming the public computers I use don't freeze, lag, or otherwise give me a migraine. E-mail, online submissions and query tracking, posting blog entries, downloading other blogs, research for creative writing projects ... all of it has be done with a relatively short window of opportunity. And, I don't even include the casual web surfing, as I'm usually cross-eyed by the time I get around to that.

So, now I'm back home pouring over everything I have for this week. As usual, it's a bit of everything. I have some research articles for a couple of the stories I'm working on, I downloaded a few more short stories from classic authors (John Collier and Roald Dahl to name but two), my latest rejection via e-mail, and a plethora of the latest blog entries from my blogroll.

It's an eclectic list of blogs I follow—authors of varying genres, literary agents with valuable advice and news, publishers of periodicals and novels that interest me, a few editors with their own advice and insight, and a growing slew of book reviewers. I thought I'd share some of the more interesting and unique entries I came across with my last couple of trips online.

Hitting On Girls In Bookstores – This is a year old, but Adam S. posted a link to Art of Manliness and their list of 100 Must-Read Books for Men. So, seeing as I'm a person with a Y-chromosome, I thought I'd see if I've read many or any of the books on the list. Turns out I have (984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, The Art of Warfare by Sun Tzu, Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee). What's more, I currently own as many or more titles from the list sitting that I haven't gotten around to reading yet. I wonder what the quintessential list for women looks like.

Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews – I used to be artistically inclined back in my grade school days. I haven't pursued that side of my creativity in ages. I still enjoy seeing a breathtaking drawing though, which is why I have such an appreciation for comic books despite never buying them. Well, Dark Wolf has interviewed a couple of immensely talented artists—Kekai Kotaki and Raymond Swanland—and posted some of their work for all to see. On my best day, I could never draw that well. Amazing.

Apex Book Company – "Free." It's a word I gravitate towards like a moth to a bug-zapper—a lot of "free" things come with hidden costs, don't cha know. This time, I think the freebie is all good. Paul Jessop's sci-fi novel, Open Your Eyes, is being offered as a free PDF download by Apex. Click HERE if you want the free download (it's in a ZIP file), or purchase the hard copy from Apex's official site, HERE. It's only offered as the free download until the end of May.

Dark Fiction Review – There's an interview with South African author, Joan De La Haye, where she discusses her new e-book, Shadows, and her online tour across the blogosphere. The book is exclusively in electronic format—no hard copies makes Baby Jesus cry—so it won't be easy for me to ever read this story. It sounds gruesome and scary as heck. And, she's a Clive Barker fan, so she can't be all bad.

Steph Su Reads – Steph recounts a strange request from a possible student looking to cheat on an essay. I can only imagine the amount of laziness and brashness needed to attempt something like that. I hated doing book reports as a kid. But, I still did them. Mind you, I didn't have the Internet like kids these days. I wonder just how stressed and over-worked some of them really are, sometimes.

Horror Scope – I'm unfamiliar with Australian author, Richard Harland, but HS refers to him as "award winning", so they have my attention. According to the blog, Harland took a few months off from writing to create a little website full of tips and tricks for aspiring authors. Hey, I'm an aspiring author. I should check this out. Maybe you should too. Click HERE.

Ty Schwamberger – One horror writer has turned me on to the articles of another. Paula Guran has written some advice to those of us who wish to become horror writers as well. The article is nearly ten years old, but it is still quite relevant. Click HERE to visit Dark Echo's site and give it a read.

Miss Read – Children's Laureate? I was unaware such a thing existed. In any case, the idea of choosing your favorite children's books sparks the ol' memory banks. The Witches by Roald Dahl will go down as one of my all-time favorite children's stories, and the movie only helped solidify my stance. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum ranks high as well, along with Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Ah, to be young again. "Miss Read" Laura Anderson also has a link to a piece of software I think I'll have to test drive some time soon. It's called Write Monkey and it sounds like something I could use.

Texts From Last Night – I think I like Overheard In New York more, but this site takes a close second in providing a healthy slice of life. If you need a writing prompt, a few minutes on this site will provide like a horn of plenty. I caught wind of this from JD Rhoades' blog.

