Fantastic Beasts 2 and the Basic Appeal of a Thing

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In a now-deleted tweet, another author wrote that the Fantastic Beasts movies sounded like the Star Wars prequels, because they focused on worldbuilding at the expense of characterization. That got me thinking about the basic appeal of fantasy stories, and what role worldbuilding and characterization plays in making that appeal long-lasting.

If someone as savvy as the one mentioned above thinks the Fantastic Beast films have Star Wars Prequel-level characterization, that’s a major failure of the WB marketing department. Whatever the flaws of the Fantastic Beast movies, boring lead characters are not one of them. Newt Scamander might be the most peculiar hero of big budget studio adventure films in my lifetime. Even something as simple as the way he stands when he talks to other people subverts the idea of a male hero, the guys who wipe a trickle of blood from the corner of their mouth with their fist.

Honestly, I found Newt’s body language off-putting at first. His body language suggests that he believes other humans are dangerous predators, even the friendly ones. Imagine a Harry Potter who can barely make eye contact with Draco. It’s a bold choice, and it’s about a thousand miles from sulky, petulant Annakin and whatever Liam Neeson was doing.

One the problems with the second film is that the newer additions to the story aren’t as distinctive as the characters from the first film. Grindelwald’s hench-people in particular are a bunch of stoic blank-faces and a big disappointment from the writer who created the faculty at Hogwarts.

But I have to ask, if you want to talk about interesting characters, what about Harry Potter as a character? He comes from an abusive background (without the harmful damage kids in that environment get in the real world). He’s good at sports. He’s earnest and brave and snubs Flashman… er, I mean Draco from the start of the story.

We like him because, in part (and I’ll get to the second part in a bit), he’s a good guy in difficult circumstances, but it’s the specifics of those circumstances that make his story compelling. That’s on the worldbuilding.

Really, it’s Hogwarts. Hogwarts is the centerpiece of the appeal of the Harry Potter stories. Yeah, the characters. Yeah, the names of the characters (which I love). Yeah, the mix of plot threat, magic, interpersonal character bonding and conflict–Rowling has a sense for mixing those things in just the right order. But the Harry Potter books work so well because of a fairly ordinary Brave Young Hero in an extraordinarily appealing setting.

There’s a moment in FB2 where the story briefly returns to Hogwarts and it’s announced by that musical motif. You know the one I mean. It made me wonder why the other characters didn’t have their own music. Shouldn’t Credence’s scenes have their own little jingle? Shouldn’t Grindelwald’s? (Or maybe they did, but if so I didn’t notice) It would have helped establish the various factions in the plot, and helped us connect them.But Hogwarts deserves its own jingle because Hogwarts is the place we want to be.

Personally, I think the worldbuilding is an obsession with fantasy readers and fans. I have seen people complain about The Lies of Locke Lamora because it didn’t give them a sense of the world as a whole. It’s been said that a crime novel is, at its core, about a city, while a spy novel is like a tourist’s travel guide. Well, I think fantasy readers want their novels to be expeditions into fictional places, and I suspect Rowling has plenty more travel guide in her.

This isn’t to say that characterization isn’t important–obviously it is–but I think what really matters (this is the second part I mentioned above) is the relationships between the main characters. How they’re connected, how that relationship is tested, how it survives (or doesn’t).

I think this is the biggest flaw in the FB2: not enough emphasis is put on the connections between the characters. Jacob and Queenie spend most of the movie apart. Credence and Nagini need a scene to demonstrate the powerful connection between them to make his climactic choice meaningful. Leta’s connection to Newt is demonstrated powerfully, but not her connection to Theseus. And Grindlewald’s connections to his henchfolk is simply assumed.

Yeah, the movie has problems, but I think it’s better than people think. As I said on Twitter, in a few years’ time I expect people to reappraise it, especially in light of the FB series as a whole, however long many movies turns out to be.

But I’ll sum up by saying the worldbuilding has to have lasting appeal to sustain a long series, which I think the HCU (Hogwarts Cinematic Universe, ‘natch) does. Also, it helps to have interesting supporting characters and standard heroic leads with strong relationships to the other characters, because it’s the connections the readers will invest in, not the characters themselves. IMO.

