Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Project Update

Well, June comes to a close, quicker than I expected. The girls have already been out of school nearly two weeks and now go daily to their day camp. We’ve spent weekends at Pennsylvania and down in Washington DC. Day trips to the park and zoo. Saw a Yankee game. Ran the sprinklers and filled the backyard kiddie pool. Summer stuff. 

I’ve maintained an upbeat frame of mind over the past six weeks of unemployment. My resume has been professionally updated and I’ve applied to nearly 20 places and have only received two outright rejections. Physically I’ve been walking a mile or two and lifting weights just about every day without fail. Rising at six every morning. No booze, and keeping those pints of ice cream to a bare minimum (like celebrating Little One’s grammar school graduation). And when it comes to my great nemesis, that demonic pairing of pizza and Diet Coke, just once this summer. Once.

Now, how’s that writing project coming?

On schedule. My goal is to self-publish my best novel by September. To do that I need to build a writing platform, which comprises all my social media accounts and an author website. I also need to polish the novel to perfection as well as research what needs to be done and how exactly to go about doing it.

I’ve spent a little over 80 hours doing so, to date.

The “galley” phase of the novel is almost finished. After that I have another novel, a novella, and then four lengthy short stories I want to compile into one single work. I plan on releasing a work every three months or so. When a year is up, I’ll have the novel I currently have in limbo finished and ready to go.

The author website is generally sketched out; four or five more hours to get it to perfection. Then I have to research the best web hosting company for my needs. Register my URL. Get a professional picture done (and apply that all my social media outlets). Plan out some blog posts, start a mailing list.

As far as releasing the novel, I still need to research which form would best suit me for my genre and my economic situation. Nook, Kindle, iBooks, or POD (print-on-demand). Or something else? Still sketchy on many of those details. I have websites of writers who are currently doing what I want to do, so I need to research them, analyze what they’re doing, research the companies that publish these forms (i.e., B&N, Amazon), find out startup costs and formats, etc. I will probably spend the majority of July on this.

Then there’s marketing. Need to expand my contacts and acquaintances. Have a few ideas how to do this. For example, I want to give away something on my website for those who sign on to the mailing list. I also need to become more active on appropriate bulletin boards and forums (fora?). The one forum I was active on a few years back I’ve been quite dormant in recent months. Get business cards printed up. Etc.

Lots of things to do, but this project is keeping me sane during my bout of unemployment. Keeps me from feeling worthless – no, better yet, gives me a sense of power, a sense of taking my future and my destiny in my own hands. It’s a great and still unused-to feeling. As long as I keep on track, put in my 2-3 hours a day (in addition to hunting for that 9-5 job and taking care of the little ones), I should hit my goal of going live in September.

I’ve burned through two thick books on the topic of self-publishing (750+ pages), spent 20 or 30 hours reading online articles on the topic, bought a brand new laptop (from some unexpected unused vacation time the ex-company graciously paid me), read lots and lots of psychological motivational stuff, found all the electronic copies of my novels and short stories (save one I’m still searching for – may have to retype a hardcopy on to my laptop), and am slowly reconciling myself to becoming an Author.

Next update: July 31, and hopefully I’ll be light years ahead of where I am now!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: Deathworld

© 1960 by Harry Harrison

Imagine a world with double the gravitational pull of Earth. Tilted crazily upon its axis like Uranus, unpredictable seasons and days wreak proverbial havoc upon the landscape. Storms, cyclones, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can kill you, and if they don’t, the hundred degree daily swing in temperature can make you mighty uncomfortable. And just about every living thing, from the single-celled microbe to flying beasties of all shapes and sizes to burrowing plants with gaping maws, everything is out to bury you.

Welcome to Pyrrus, known to our hero, Jason dinAlt, as “Deathworld.”

In one of the fastest opening chapters I’ve read in a long time, Jason is given an offer he can’t refuse by Kerk, dictator-of-sorts ruling over the dwindling human population of Pyrrus. A high stakes gambler who has the unexpected perk slash job skill of possessing the psychic ability to influence the role of dice, dinAlt manages to score – at great risk to his life – a huge amount of dough for Kerk to bankroll a last-ditch cargo of weapons and ammo to keep life going a little longer on the Deathworld.