The Kill Zone – Joe Moore weighs the good and the bad of used-book sales for authors. I'm biased on the issue, since I'm a proponent of used-book stores, though I will say this: If I ever win the lottery or earn an ungodly advance on my first novel (oh, give me my pipe-dreams), a lot of authors will be getting business from me when I start buying a ton of brand, spanking new novels from the local independent book stores.

Monsters, Myths, and Legends

For anyone who is interested, the blog Science-Based Parenting has some very enlightening entries this week on several popular icons in mythology. Check them all out. My personal favorite is Big Foot. :)

May 10, 2009

A Reading Wishlist ... To Go

One of my neighbors is a voracious reader, this much I already knew. This past week though, I found out she also travels to Georgia once a year—a summer vacation of sorts—to help out with a bookstore/warehouse. My memory's fuzzy on the details, I admit, because when she offered to take a wishlist from me to see what she could find in the scores of books down there I almost plotzed (I'm not sure if I spelled that right or have the right word, but I'm going with it).

Her keyword in the offer was "short" wishlist. A good thing for her too because I could have easily printed off my present list of nearly fifty titles. So, today I whittled it down to about a dozen—my neighbor's likely expecting an even smaller list. I did cheat a little bit with a couple of authors whose work I have yet to read, and am not terribly fussy which of their respective novels I read first, writing "any title" next to their names.

I'm not sure what kind of repository there is down in Atlanta, but just the idea of such places existing makes me feel like Charlie waiting for a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka. In reality, it's probably a husk of a building with generic shelves with whatever books were overstocked and held in storage. A boy can dream, though.

For now, this is what the "short" wishlist bound for Georgia looks like ... Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Strange Toys by Patricia Geary, Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, any title by Brian Keene, Afraid by Jack Kilborn, any title by Richard Laymon, The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard, Hell House by Richard Matheson, Wake by Lisa McMann, Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates, any title by Alexandra Sokoloff, Battle Royale by Koushin Takami, and This Is My Blood by David Wilson

May 9, 2009

My Fave Five: Comedic Films

I love a good laugh. A movie sometimes just doesn't feel whole if there isn't a spark of humor in it. The same applies to novels.

Comedic films don't receive much praise from the hierarchy of Hollywood. How many comedies have won an Oscar? Hell, how many have been nominated? Can't be many, and those that are usually are "smart" comedies. I hate that term: smart comedy. It's spoken with such a cliquish tone by people who look down their noses at movies meant to provoke laughter—like a movie meant to draw tears is so much more meritable.

I am not a prig when it comes to comedy. I love it, I embrace it, I encourage it. If you can't laugh, you may as well cry. And, some people would dispense with both in favor of pissing and moaning (myself included at times I'm less proud). So, here are five of my all-time favorite comedies.

5) Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged MeIt's debatable exactly how many tricks Mike Myer's pony has, but there's no arguing the fact that Austin Powers is one of the most brilliant comedic characters in history. Take a Lothario from the swinging sixties and thrust him into a future completely changed, not at all like the world he envisioned he was saving during the Sexual Revolution. He's diminished and marginalized, yet he must soldier on to do the noble deeds (and a few less than noble if there's time). For some reason, I enjoy the sequel more than the original. Maybe the time travel element added even more opportunity for generational satire. Or, it may be as simple as seeing Heather Graham in go-go boots.

4) The Naked GunWithin comedy, parody is king. Throw in some physical shtick, and Leslie Nielson may go down as one of the very best comedic actors of the twentieth century. It's almost eery to see his earlier work as a straight character actor, particularly the sci-fi stuff. How could that guy be Lt. Frank Dreben? Yet, he and George Kennedy used their on-screen chemistry to create an amazing cop duo of straight man and walking punchline. Not even the evil known as OJ Simpson can ruin my appreciation for the "Police Squad" franchise. It's also nice to remember a time when Priscilla Presley hadn't been ravaged by cosmetic surgery.