Long Time Readers Will Know What This Photo Means

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Arrogant Bastard

But damn… A can?

I used to buy Arrogant Bastard Ale in a 22 oz bottle, but everything’s in cans now.

Maybe this makes me an old, but cans still feel cheap. The beer tastes fine, but it’s not as pleasurable to drink.

But yes, this means that THE CROWN OF INFAMY is sitting in my agent’s inbox, after 8+ months of work.

It may seem that I haven’t released much new work in the last few years, and you’re not wrong. Since putting out The Great Way and Key/Egg in 2015, I’ve only released that new Twenty Palaces novella. One Man took nearly two years to write, and it floated from publisher to publisher for a year and a half before the submission process ended.

I have to give it another revision before I decide what to do with it, and it’s going to take at least as long as my revisions for The Crown of Infamy. One Man just needs another polish, I think, but it’s also 50K words longer than Crown…

Plus, there’s a mystery that I need to polish and release. (This is going to sound weird, but I can’t remember the title for it. I’ve had so many they’ve become a blur.) It’s a good book, but I’m going to have to publish it myself.

Once those are done, I can pounce on the next Twenty Palaces novella, which exists as a rough idea in my head but needs a bit of work to tease out. And mixed in with all of that is the next draft of Crown… based on my agent’s notes.

So, I’m busy and things have not been auspicious in my writing career. Still, it’s important to celebrate the little milestones.

But cans? Sheesh.

Short Reviews from this Year’s Halloween Binge

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Some short reviews of Halloween-themed binge watches from this year (which isn’t over yet, obviously).

Horror is at once my least- and most-favorite genres. I don’t like stuff that too gross or gory. I’m not a big fan of torture, or grime, or people being torn apart. Misogynistic torture porn is my least favorite sort of movie. Spooky, evocative supernatural stories might be my favorite.

Anyway, this is what I’ve watched so far this year. And I’m sending this out as a first draft, so please forgive any awkward phrasing.

I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House (Netflix streaming): A quiet, understated ghost story about a timid live-in nurse who comes to care for a horror writer with dementia. She slowly comes to realize that the author’s most famous work may not have been fiction, and that her house might be haunted. There’s not a lot of story here, but there is a lot of quiet dread.

The Shining (Netflix streaming): Kubrick’s horror classic still holds up today, and it does so without a lot of shadowy figures in dark rooms. King himself was unhappy with this adaptation because he wanted an everyman actor to play Jack Torrance, because to him it’s a story of an average man who loses control. King thought Jack Nicholson was too much of a wild man, and famous for his role in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. But this is Kubrick’s story, and he’s got other things on his mind. Brilliant film, full of unforgettable moments.

Ringu (library dvd): Somehow I’ve missed this up until now, but I confess that I admired it more than I enjoyed it. There are, as far as I can tell, two sorts of ghost story. One where the main purpose of the story is to uncover a hidden truth, and one that doesn’t have a hidden narrative to uncover. The Shining was the latter, while Ringu is the former. That hidden narrative was interesting enough, but it didn’t feel solid.

The Sixth Sense (Netflix streaming): Everyone talked about the twist ending of this show, but what really makes this movie work is that it has two twists. The first is spoiled by that famous four-word line of dialog, and it takes a long time to get there. Still an enjoyable movie, though.

1408 (library dvd): A haunted hotel room is a fine idea for a story, but this whole thing feels expensive but uninspired. I enjoyed it while I watched it, but I’ve already forgotten most of the story.

Kwaidan (Netflix dvd): A big hit at Cannes in 1965, this anthology of ghost stories is very long and very beautiful, in a lavish studio technicolor way.