But as part of the bargain, Jason insists on tagging along.

Imagine daily life as a never-ending bunker assault. Running a foxhole trench to get to work. Kindergarten which focuses solely on self-defense and weapons handling. Such is the mindset of the Pyrran, and rightfully so. It seems as if the whole planet has consciously aligned itself to eradicate these human invaders (descendants, by the way, of a space freighter which crashed upon the world three centuries back).

Such is the riddle Jason sets upon himself to solve. Especially since, as a Pyrran newbie, he can barely carry his double-gee weight, and his stubbornness results in getting dangerous Kerk’s son killed. On the run on a world where his life expectancy should be measured in minutes, our hero finds unexpected help and is forced to use his gambling assets to save both the Pyrrans intent on killing him and the flora and fauna of a world intent on killing them all.

Was never a huge Harrison fan, though, as best I can recall, I never really read much of him growing up. However, this Deathworld novel is part of a 450-page paperback entitled Deathworld Trilogy, so I do intend on reading the two sequels. Probably will alternate them with the other handful of SF paperbacks on my desk awaiting a read. I also have another Harrison trilogy, To the Stars, consisting of a trio of early 80s novellas, which I just put into rotation and will probably get to this Fall.

Deathworld made me a Harrison fan. Grade: solid A.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: Lord of Light

© 1967 by Roger Zelazny

Mythology holds a special place in my heart, especially as a young science fiction obsessed lad all those years ago, and in due course I devoured my way through Greek, Norse, and even Egyptian mythology. An uncle gave me a tattered paperback of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and if only he knew how high he grew in my esteem over that simple act. In fourth grade I loved writing a three page report on Poseidon (lost two points for writing “The End” at the end of it). Watching those Thor animated comics with my pals in the late 70s on channel 11 kindled an interest in Asgaard, frost giants, and great big wooden trees of life.

So it should come as no surprise that my focus would turn eventually to the Hindu pantheon.

Now, I mean this with absolutely no disrespect, coming at it from a Western, steeped-in-monotheism point of view, the Hindu belief system always struck me more literary and mythological, with a great big dose of philosophy tossed in, than theological. In the mid-90s, during my searching-for-meaning phase, I did spend a month or so investigating Hinduism. Now, it wasn’t a spiritual fit for me, but I did have my first introduction to Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the whole host of lesser deities and their avatars. Fascinating stuff.

In the summer of 2000 I first read Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, and was overwhelmed. Amazed and overwhelmed. Fifteen years would have to go by before I cracked it a second time.

I love just about everything about this novel, now that I understand it. Of course, it did take a second reading plus another refresher course in Hindu theogony, but I don’t believe that’s necessary for one to appreciate the Hugo Award-winning novel.

Zelazny deliberately keeps the premise vague (so we can’t really label the book definitively SF or definitively fantasy), but you can pick up bits and pieces from what the characters say to each other. Apparently, some time in the distant past, a spaceship crashed on an unknown planet. The survivors of the crew used the technology available to them (and later seriously expanded upon) to become gods. Hindu gods, specifically, with special powers, such as the ability to spew fire that can burn anything, a “death stare,” the ability to cause darkness, the ability to cause illusion, and much more. They also developed the wherewithal to transmigrate souls, and thus the whole Wheel of Birth and Rebirth is created. The passengers on the ship, it is hinted at (or at least I picked up on), become the population ruled by these gods, and the gods in turn, to keep their supremacy, crack down on any technological advance among the people, be it printing presses or indoor plumbing. Oh, and the natives on this world, energy-like beings, are “bound” and referred to as “demons.”

Now the monkey wrench in the plans of the gods: Sam. Mahasamatman, “Great Souled Sam” if you having a passing familiarity with Sanskrit. Originally a member of that crew so many millennia ago, Sam has come to the realization that the “gods” are a curse upon the planet and the population, and decides to go to war against them. Incarnating as the Buddha, Sam, the “Lord of Light” leads a revolt against the gods, enlisting the aid of the demons and the ever-shifting allegiances of other deities such as Yama and Kali. Though his revolution never quite succeeds as planned (or revealed to the reader), it might possibly succeed if said reader has the patience and has paid enough attention to decipher the tale.

