Monday, November 30, 2015

Project Update V

Well, November was a crazy month over here. Tremendous highs, debilitating lows, and lots of hopping about hither and thither.

First, I began the month on Cloud Nine, as they say, floating high in the stratosphere because I attained my primary goal of self-publishing a novel.

Then, I faced the really hard part. The follow-up.

Basically, I raced upstairs to my bedroom and dove under the bed, figuratively speaking.

Early November had us spending the wife’s annual bonus on annual house upkeep. In this case, a brand new boiler so we can have the privilege of heat this winter. Then my better half needed to fly out to Montreal for four days leaving me to focus on the children, i.e., herding cats. My true focus, though, turned from the writing and the child care to finding a paying day job. Spent a few days compiling and researching my targets in my market, composing resumes and letters, and sending 77 of them out in staggered waves. (Still have 20 or so more to mail out.) The result to date was two inconclusive interviews last week. Finally, we all enjoyed four luxurious days relaxing at my parents’ place for the long Thanksgiving holiday.

But I did do some work on my book business. Did the whole ISBN registration thing and copyrighted the novel. Selected a web hosting company for my author’s website and started checking out the hundreds of customizable templates I can apply. And towards the end of the month I started editing my second novel for publication and brainstorming an outline for my fourth novel.


As far as my physical health goes, I walked 16.7 miles, kinda so-so for me. But I did take the girls out half-a-dozen times to kick the soccer ball around and lifted the weights a couple of times. During the Thanksgiving break I swam in the indoor pool with the little ones. I did clock in at the heaviest body weight in my life, but now I’m minus-five that, and hopefully that downward trend will continue.

My mindset has been rollercoastering in brutal fashion. Up and down, up and down, out of control. Worry, worry, worry, distraction, stress, stress. However, I’ve been finding much comfort in my faith, and have been spending a lot of time in the cool, dark, peaceful expanse of an empty church before the crucifix – maybe a dozen or fifteen half-hour sessions. Somehow, slowly, answers, inspiration and energy are coming.

Finally got around to reading a pair of books I’ve long wanted to conquer – Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld novel and Mervyn’s Peake’s Titus Groan. Both good reads, but neither lived up to the hype in my opinion. Read a great Heinlein and am currently re-reading The Crystal Cave, a very, very influential book from my youth that I haven’t cracked in thirty years.

So I grade November a B-minus. Would’ve been a C but I was legitimately focused on other things out of necessity. My goal for December is to make it through the holidays, make substantial progress on the Book Self-Publishing Project, and keep on an even keel physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Can be done, no?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Angry Birds

So here’s my dilemma. I’m not a sports guy, never really was growing up. Yes, I ran when I was young and lifted during my teen years, but I wasn’t big on organized sports. Nowadays, however, I watch football and baseball as a means of escape.

Being a New York Giants fan, the whole Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin era has been one of increasing stress. Never a dominant team (unlike, say, the 14-2 Phil Simms-Bill Parcells 1986 Super Bowl winners), the Giants like to play to the level of their opponents, start playing serious late in the game, keep it close until the final 30 seconds, and squeak in to the playoffs – when they make them, which hasn’t been lately – on the thinnest of margins, and usually not in control of their destiny.

Result: Stress, not escape, for Hopper.

Three years ago I decided to start watching baseball. Now, we’ve been taking in a game at Yankee stadium once a year for over a decade now as a sort of family outing with my wife’s side. But I grew up a Mets fan, and it felt more natural to root for them. And since they were not a good team, hovering slightly below .500, and I knew they weren’t a good team, I found myself enjoying watching the games after a busy day at work. Couple this emotional uninvolvement with the fact that a loss in baseball is one-tenth the loss of a football game, baseball became my preferred form of escape.

Then the Mets got good all of a sudden and made it to the World Series.

And stress, emotional involvement, and every-loss-mattering came back in spades.

Last week, after the Giants brutal, heartbreaking, completely demoralizing loss to the Patriots with six seconds left in the game, I threw my hands up in disgust and said the first thing that came to my mind:

“I’m giving up football and baseball and taking up bird watching!”

Problem is, I’ll start watching the birds in my backyard and this’ll happen: I’ll spot a group of warblers muscling in on a bush that a group of wrens call home and I’ll start routing for the wrens and those bastard warblers’ll bring it full force and before you know it, my team, the Wrens, will lose on the last play of the game!


Maybe it’s time to break out the telescope again … surely hunting Messier objects wouldn’t be stressful, would it?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Book Review: Titus Groan

© 1946 by Mervyn Peake

What a strange book! Hopper is truly baffled.

Is it a gothic horror? Maybe – but it’s not really gothic and it’s not really horror. Is it a fantasy alternative to The Lord of the Rings? Again, maybe – but while it might be considered “fantasy” it’s not even in the same genus, let alone species, of Tolkien.

Well, then, just what was this 400-page behemoth I just read?

The best description I can come up with is: a 60-percent-Dickens, 40-percent-Poe character study of the morbid and morose goings-on in a massive centuries-old castle.