The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix streaming): Probably the scariest thing I watched this year, and I loved it. The combination of kids in danger, sound design, and continually building tension made me turn it off, more than once. After the first few episodes, I felt acclimated to it and was happy to binge to the end. Loved it, except the end. Honestly, the ending was pretty much a betrayal of the first nine-and-a-half episodes. But the rest of it was ::chef’s kiss::

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Netflix streaming): I never watched the sitcom or the various cartoons, and I never read the comics, so I put this one on my queue solely based on the strength of the trailer. The show aims high, mixing horror and comedy and a bit of camp, which is not an easy tone to hit. It has a great cast, sharp writing, and it amazing to look at.

Ash vs The Evil Dead season 3 (library dvd): Speaking of difficult tones that are hard to get right, this third season of Ash vs the Evil Dead works like gangbusters, introducing Ash’s daughter, and losing some of the convoluted plotting off the earlier seasons. Even Lee Majors makes a brief return. I said above that I didn’t much care for gore, but I make an exception here. They don’t always get the tone right, but but they get it right enough that I can stick with it. It’s a shame the show was cancelled, but what a send off. I loved it enough to take a chance on the dvd commentary (which I regretted, as usual).

Constantine (Netflix streaming): There’s a lot of money and energy and charisma behind this, but it just doesn’t hold up.

Frailty (library dvd): Axe murder is one of the horror tropes that I try to avoid as much as possible, because it’s usually an excuse for fake gore, and I’m not a fan. But this movie turns the camera away at just the right moment, leaving the focus on the murderous father on a mission from God and his relationship with his sons. Super effective and very creepy.

It (2017) (library dvd): There are a few problems with this film, especially the way they treat Beverly as a plot device. But it has tremendous energy and a fantastic balance between youthful camaraderie and the threats surrounding the kids, whether supernatural or not. The structure was so solid I did a beat sheet for it. Now I just need to find time to break it down farther.

Ganja & Hess (library dvd): This is art-horror from the early seventies, a vampire movie directed by a Bill Gunn, a black playwright, actor, and director who also plays a supporting role here. Like a lot of older artsy movies, it tries the patience at times, but it also thwarts every genre expectation (in a good way). The original film was butchered by a distributor who wanted to show a blaxploitation film, but it’s been restored to the 110 minutes it’s supposed to be. Worth seeing, mostly because it’s different and an under appreciated classic.

The Night Stalker (my own dvd): One of the few movies I own. It has problems, but the structure is perfect, and it deserved to be a huge hit when it first aired. I watch it every year, and still love it.

Salem’s Lot (1979) (my own dvd): Far superior to the 2004 version, this simplification of Stephen King’s original novel still has chills, even 40 years later. My wife didn’t think much of it, since much of the staging and performances are dated, but revisiting it over the summer convinced me to pick up a copy of my own, and I’m glad I did.

The Transfiguration (Netflix streaming): Another art-horror film, this time one that combines the vampire story with hood dramas. The protagonist is a fourteen-year-old boy in Harlem who is obsessed with vampires and blood-drinking. This is another slow, quiet film, without much in the way of supernatural elements. I’m glad I saw it, but I probably won’t watch it again.

He Never Died (Netflix streaming): Like Kwaidan, this isn’t exactly horror, but it’s close enough to qualify. Henry Rollins plays a sort of immortal vampire, but one who feasts on flesh as well as blood. And he’s lived for so long that he has pretty much given up on life. Then he discovers that he has a daughter, and his quiet, controlled life begins to spin out of control. The movie is funnier than it sounds, with Rollins giving a quiet, droll performance, but it looks like that miniseries about the character will never happen.

Interview with a Vampire (Netflix streaming): This holds up much better than I expected, possibly because it’s a period piece that feels so grounded in its period. Few things become dated as quickly as a child actor’s performance (see Salem’s Lot above) but not Dunst. But the real strength of this film is the relationship between Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. They’re great together.

Hereditary (Netflix dvd): Probably the second scariest thing I’ve watched so far this year. It felt a little confused, but it was one of a number of stories where the protagonists were threatened by spells and magic rather than traditional monsters or hauntings. Great performances, with a whole bunch of scary images at the end that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It’s not often that I see horror films that make magical rituals or other spell casting work, but boy, does it.