It ain’t an easy book, and does require some cooperation from the guy turning the pages. It did take me two go-throughs, but it was well worth it. The chronology may throw you. The novel consists of seven parts, and I believe Part One fits chronologically between Parts Six and Seven, though it may require a third read to determine that for certain. I was like, why is this guy risking his life to help Sam and then for no reason trying to kill him? Ohhh.

Zelazny is a great teller of tales when he wants to be, and here is he definitely at his best. The images, the backstories, the dialogue – all fantastic, all worth the price of admission a dozen times over. The ideas, the part of a novel I like best, are there in plentitude and fruitfulness. The SF stuff aside, I liked the idea that an antagonist who appears later in the story is actually a Christian chaplain from the original crew. Wow! What are the repercussions of that? Something I wished the author explored a little further. Or again, maybe the next time I crack Lord of Light the answers will be there.

I’ve been reading Roger Zelazny off and on since I was a kid and tackled To Die in Italbar. This Immortal was my Best Read of 2010. Even his mediocre stuff is better than the majority of stuff out there. Lord of Light is a keeper and I think I’ll re-read it sometime around 2030, the Trimurti willing.

Grade: Solid A.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

RIP Christopher Lee

Just found out that actor Christopher Lee passed away a few days ago at the long-lived age of 93. Which saddens me, for ever since a young lad I always related to him on the little screen with an odd yet powerful mixture of respect and deep-seated fear.

My first recollection of him date back to the mid-70s, watching all those Hammer film re-runs alone or with friends on ABC's 4:30 Movie. Paired with Peter Cushing, I remember Lee quite fondly in The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, their various sequels, and a whole host of other, lesser-well-recalled flicks. To be honest, I always self-identified more with Cushing's rational, scientific, reluctant hero persona, but it was Lee's subtle (and often not so subtle) melevolent aura that made the movies worth watching.

Later on I gleefully watched him in The Man With the Golden Gun, as one of Bond's best-named villains, Francisco Scaramanga. He brought a potent combination of refinement and danger that would well best be honored by mandatory viewings from the potential crop of Euroweenie villains now seeking to oppose 007.

When I reflect upon it, I think it was that stare that did it for me. Lee had the stare of a great white shark, if those beasts had pupils and irises and the like. Or at least it seems so now. With one glance he was able to telescope to you or me, the viewer, or his on-screen antagonist (often the good guy), supreme yet subsurface menace. That he had you in the palm of his hand and could crush you at any moment it convenienced him. But there was that slight element of uncertainty where you were never properly convinced he wouldn't just crush you at random. Because that's what sociopaths do, and that he was in the majority of his movie roles that I watched, transfixed.

About six months back I somehow discovered he made an album of heavy metal music. In his 80s! I made a note to investigate this allegation, then promptly forgot it. Perhaps I, like a demented Hammer  villain, can torture my wife and children with youtube excerpts from this should I find it.

To a younger generation, Lee might be best known as turncoat Saruman the White from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. A few awesome facts must be stated here: Lee confessed to reading Tolkien's trilogy once a year for years on end and had a lifelong desire to play Gandalf on the big screen. Not sure if he would have worked best as Mithrandir (see that bit about the great white shark stare above), but he worked for me as Saruman, one of the better moments in a movie experience disappointing to me. Even cooler, of all the actors and creative personnel involved in Jackson's endeavor, Lee was the only one who had actually met J. R. R. Tolkien.

So, rest in peace, Mr. Lee. Know that you have fascinated me for nearly four decades. I have also introduced my oldest, Little One, to your work in the Hammer films Dracula and The Mummy, and will continue to watche you with my children for years to come.

Christopher Lee, 1922-2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Self-Published Authors

What do

Ben Franklin
Thomas Paine
Anais Nin
Walt Whitman
Virginia Woolf
Gertrude Stein
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary Baker Eddy


Carl Sandburg

all have in common?

They are self-published authors (as if you couldn't guess from the title of this post).

Add to that list

Mark Twain, for Huckleberry Finn
James Joyce, for Ulysses
Edgar Rice Burroughs, for his Tarzan series
Zane Grey, for his first (rejected) novel

And you have quite an eclectic, and accomplished, list.