If you are a devoted fan of Charles Dickens, or if you enjoy the wordy 19th-century horror of Edgar Allan Poe, or if you find the morbid and morose goings-on in massive centuries-old castles, then this book, the first of the “Gormenghast Trilogy,” is right up your alley.

Gormenghast is the name of the castle in question, and Titus Groan is the newborn heir, the seventy-seventh heir of Gormenghast. The action – if it can be called that – takes place over the princeling’s first two years. Though there are at least fifteen characters of importance in the novel, we mainly follow the Machiavellian ascendency of Steerpike, a discontented, highly intelligent and highly amoral cook’s apprentice who desperately, and in snowballing fashion, seeks greater and greater power within the castle walls. Because of his ruthless quest (as well as the passions of other characters), tragedy comes to Gormenghast.

Now, to say that events in Titus Groan flow by at a snail’s pace only does the metaphor justice if one sits that snail in a pan of Krazy Glue, deep freezes it in a block of liquid hydrogen, and deposits the poor creature within the singularity of a black hole (where time ceases to flow). That’s how it felt to me. A twenty-sentence paragraph detailing a man drawing a knife; an entire page devoted to a manservant walking dark and dank corridors; a block of twenty pages to describe a dinner ritual among the castle elites. Now, this is partly due to a decision on Peake’s part to bring out the stilted, near-eternal character of Gormenghast. It also forces the dissecting scalpel on the characters of the individuals who populate the novel. And so, in and of itself, the glacial movement of the plot may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t move past it.

However, as a Dickensian enthusiast, I relished the names (Mr. Flay, Mr. Rottcodd, Doctor Prunesquallor), the idiosyncrasies (Fuchsia’s secret rooms, Lady Gertrude and her moving carpet of cats), the tragedies (Flay and Swelter psychological warfare, Keda and the two men who fight to the death to have her, Lord Sepulchrave’s descent into madness), the whole black-and-white Charles Addams visuals of these people. In this regard Peake is indeed a master. And for this angle the book is worth reading, and for exactly this I am glad to have read it.

But I’m going to hold off on the remaining two-thirds of the trilogy.

Grade: B (A for characterization, C for pacing).

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


A couple of days late, but I’d like to congratulate my daughter, Patch, and her team, the Unicorns, on an undefeated 5-0-4 season.

Patch herself scored four goals, a pair of two-goal games near season’s end, and did not let a single ball past her by when she defended her goal.  Way back in August she was a little disconcerted to be assigned #13 on her jersey, until she reformulated it as “unlucky for the other team!”

Keep up the good work, Patchie!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

APB out on the Hopper

I am here, alive, and, while not exactly thriving, doing a little better than just surviving.

Actually, I’ve had a busy ten days or so. The wife flew to Montreal for a couple of days (right after the Paris attack, much to our fears) leaving me alone with the two little troublemakers for 100 hours. Spent two days getting the lawn leaf-free. Father-in-law came up for a visit. Had two job interviews for some potential 9-5 work. Completed a massive novel, then suffered painfully from reader’s block. Fought a cold to a stalemate. Fought the black dog just as valiantly, though less successfully.

I do have stuff on deck. A review of aforementioned novel. A meditation on sports (formed in the shower after watching that devastating New York Giant loss to the Patriots). A short post about my youngest, Patch. A couple other less developed things. Just life getting in the way of getting my behind in the chair in front of the laptop.

This Thanksgiving four-day weekend I am bringing my laptop with me when the family visits my parents in their Pennsylvanian hideaway. I’ll post some stuff in the next few days and end the three-week self-publishing hiatus I’ve (involuntarily / voluntarily) been on.

See you real soon.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Wishful Thinking?

Yeah, maybe, but not really until January 21, 2017, unless the Great Forgetting takes place yet again ...

Friday, November 13, 2015

Heartsick for Paris

Freedom Tower, NYC, 9:30 pm EST

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review: Double Star

© 1956 by Robert Heinlein

The Show Must Go On.

Even in an overpopulated, Machiavellian solar system a couple hundred years in the future.

Larry Smith, a.k.a. Lorenzo Smythe, the “Great Lorenzo”, is the greatest ac-tor of his generation. Despite – or maybe because of – a Boothian ego, our boastful protagonist finds himself in a space cantina, drinking his unemployment woes away. Then, a chance meeting, an offer of quick, easy work … but only if Smythe will meet his new acquaintance at a shady hotel. Near penniless (“Imperial-less” more accurate, love that word “Imperial” to denote the local coinage), he does, and is nearly killed.

But not before accepting the gig: impersonating an up-and-coming mover-and-shaker in solar system politics, John Joseph Bonforte. A mélange of Newt Gingrich and JFK with a dash of Don Corleone tossed in, leader of the “Expansionist” Party advocating free trade, open borders, and universal suffrage (for the Martians, tree-like malodorous entities with tentacles and a unique vocal style who live in massive underground hives), Bonforte has been kidnapped leaving his compatriots in the lurch. All the great man’s life work will go to waste if he is not present in 48 hours to accept “Martian citizenship” from those tree-like malodorous beings. Locking up Mars is essential to the upcoming election.