The Ritual (Netflix streaming): This one combines a ritual magic story with a lost-in-the-woods monster story, and is mostly getting good word of mouth based on its unusual (and highly effective) monster design. The monster is not the real appeal, though. It’s the mounting tension and inexplicable threats the characters face.

The Wailing (library dvd): The third and final film about horror driven by magic spells, and this one had my wife and I guessing until the very end. Who is trying to do harm? Who is trying to help? It’s a longish film and starts off as a sort of horror comedy, with a buffoonish protagonist. As it progresses, shit gets more and more serious, and the buffoon turns into something else. I don’t think the film was playing fair 100% of the time, but I still loved it.

Evolution (library dvd): A quiet piece of French body horror about children in an island community who are being experimented on by their “mothers”. It’s weird and unsettling, filled with long quiet moments and blank, staring expressions. I liked it, but sometimes I thought it was deliberately trying my patience. Art/body-horror, if you can believe it. Side note: the ocean is creepy.

Slither (library dvd): This James Gunn horror comedy isn’t as funny as I remember it, but it was still pretty great. It’s hard to believe this was a huge flop that scared filmmakers off horror comedies for years. Nathan Fillion was his usual charming self, but some of his dialog could have been sharper. it was Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker that really make the film work. We could stand to have more alien invasion horror.

The Endless (Netflix streaming): A bunch of people have recommended this to me, but the sound mix made it hard for me to hear. I’ll have to try again another time, maybe when I have a chance to really crank the volume.

The Monolith Monsters (library dvd): I’ve seen this several times over the course of my life, and it was nice to revisit. It’s the only black and white show on this year’s list, which is unusual for me, but I really love the central conceit, about mindless alien stones that petrifies people.

Stranger Things (Netflix streaming): Oh hey there’s this sci-fi horror thing on Netflix you might have heard of. It’s pretty great. I’ve watched it a bunch of times, but every time I put it on, I end up getting hooked.

Heroes For Hire Cancelled by Netflix

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On social media I’ve been pretty open about how pleased I was with the second season of Iron Fist. It wasn’t perfect, but it did away with the unlikable Danny Rand of the first season and told a more interesting story, with better villains, interesting fight scenes and, unfortunately, the lingering effects of a couple of bad decisions from the first season.

It didn’t help. Nobody watched. Iron Fist was cancelled shortly after the season dropped.

And now, Netflix has cancelled Luke Cage, too. There won’t be a third season for this well-reviewed, well-received show.

With Iron Fist, it was no surprise. The first season was bogged down with terrible choices, some big and some small. The biggest was turning the show into yet another neo-noir when the material called for a lighter touch. the small–well, there were dozens of little ways that the show turned Danny Rand into an unlikable jerk, and that shit adds up.

And viewers don’t forget. Few people will feel an urgent need to revisit a seriously flawed show. Only a dedicated few–like lovers of martial arts movies, abject racists pissed about the criticism of the show’s white hero, and those (like me) who have been fans of the character since they were kids and were hoping things would turn around–are going to put a second season at the top of their watch list.

And while Netflix doesn’t publish ratings, they did say that Iron Fist S1 was one of their more popular offerings. But they sure cancelled S2 very quickly after it dropped. I’m guessing the numbers are dismal.

There are a lot of theories online about the reasons Luke Cage is gone: They’re going to combine Luke and Danny in a Heroes for Hire series; Disney wants to start it up again on their own service, maybe with the same actors; Netflix and Disney are involved in a feud over Disney’s new service; etc. But I suspect Luke Cage is going away for the same reason Iron Fist is. The show is expensive to make and the first season wasn’t compelling enough to draw in a lot of viewers for season two.

Not that season one of Luke Cage was as bad as Iron Fist’s. It had a great deal of buzz, thanks to Cage’s appearance in Jessica Jones and the general excitement for a black superhero story. Purportedly it crashed Netflix when it first dropped.

But that first season had its problems, too. Cornell Stokes was an excellent villain, but he got written out halfway through. I’ve seen the show runner talk about Diamondback as a sort of “horror movie villain”, the guy people talk about in hushed tones until he shows up all scary and dangerous.

