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.

Dodging Both Rock and Hard Place: the Uncompromising Hero

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I watched MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT last week, then rewatched BLACK PANTHER a few days later, and I was struck by the similarities. Both are about good men in a situation where other people expect them to be ruthless if they want to succeed. Both refuse but succeed anyway, partly through a circle of incredibly competent friends, and partly through their own awesomeness.

Exceedingly minor spoilers for both films.

“You are a good man, with a good heart, and it is hard for a good man to be king.”

To me, that’s the central line in THE BLACK PANTHER. T’challa is a good man who readily accepts the self-serving policies that have been handed down to him. Yes, black people around the world are oppressed, but Wakanda stands apart. That’s how it’s always been. They don’t liberate. They don’t conquer. They live happily and prosperously inside their secret country, minding their own bees wax. In fact, the first action scene in the film is a sequence where The Black Panther interrupts a rescue mission for the needs of the Wakandan state.

It’s Nakia who speaks up for doing the right thing, and W’Kabi who repeats the self-serving conventional wisdom. T’challa is ready to follow that tradition without even considering what it really means, right up to the point that he has to save someone’s life.

So, where T’challa talks and talks about doing what’s best for the country–what keeps them safe–but the first time he’s faced with the choice between helping and keeping his national secret, he helps. He doesn’t even consider his options first. It’s just “Here’s a person I know who has been hurt. We will help.” When questioned by his friends, he can’t even come up with a justification. It’s not a carefully thought out decision. It’s just him listening to his “good heart.”

Obviously, Killmonger is the other extreme. He wants to use the power and resources of Wakanda to kill and conquer. “The sun will never set on the Wakandan empire.” For him, nothing has value except power: not the lives of the enemies he’s recorded in the scars on his body. Not the girlfriend who helps him on his heists, and not the Wakandan traditions that put him on the throne.

If Killmonger had not blown off The Black Panther’s call for a resumption of their trial by combat, the climax of that film might have gone very differently. The Dora Milaje would have been honor bound to stay out of the fight, and Shuri, Nakia, and Ross’s attempt to stop the shipments of weapons would have failed. That’s a much better chance at victory, but Killmonger couldn’t honor the local tradition because he doesn’t care about doing the right thing.

With MI:FALLOUT, Ethan Hunt is continually put into situations where the expedient thing is to sacrifice someone else for sake of the mission. It’s pretty much the entire plot, front to back.

But because this is a movie, the protagonist can be as clever/fast/tough/resourceful as he needs to be to make it all work out. The real thrills come from seeing how effectively the movie makes you think he has to “go there”, then lets him be the hero instead.

The biggest difference between MI:F and TBP is that T’challa wields incredible power and authority. When he decides to do the good but not expedient thing, he only has to give the order, then endure the astonished expressions of his pals. For Ethan Hunt, he’s surrounded by enemies and allies he can’t trust (plus a couple of real friends, obviously). The stakes are much higher than “Our culture will have to open up to the world” so the tension is greater.

Fact: I enjoyed them both. The only thing I hope they do with the second Black Panther flick is to make T’challa as smart as he is in the comics. I want to see him win not because he used a clever karate move. I want him to show off his brains, too.

And, just to say in passing, that earlier this week I rewatched both Jack Reacher films, and as I said on Twitter, Christopher McQuarrie is a severely underrated writer/director. No matter how frantic or desperate the movie gets, it never feels like the story is skimming over something important. Great stuff.

Randomness for 7/31

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1) The Legend of John Arthur, the Toughest Man in America.

2) Don’t Feed The Trolls and Other Hideous Lies.

3) What the Data Says About Producing Low-Budget Horror Movies.

4) Raising the barre: how science is saving ballet dancers.

5) What Happened When I Tried To Talk To My Twitter Abusers.

6) Ten Changes Made in the Lord of the Rings Novelization.

7) A ‘beer sommelier’ explains how pouring a beer the wrong way can give you a stomach ache. Video

Why You Should Go See BLINDSPOTTING

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Would it seem incongruous is I said these two different things about BLINDSPOTTING:

1) It’s a film about gentrification.
2) The last 30 minutes have more tension and intensity than any thriller or action movie I’ve seen in the past year.

Typically, when I see a movie in the theater, I don’t bother doing any more than a tweet about it. For example:

or maybe:

But this film feels too complicated for a simple tweet. It’s like a buddy comedy where the funny bits are suddenly cut short by the very real possibility of tragedy. It’s a coming-of-age story for two characters who are already grown men. It’s social and political commentary hung on a frame work of friendship and dumb choices and being unable to erase your past.

Anyway, see this movie as soon as you can, if you can. It’s funny and sad and thrilling and extraordinarily vital.

The New Iron Fist Trailer is Fine When It Needs to be Great.

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Here’s the first trailer for S2 of Iron Fist, and if I’m being honest, I don’t love it.

It’s not terrible, not like the trailers for S1 (“Where did he learn martial arts?”) but S1 was so terrible that I wanted this to blow me out of the water.

It doesn’t. It’s a competently staged fight with an interesting viewpoint trick, it’s clear that the filmmakers know how to show Finn Jones fighting, but the visuals aren’t interesting. The location isn’t unusual. The enemies are, what, a few muggers?

That’s not going to wash away the bad feelings from S1.

I’ve heard that the fight footage they showed at SDCC was exceptional, and that everyone who saw it is really hopeful about this new season. See: https://io9.gizmodo.com/holy-crap-iron-first-season-two-actually-looks-really-1827712069

It’d be nice if that extra footage was online right now.

Yeah, I know Iron Fist is problematic, but he was pretty new when I first got into comics at that impressionable age, so he was all over the comics. I have a soft spot for the character, and I want to see him done well. With luck, that extra footage will make its way online and we can all be impressed.