Oh, you say, but these are all writers from years and years gone past. Most from over a century ago. Today the publishing world is different. No one really can succeed at the self-publishing game today.


How about ...

What Color is Your Parachute?
The One Minute Manager
Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun
The Celestine Prophecy
Rich Dad Poor Dad
Life 101
Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts

all originally self-published during my lifetime, most during my adult lifetime.

My point to all this is that it is doable. It is even simple. Not easy, but simple.

I've spent the last month or so researching the process. Compiled a 200 item To Do list. Started chipping away at it. Spent many an hour frustrated, overwhelmed, doubtful, even depressed. But then, an hour after that, grew excited and enthusiastic, again, to get my three novels out there. Three novels sitting gathering cyber dust on a couple of CDs in a desk drawer here the past five years.

I estimated that it will take me a thousand hours to bring this project to fruition. So far I'm about 60 in. But I may be overthinking it (ED. - No! Not you, Hopper!). All I really need are some answers, some luck, and continued perseverance. And as far as luck goes, I'm a firm believer in the old adage that you create your own luck through your own hard work.

But work like this, while hard, never truly feels like work.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Book Review: Hammer's Slammers

(c) 1979 by David Drake

Ah, let's see. Consider a fierce and fearsome crew of cutthroat mercenaries as your protagonists. Note the requisite warrior code and double requisite amounts of testosterone. Stir in hefty amounts of World War II allusions. Extrapolate next generation tanks and guns and all sorts of wicked weaponry. Slingshot all of this six or seven centuries into the future. What results is David Drake's Hammer's Slammers, a novel of sorts stringing together seven short stories from the 70s, each introduced by a few pages on, well, the ins and outs of Drake's universe. Or the Hammerverse, as his fans have come to call it.

Finishing this book is a sort of triumph for me, it being the oldest resident of the great Shelf of Unread Paperbacks. Normally I note the date and place I purchase a book on the top left inside cover; this one's purchase predates that ritual. I figure it's been on the shelf over fifteen years across two states, two apartments, one house. It's older than both my children and, possibly, my marriage.

Way back then I read the first story, before coming sidetracked, a forty-page vignette that draws out our nominal protagonist, Colonel Alois Hammer, in all his glorious, raging gutturality. Not a man to mess with, he's all business when it comes to killing. I have no doubt such men currently exist in the world (have in the past, will in the future), and perhaps, not knowing his backstory, Mr. Drake has personally met a few. Such men are not to be trifled with. Toss them a bad glance over a perceived slight, and you just might end up in the hospital. Or the morgue.

And Hammer's the honorable one, the one with the code. Some of his underlings don't have that saving grace. True, some have consciences, and some develop them; war does funny, unpredictable things to every man (and woman). Some move up on the humanity scale, others slide down with magnificent abandon. Drake decorates his seven tales with all sorts of moral shifts, and one point of favor is that it's usually unpredictable which way a Slammer or Slammee will go.

Unfortunately, this time around, I found myself lost in the matte paintings Drake splashes his stories upon. It appears that France and the Netherlands are somehow some way the main contenders whose extra-solar colonial squabblings often have Hammer's paid men in one corner squaring off against paid adversaries in another. I did start to mentally catalogue the half-dozen or so planets mentioned and referred to in the tales, but then the novel ended. It also seemed to me that when the action did come, it came fast and unexpected, not unlike how actual warfare has been portrayed to civilians like myself through Hollywood and the printed page. And when I the Reader survived it, I felt like I went fifteen rounds with Paul Greengrass and his Bourne shaky-cam.

My favorite tale was "Cultural Conflict," in which a group of Slammers inadvertently finds itself at war with (unforeseen) intelligent indigenous wildlife. The ending, as each one I came to expect, could not be predicted, but this one hit me with an emotional punch I was not expecting. As far as the little subchapters of exposition sandwiching each story, I particularly enjoyed Drake's take on Religion of the Future (which explained the mercenaries' expletives), the pages on supertanks (plausible from both a physics and economics point of view), and the Bonding Authority, which determines the basis of that warrior's code, devolving down to who gets paid what for sticking to the contract (and the penalties for failing to do so).

I found Hammer's Slammers a neat, quick, and tidy novel about very dangerous men in the future. What could be better early June reading?

Grade: B+