Except, despite the actor’s charisma (and great voice), Diamondback is written as a bible-spouting psycho gangster who also by coincidence is Cage’s brother. It comes out of left field, it doesn’t feel natural, and it replaces a complex, interesting villain with a grinning evil guy with a gun. Would the first season of Luke Cage have a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes if reviewers had seen the whole season instead of just a six-ep preview with all those Cornell episodes?

How many people have said they still haven’t watched season two of Luke Cage, or Iron Fist, or even Jessica Jones? (Season one of the latter was full of great performances and had a truly great villain, but it pissed away a lot of the tension toward the end.) The Netflix model has long been engagement over quality. They’re happy enough with a 13-hour B minus or C plus show that could have been a solid A with a few cuts. But there’s a big difference between staying engaged with a bingeable season of shows and returning to a new season two years after sorta liking the first one.

Here’s a short list of shows I’ve abandoned after one season for no reason other than lack of enthusiasm: iZombie, The Magicians, Midnight Diner, Travelers, Shooter, Dark Matter, Gotham. It’s not that they’re bad shows. They’re fine. I just didn’t feel like I had a compelling reason to keep watching.

As Lawrence Block said, the first chapter sells the book the reader is holding. The last chapter sells the next book.

And season two of Luke Cage, despite the wonderful performances and amazing music, had no through-line. Characters would talk about problems that seemed to come from nowhere, because the show hadn’t bothered to *show* them. In one scene, Luke Cage is performing feats of super strength on a field surrounded by adoring fans while a Nike rep is trying to put a million dollars in his pocket. Soon after, he’s complaining that people are afraid of him because he’s a black man with powers, and he’s so angry about it that he’s punching holes in the walls.

Now, yeah, that’s an entirely reasonable thing for a character like Luke Cage to be angry about, but the show doesn’t bother to dramatize it. In scene after scene, he’s famous and beloved, taking selfies with little kids and getting The Look from every woman on the street. It’s not enough to say “It would be logical if…” and then have the characters talk about it. It’s a show. A long-ass show. Dramatize it or drop it.

Anyway, early reports are that Netflix wanted a shorter season (a smart decision but I doubt they’re making it for creative reasons) which suggests that viewership was way down. Supposedly, they were unhappy with the early scripts. How much does the show cost? How many people are still watching? And did they cancel Luke Cage on Daredevil S3 Day because they wanted their subscribers to thing Shit, I should watch these shows if I want more of them?

What remains to be seen is whether Netflix will go for a fourth season of Daredevil (even after that excellent third) and if they’ll continue with Jessica Jones (the last season for show runner Melissa Rosenberg) and The Punisher after their new seasons drop. If Netflix cancels them all, wiping the slate of Marvel shows, I think we can be confident that competition with Disney is behind it, no matter what they type into their press releases. If they don’t, we can blame the ratings.

But even if Netflix shuts them all down, I can’t say I’ll be unhappy. Most of their shows were flawed but enjoyable. We’ll have to see what comes next (and whether I drop Netflix once it drops its superhero stuff.)

Randomness for 10/10

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1) Honest Kathleen Turner is best Kathleen Turner.

2) A Songwriting Mystery Solved: Math Proves John Lennon Wrote ‘In My Life’. Mathematical analysis applied to musical authorship, which I find damned interesting.

3) Political Moderates Are Lying: How group social dynamics push moderate voters to extremes. (Not a perfect article, but interesting.

4) Meet the Facebook Detective, a Citizen Sleuth Who’s Helping Solve Murders With Social Media.

5) A reliable credit-card skimmer detector: a card that detects multiple read heads.

6) “The first time the bears steal human food, they are relocated 30 miles away. The second time, it’s 60 miles, and the third time it’s 100. After that, they become consumer product consultants.”

7) This obituary is wild.

Long Live Physical Media

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Hey, check out what arrived in the mail:

Salem's Lot 1979 blu ray

Last month I had a hankering to watch this, but it wasn’t available on the streaming services I pay for (and I try not to spend money renting tv shows or films on streaming, because budget). Luckily, Netflix had the dvd.