3) Old SchoolThere are moments watching movies starring Vince Vaughn or Will Farrell when I wonder if they have any depth of the types of roles they can play. It's no matter really, as this movie is the benchmark of both men's comedic efforts. Forget the others, like Talladega Nights and Dodgeball. Old School set the bar very, very high for both men, and I don't think either has topped it yet. Even Wedding Crashers falls short of the mark in my opinion. I may have to admit bias, as my waining college days reminded me of being the "older" guy hanging out with the young bucks. It's easy, as a guy, to relate to the desire of hanging on the former glory in youth. And, this movie efficiently shows how ridiculous a man can look when he tries to turn back the clock.

2) Dirty Rotten ScoundrelsSteve Martin as one half of a comedic dynamic duo, I can buy. But, Michael Caine as the ying to his yang? No way. This movie is superb, however, and is as smart as the smartest "high brow" comedy. The relentless tug-of-war between the two characters, trying to outwit each other as they work together, played out flawlessly and the movie doesn't appear dated at all, which can kill the humor in so many comedies of the 1980s. If you also consider the eighties were ripe with some of the absolute worst movies ever made, comedies especially, this movie stands out as a true gem.

1) The Big LebowskiI haven't, until recently, paid attention to the directors of movies. Nowadays, when I hear the Coen brothers have a movie coming out, my ears perk. That's due in no small part to this movie. No other movie could have this much quirk and eccentricity blended within the humor, and still maintain a feeling of believability. The cast of characters would be preposterous in any other movie. The farcical nature of this movie strikes a chord with me I didn't even know I had. The world has gone crazy in it's own small way, and I'm with the Dude every step of the way, empathizing with a guy who just wants his fucking rug back.

May 7, 2009

I Won!

How 'bout them apples? After only a week or more of entering book-giveaway contests, I actually won me a book. Kimberly Swan, over at Darque Reviews, held a contest for a copy of Don Marco's Starfinder. I haven't read a whole lot of fantasy in my lifetime, but I've read enough to know I'm not averse to it. And Marco's book sounds very promising, though I keep calling it "Starhunter" for some reason (there was a television show by that name, wasn't there?).

So, a big thank-you to bother Kimberly and Don. I've never written a review in my life, and this little blog of mine isn't exactly heavy with traffic, but I just may give a written opinion on it as soon as I read it.

Not knowing when to stop, I've entered another giveaway contest over at Reader Rabbit for a chance to win a couple of Kelley Armstrong novels. If you're interested in vamp fiction, you may want to enter too.

EDIT: I also sent out my short story on it's second try to be published with another periodical. Fingers crossed.

May 5, 2009

Mystery Solved

After receiving my first official rejection for my first submitted short story, I thought it best to reread it to be sure it was in pristine condition for submission before I sent it off to the next periodical. And, it's a damned good thing I did. I swear on a stack of bibles, the story was the best I could make it. It was ready.

No, no it wasn't. Another lesson on this long road towards publication came in the form of more than one typo, and an egregious formatting error. Oy vey. Talk about making a great first impression. Well, I've gone over the entire story twice more and have cured it of it's technical ills. I'll send it out this week to it's second target and pray for the best.

It grates on me, though. I forgive myself for the plethora of mistakes I make during the rough drafts because they are, after all, rough drafts. They're supposed to be riddled with mistakes, since I'm focusing on getting the story on the page and can refine it later. No editing on the fly. I made that mistake with a few chapters of my horror novel, while writing the rough draft of that.

For the Esquire Fiction Short Story Contest, I have a general idea in mind for the "An Insurrection" title. Plenty of time to flesh it out, but I will need to do something with it this weekend—a simple outline perhaps—as the deadline in August 1st.

Not only that, but I'm also planning on creating a short story to submit for an anthology based on
The Wizard of Oz. I first caught wind of it on Catherine Gardner's The Poisoned Apple. The submission deadline is July 31st. I actually had an idea for an Oz story around Christmas time, but it was more of a re-imagining than an original tale based in the universe of Oz. So, I'll need to think up something a little different, and my first pangs of an idea involve the Straw Man. It may work.

May 4, 2009

My Book Preferences (Meme)

A couple of weeks ago, Donna over at Lit Bites posted a book meme/survey of sorts. I guess she first came across it at Book Junkie. Well, I couldn't resist, and while fending off a small case of writer's block, I figured I'd partake as well. It's all over the blogosphere apparently, so I'm a little late to the dance. Sue me.