So, a ruse is necessary. Smythe must give the performance of his life imitating Bonforte in a secretive ceremony before a completely alien high council.

Oh, and give a few speeches, spar with the press, hold a face-to-face with the Emperor (an intimate of Bonforte), deal with a sabotage-minded underling and dodge the various attempts on his life.

At a Spartan 128 pages, this novel moved. Not surprisingly as Heinlein is an undisputed member of the Triad of Golden Age SF Masters. Everything I’ve said about truly good books in past reviews applies here: lifelike characters and situations real-er than your cubicle existence, danger and intrigue that keeps the pages a-turnin’, a vision of the future so compelling that a part of you wishes you were there. Great, great stuff from a great writer. Oh, and it’s a quick, lean and mean read. I finished it in about three hours over three days.

Two things stood out to me as I burned through it. One, the character of the main character. Initially I did not like him. Foppish, vain, egotistical, it’s an understatement to say he had little appeal to me in the opening pages. But something strange and wonderful happened. I grew to like him. Like him a lot. By the wonderful twists at the end of the book, one you’ll guess and one you won’t see coming, he had become one of the most endearing characters to me I’ve read (admittedly, a fairly large group). I wanted him to succeed, to do the right things, and I enjoyed every second of learning vicariously his craft.

Two, the political situation.

Handling politics in a science fiction novel can be tricky. Reason is, everything is more or less made up, and it’s a fine line between beguiling the reader and confusing the heck out of him. Eon, recently reviewed here, is a case where I found myself on the latter part of that line. Heinlein unfolded the political situation – and this really is a political tale, adorned with SF tropes – in a way that reeled me in and kept me fully aware of how high the stakes were.

Both these points further reinforce, to me, the mastery of Heinlein the writer.

Grade: Solid A.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Book Review: The Colour of Magic

© 1983 by Terry Pratchett

Despite flourishing during the prime time of my youth, I only really became aware of the whole “Discworld” phenomenon after Terry Pratchett’s death eight months ago at age 66. Wanting to do for fantasy what Blazing Saddles did for Westerns, Pratchett began a string of 41 irreverent, amusing, and oftentimes off-the-wall novels over a span of 32 years. The first book, The Colour of Magic, had an initial printing of 500 copies. Twenty years later Pratchett was the bestselling UK author of all time, to be surpassed only by J. K. Rowling.

With a pedigree like that, I had to investigate.

Problem is, over the past eight months I couldn’t find any of his works in any of the used book stores I prowl about. This signals to me that the owners of such books wish not to part with them. Which means they’re that good. (Another author who wrote novels so good that you never find them in used books stores is Philip K. Dick. Everything of his I read is bought new off the shelf.)

Then, out of the blue, I stumbled across a copy of The Colour of Magic at my local hometown library, browsing the shelves while the battery in my Honda Pilot was being replaced at the gas station across the street. I seized it possessively, brought it home and bumped it up to the On-Deck Circle of my reading list.

I burned through it in four days around Halloween. It wasn’t that I couldn’t put it down (had to, ’cuz I was in the thick of getting my own book onto Amazon), it’s just that every time I picked it up I’d blow through thirty or forty pages in joyful enrapturement.

The setting of the Discworld series is, well, a disk, hundreds or thousands of miles across, supported on the backs of four massive elephants, supported on the back of an even more massive turtle, free-floating through the universe.

Yes, it’s that kind of tale.

Through four meandering vignettes we follow the misadventures of a cowardly wizard named Rincewind, and in so doing Pratchett pokes playful fun at Tolkien, Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard (he of Conan the Barbarian literary fame of the pulpy 1930s). Besides Rincewind, the hapless, bumbling, somehow endearing Bizarro-world Gandalf, we encounter:

Dragons of varying degrees of reality, water trolls, barbarians, wood nymphs, a Cthulhu-like malevolent deity, a sapient piece of luggage, a brief segue into the alternate reality of the 1980s (aboard an airplane), an eighth color (“the colour of magic”), and a spaceship flung off the edge of Discworld tasked to discover the sex of Great A’Tuin, the turtle on Whom the world rests. Clocks and cameras appear, powered by little imps. Death personified, the dude in the black cape with the scythe, is a major character, always an inch away from claiming Rincewind, and speaking in a unique typeset way quite pleasing to this logophile.

Rincewind the wizard 
contemplating a model of Discworld

It’s funny and witty and downright bizarre. Every page contains a double-take, a gibe, jest, or joke. Occasionally I’d laugh out loud. Disconcertingly, I found I’d often have to re-read paragraphs, having detected a pun flown clear over my head. One-liners as well as page-long jokes unfold with regularity.

Though the purist in me balked at the lack of structure, noble purpose, and having beloved fantasy tropes tweaked, the emerging iconoclast in me relished the trip. It does to fantasy what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does to science fiction.

One down, forty to go …

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Oncewhere Walked the Whale: Amazon

Here is the link to my book on

Please check it out, and pass the word along!