And it was terrific. Better, in fact, than I remember. Bonnie Bedelia has this incredible presence without ever raising her voice, and James Mason is always a great villain. Sure, it’s got that 70’s trumpet-blare-freeze-frame-zoom-in “scare” technique, but I love that shit.

But when I decided I wanted to have it so I could watch it whenever I please (aka this coming Halloween), I bought a physical copy. Sure, it would have been easy to buy it on iTunes, but hey, there are some downsides to that.

Read here the tale of the guy who had movies he’d previously purchased suddenly disappear from his account.

For those who don’t want to click, the Reader’s Digest version: iTunes had an agreement to sell movies put out by a certain distributor. Later, for whatever reason, that agreement ended and the distributor pulled the movies from iTunes’s store.

Which is when iTunes began deleting the movies from its customers’ libraries. It didn’t matter if you paid them to “buy” the film, because the film isn’t yours. It’s theirs. They can take it away from you at any time.

If I were to guess, I’m sure they set up their program this way to put pressure on the distributors they deal with. The head honchos at iTunes know that pulling a film from a fan’s library pisses them off in a big way, and they can instruct their CSRs to throw up their hands and blame the distributors. But really, it’s a fine reason to bypass iTunes all together, at least if you’re planning to purchase films or TV (iTunes will let you burn a music playlist to a cd, which reminds me that I need to do exactly that when I get home)

In truth, I don’t own a lot of films or tv shows, and several that I do have been gifts. But the ones I really enjoy? The ones I want to watch every Halloween, or whenever I’m feeling sad for no good reason at all? I buy physical media.

The downside is that, with our upcoming move almost certainly going to happen, we’ll be carting around physical copies. But like I said, I don’t own very many, so it’s no great burden.

Finally, yeah, sales of physical media are fading as streaming becomes easier and more profitable, but physical media won’t be going away completely. Smaller companies are already jumping in to capture that market.

My suggestion: support them. Own your own stuff.

The State of the Author Address

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Let’s talk briefly about where things stand for me as an author in the fall of 2018. There’s some personal stuff here and an update on new books.

First of all, my wife and I have been living in this apartment for 24 years come Oct 3. And sometime in the upcoming months we’re going to be evicted.

The eviction will come in one of two ways: a massive rent hike, or a straight order to get out so the building can be demolished. Our landlord passed away, and his heirs would rather sell than collect rent, so the building is up for sale. (And no, I can’t afford to make an offer.)

My entire marriage has played out in this apartment. It’s the only home my son has ever known. But we don’t own it, so we don’t control it. That means we’re going to be moving on.

In a way, it’s fine. Moving will suck but at least it’ll force us to deal with our clutter, and the unit was old when we moved in, so it’s in a bit of disrepair. Still, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived here and if you stay somewhere long enough, the rent sometimes lags behind the market, so a new place will cost.

And yet, move on we must. That means higher rents and longer commutes, probably from a brand new neighborhood.

To that end, I whipped up a resume and submitted it to a video game company who had expressed interest in hiring me about five years ago. At the time, I thought they wanted to talk to me about writing a book for them, but then I met the novelists they already have working for them and I was all What am I doing here?

But I actually play some video games now (thanks to decent recommendations from my son and the fact that he’s old enough for me to have more free time) whereas I did my best to avoid them when he was small. And while the writing has been going pretty well over the years, this year has been tough. If I have to move, too, it’ll be day job time.

Books what about those books?

Let’s take a look at where things stand:

City of Fallen Gods has made its rounds among the major NY and UK publishers without generating any interest. I need to do another revision and decide whether to send it to small presses or just self-publish it and let it out into the world.

When my agent took this one to the market, I told myself (and a few others) If this book doesn’t sell, I’m not going to write fantasy any more. Well, it didn’t. However, I am already in the middle of…

The Crown of Infamy, which is over 90k words in a first draft. It’s meant to be a light-hearted adventure, similar in tone (if not in plot) to Key/Egg, but I confess that I’ve been struggling with it. Soon enough, I expect to finish first-pass revisions on it and then I can return to City….