Hardback, trade paperback or mass market paperback? Out of sheer convenience, I look through the mass market paperbacks first while browsing the shelves of my local independent bookstore. I'm not made of money, so when I can get a title for ten dollars or less then I'm happy. The vast majority of my book shopping happens at the used-book stores though, and in those joints I'll take whatever I can get my hands on.

Barnes & Noble or Borders? I have never had the opportunity to set foot in either of these chains. I'm in a small, small town. My excursions to the big ol' city are few and far between, and at no point have those trips been to go book shopping.

Bookmarks or dog-ear? Bookmarks. I used to dog-ear when I first got back into reading, as I wasn't concerned in the least about the condition of the book. But now, as I add more titles to my "keeper" pile, I make sure to use a bookmark, whether it's one I picked up at a store for free, or a piece of looseleaf.

Amazon or brick-and-mortar? I don't shop online. And—big secret revealed here—I don't have, have never had, and am not likely to have anytime soon, a credit card. So, shopping at Amazon isn't really up my alley. I enjoy the mini-adventures in searching shelves for one of those elusive titles on my wish list, anyway.

Alphabetize by author, by title or randomize? I have my to-be-read shelf organized by author. What's more, I have the paperbacks separate from the hardcovers. I'm not in High Fidelity territory—watch the movie—but I could go down that slippery slope in quick fashion.

Keep, throw away or sell? If I don't add a book to my "keeper" pile, I exchange it for credit at a used-book store. I'll also donate some to the local food bank, church, or Salvation Army. I never, ever throw a book away unless it's beyond repair.

Keep dust jacket or remove it? Keep, of course. What am I? A savage?

Read with dust jacket or remove it? Lately, I've been removing the dust jackets while reading a hard cover. Some of them just become unruly and distracting while I'm trying to read.

Short story or novel? If forced to choose to read one format for the rest of my days, I'd choose novel. I love a good short story, and own several anthologies and collections, but it's the novel I always look for first.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket? I haven't had the chance to read a Lemony Snicket novel, though I would jump at the chance. I've only read the first Harry Potter novel, but the second in the series is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks? Chapter breaks. Even if I'm bone-tired, I'll slough through to the end of a chapter, or at least to the end of a scene.

"It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"? If it's a short story, give me a dark and stormy night. I want to get right into the action as soon as possible. With a novel, I'll take those in more gradual fashion. "Once upon a time" type stories are like getting into a hot bath.

Buy or borrow? Buy (on credit). My library card is still good, but I haven't used it in about a year.

Buying choice: book reviews, recommendations or browse? Recommendations are valuable to me when I appreciate the person's opinion. That accounts for about two thirds of my purchases, while casual browsing makes up the other third. I've been reading blog book reviews over the last few months though, so they could easily start to influence my picks.

Tidy ending or cliffhanger? I like a tidy ending. A cliffhanger needs to be especially compelling in a book to make me want to read the next in the series. If the first story in a series is of high quality, I'll keep an eye out for the next installment regardless of a cliffhanger or tidy ending. It's not a plot device that influences my loyalties.

Morning, afternoon or nighttime reading? Afternoons are usually when I'm reading the most, as nighttime is when I'm at my keyboard writing or killing my wrist by writing freehand.

Stand alone or series? I don't feel like I have a preference, but I must admit that some of my favorite books have been in trilogies and series. I just read Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz last week. It's the first of a series, but it was summed up so well in that first novel, I'm almost reluctant to read the next book in the "Odd" series.

Favorite series? The Dark Tower by Stephen King. I'm currently reading the fifth book, Wolves of the Calla, and I'm loving every page.

Favorite children's book? I haven't read it since I was a little kid, but I've seen the film based on it more than once since then ... The Witches by Roald Dahl.

Favorite YA book? It may be more of a children's book, but I'll say Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I saw the trailer for the movie and immediately tracked down the book. I was hooked on the trilogy after that.

Favorite book of which no one else has heard of? I have no idea how popular the title really is, but I will say I have never heard it mentioned as a great fantasy novel or children's story. The book I'm referring to is Clive Barker's The Thief of Always. I'd recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series or Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy.