Hard Choices, previously titled Jack of Angels, Tiger Things, The Llewellyn Report, and One Last Favor, is a mystery/crime thriller I wrote last year as a sort of break from magic and monsters. It’s the sort of old-fashioned mystery novel that you can only self-publish now, and I intend to do exactly that as soon as City… is out in the world.

The [Adjective] [Noun] is the next Twenty Palaces novella I’ve been meaning to tackle. Earlier this year, I was saying I expected to get to it before the end of the year, but City… has bounced back at me and Crown… has been fighting me with every word, so that’s got to be pushed into 2019.

What will probably happen is:
1. Send Crown to my agent
2. rough draft The [Adjective] [Noun]
3. revise City
4. revise Choices
5. revise [Noun]

And somewhere in that timeline is a pause to execute my agent’s notes on Crown so it can go out to publishers, plus another Bookbub promotion for The Way into Chaos, plus cover designs for Choices and City, plus scheduling copy edits and so on and so forth.

Plus looking for a regular job (hopefully not simply more temp work, although I’m not exactly brimming over with marketable job skills) plus shedding extraneous possessions in anticipation of our move plus packing things for our move plus plus plus.

It’s a busy time, is what I’m saying, but I’m planning to do everything I can to get these books to you guys (especially the 20P novella).

Last note! I have that Patreon going (which you can see in the sidebar of my website) because of recent rent hikes and dips in book sales but, if I land a regular full-time job, I plan to shutter it, for the obvious reasons.

Some Books I’ve Read Recently

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These include Amazon Affiliate links, so don’t be shocked if a couple of pennies come my way if you decide any of these books are interesting.

Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero.

I was surprised to discover that this was a bestseller, since I had not heard of it before it turned up on a “What to read now that you’ve finished watching STRANGER THINGS” list. The author is from Spain and while English is his second language, he brings a beautiful fluidity and a welcome playfulness to the book. Well, mostly welcome. He experiments with the language, and not every experiment is a success, but I was still pleased by it.

Plot: Thirteen years before the events of the book, in 1979, four teenagers (plus one dog) were amateur detectives in their rural Oregon town, uncovering real estate swindles and smugglers in true Scooby-Doo style. Then, during their last mystery, they uncovered actual Lovecraftian evil (and the youngest teen read from the Necronomicon). They awakened something dangerous in their sleepy little mountain town, and at the same time utterly destroyed their own lives.

Now, as twenty-something screwups, they’re determined to return to the scene of their last mystery and solve it for real, in the hopes of putting the madness behind them.

This was fun, and light-hearted, but not as funny as I’d hoped. It quickly turns into a Lovecraftian thriller with a decidedly easy touch. Recommended.

The Hike, by Drew Magary.
This was a fun and funny contemporary fantasy that mixed fairy tale story structure, Stephen King(ish) frights, and some point-and-click video game plotting. That sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it really really does.

Plot: The protagonist, Ben, is a husband and father who has gone out of town on a business trip, but decides to spend the free hour before his meeting taking a brief hike through the woods near the hotel. Except that he gets lost, then he gets chased, and things begin to get really weird. He’s attacked by a giant cricket, captured by a friendly giant that wants to eat him, and finds support–moral and otherwise–from a talking crab.

What keeps the story from being meaningless fluff is that Ben himself is so engaging. A man who seems to be a short-tempered everyman at first quickly begins to show his flaws. Ben has a lot of damage, and he’s not managing it well in his real life. On this mythical hike, he starts to come apart and then puts himself back together again.

The book is funny, breezy, and at the same time, emotionally powerful. And I loved the ending.

The Outsider by Stephen King

What an odd book. For the first 200 pages, it’s a murder mystery. There’s a horrific crime, compelling evidence against an unlikely suspect who has an iron-clad alibi, and an investigation that circles around and around collecting conflicting evidence.

Has the suspect orchestrated the perfect crime? Will the cops crack his perfect alibi?

And just as I became convinced that King was going to give us a straight mystery this time, the story makes a u-turn toward the supernatural, when the characters realize they can’t pick apart either evidence or the alibi, and begin to recognize that Something Else must be going on. From there, it pivots to a King-ish members-of-the-community-come-together-to-fight-evil plot, and on those terms it works well. The ending was a little soft, but overall, a terrific book.

Also, it’s apparently a pseudo-sequel to a set of books I haven’t read, but while that’s obvious in the way the characters talk about their past experiences, it’s not a deal-breaker for the story here.

Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

This one is a thriller and coming of age story without a supernatural element, but it might be my favorite of the bunch. Lansdale seems to specialize in mid-twentieth century east Texas poor folk, when they’re caught up in crime or supernatural evil. (He also wrote some of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series)

Voice. Voice is an important part of any book, and Lansdale has the voice of his characters down. For all the time they spend solving mysteries and fleeing from those who want to rob and/or kill them, the real appeal here is the way the narrator draws you in.

A fantastic book. Highly recommended.


Looking these over again, I realize I’ve they were a string of white dude authors. That’s an old, bad habit, and when I finish the book I’m currently reading, I’ll find a way to mix things up a bit.

Slapstick and New Fiction: Sharing Some Personal Stuff Here Instead of on Social

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My Saturday was supposed to be fun. I was going to finish up my day’s writing, then pop over to the Summerfest celebration, which is basically the weekend when our local chamber of commerce rounds up food trucks, a beer garden, and some local musicians/cover bands. Not tremendously fun, but it’s outdoors and the beers are excellent. I’d planned to try some overpriced food truck treats, buy a fancy red ale from a nearby microbrew, and read in the shade for a few hours.

Hey, my wife was going to be away until the evening, so I could have all the fun. But did I have fun?

First, before I got within 100 yards of a fancy beer, I fell. I had no excuse; my foot landed half on the edge of the sidewalk and half off, which threw off my balance and, like a lumbering ox, I toppled over onto the sidewalk and scraped the hell out of my leg. (And laughed at my own clumsiness)

Second, once I arrived at Summerfest, one of the hot dogs I’d picked as my food truck dinner (not that fancy, maybe, but lines are also a consideration and they were more like big brats than supermarket dogs from a pack) came apart as I was eating it and smeared mustard down the front of my shirt. I hate being a fat guy with food on my shirt, but by then I was already in the beer garden, beer in front of me, with tickets for two more in my pocket. Sunk costs came be tremendously powerful.

Also, this was the first time I’ve ever had a hot dog “Seattle style,” which apparently means sauerkraut and cream cheese. (Verdict: surprisingly good)

Third, when there was only two fingers of beer left in my cup, a strong breeze ruffled the thin plastic table cloth and toppled the cup into my lap. For the rest of the night, I was sporting a soaked crotch. Worse, some splashed onto the bag holding my library books. (Luckily nothing was damaged.) Still, wet pants in the front. wtf, natural elements?

Later that night, when I had arrived safely at home, I couldn’t figure out why my left leg was aching. Sure, I’d fallen and scraped my calf, but that was just a little thing, right?

Then my wife reminded me that I’m old now, and I don’t just bounce back from a little tumble, even one that had me sitting on my ass laughing at my own stupidity.

That’s what I get for trying to have fun. But I know what you’re thinking: What about new fiction?

Well, the new novel I’m writing has been surprisingly challenging. I make progress every day, but it’s been unusually slow.

A few weeks ago I had revisited the mystery/crime thriller I wrote last year, and I’d thought it was unsalvageable garbage. Earlier this week, I realized how to fix it, just by moving a few lines of dialog around. Hmf. So, look for that before the end of the year, if the WIP doesn’t do me in.

I have another big fat fantasy that’s still making the rounds at publishers, but none have bitten so far. That doesn’t look hopeful at this point, but it only takes one.

Finally, I have a new Twenty Palaces novella to write, once I square away a few other things. The story is coming together in little bits and pieces while I work on other projects, and I’m hopeful that I’ll have a rough draft done before the end of the year. However, with a balky WIP and other projects crowding for my attention, that might be too optimistic.

So there you go: a one-man slapstick routine and a bunch of fiction. That pretty much sums up where things are for me.