Favorite books read last year? In 2008, I finally got my butt in gear and increased the number of books reads in a calendar year. Of all those fifty-some titles, I'd have to place Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones at the top of the list. I hadn't heard much about it, but I thought I'd check it out. I'm glad I did because I absolutely loved it.

Favorite books of all time? Cell by Stephen King, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, The Gunslinger by Stephen King, Watchers by Dean Koontz, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

What are you reading right now? The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King, Maritime Mysteries by Bill Jessome, and The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

What are you reading next? The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Favorite book to recommend to an 11-year-old? Again, I must mention Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass.

Favorite book to re-read? Honestly, I don't often re-read a book. One I will pick up from time to time, to read a particular passage, is an autobiography by a professional wrestler, if you can believe that. It's chalk full of amusing anecdotes, and makes me remember what it was like to be a "rasslin'" fan. The book is Mick Foley's Have A Nice Day.

Do you ever smell books? I guess I do, though the question seems kind of dirty for some reason. What I don't care for is the smell of old books. I can't really explain it properly, but the musty odor of long neglected books displeases me. I like my books smelling like ... well, like nothing at all.

Do you ever read primary source documents, like letters or diaries? I don't read diaries. I don't care for memoirs. I rarely receive letters, though I have received postcards in the past written with some very amusing passages. Primary source documents aren't really up my alley, either.

Rejected

Well, my first official rejection is in the books. Though hopeful of having my short story accepted, I aimed high and maintained a realistic expectation as an as-yet unpublished writer. No worries. I'll merely find another publisher on my hitlist that matches up with the tone of the story.

For now, since I'm online for what may be the only time for the next couple of weeks, I'm off to scrounge the blogoshere to see what I can download and read at home. Maybe there's even a couple more contests to enter for a shot at a free book.

Like this contest, which ends this week over at Wondrous Reads. And, another at Readaholic. Oh, and Pop Culture Junkie has a contest happening right now too. There's also a new contest going on at Addicted To Books. And, if that isn't enough, Books By Their Cover has a HUGE giveaway contest going on that I couldn't resist entering.

May 3, 2009

Marauding the Bookstores Again

After getting another batch of books from my sister, the majority of which I would never read (gardening and pregnancy books for the most part), I decided it was time to hit up the local used-book stores to see what there was to see. With wish list in hand, I spent the weekend visiting the three closest—my usual haunts for books.

Between the three stores, I must have racked up about fifty dollars in credit. Hooray. And, while I didn't spot a single title from my list in any of the stores, I did manage to snag a few titles that grabbed my attention.

Zombies are all the rage these days, so when I saw
Monster Nation, by David Wellington, sitting on the shelf I figured I'd add it to my shelf. It's apparently the second book in a trilogy; the first being Monster Island and the last, Monster Planet. I haven't heard of the author before, but that's part of the appeal with me, since I want to see some of the newcomers and their writing to coincide with the mainstays I've been reading.

Speaking of established writers, I've been on the lookout for Fritz Leiber's
Conjure Wife for some time now. I did, however, see a Leiber title for the first time in my travels. It's called Gather, Darkness! With a title like that, I couldn't resist ... especially since it cost me a single dollar.

At my second shop, I found Kelley Armstrong's
Broken, which is the third novel in her werewolf series. I've been searching for a great werewolf novel, and decided I'd add it to the shelf. Who knows? I might find the first two titles in the series before I get around to reading Broken.

Then, I found a novel called
Phantom Nights by Jonathan Farris at my third and final shop. This is proof-positive I need to expand my reading list beyond my favorites. I've never heard of Farris, but he's got quite the bibliography to date, and Dean Koontz and Stephen King both had complimentary words on the book jacket, so I didn't even bother to read the logline. I just bought it. Can those quips on the cover sell a novel? Well, those two did.

So, I'll wait a few more weeks and then do the rounds again to see what titles I'll come across to spend my remaining credit on. I've got a huge wish list with about forty titles at the moment. I'm patient though, as I have double that sitting on my book shelf with novels I've collected via exchange credit.

A few titles on my wish list:
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong; World War Z by Max Brooks; The Hunger Games by Stephanie Connor; Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris; The Ax by Donald E. Westlake.