The Philosophers of Today?

A while back, I was speaking with my retired MD friend, who is in the process of writing his memoirs.  From his description of what he was trying to accomplish, these memoirs are going to be sort of a combination of a biography and a philosophical treatise. He was bemoaning his view that the young people of today don’t have a clue what is coming at them in the future. He also suggested that there are no philosophers out there today helping to shape thought.

That’s an interesting observation, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Is it true? I just don’t know. I recall back to my own time at Jesuit Loyola of Chicago, where I was required to take 9 hours of philosophy and 9 hours of theology. (I sort of cheated on the philosophy hours – “Logic” counted as a philosophy credit, and I had it in MATH in high school, and was good at those equations. So I took it and aced it. Didn’t feel much like philosophy to me, though…) Who did we study? Well, there were guys like Hume and Kierkegaard, and there was a guy named Mortimer Adler, who wrote the main book we studied, a volume titled The Difference Of Man and The Difference It Makes. Adler may or may not have some association with University of Chicago, and I think he’s still around and still writing.

I’m removed from the academic arena by over 30 years now, and I don’t know what is taught in a philosophy course today. And should philosophy be just about reading what the old thinkers wrote? Or should it be about developing your own philosophy? Learning what that means? Learning how to critically look at an issue and decide what is important about it?

I tend to think that perhaps the pop philosophers of today and of recent vintage are writing fiction as much as they’re writing non-fiction. After all, where else can a thinker work out the issues, speculate on the outcomes if one course of action is taken, explore options, even look at past events in a different light? “Speculative Fiction” is a name I’ve heard applied to some science fiction, and what is that if not an almost philosophical exploration of choices and outcomes?

The trouble is, this sort of “philosophy” isn’t considered serious. It’s ‘just’ genre fiction, it’s just made up stuff.

Still, I think some important thinking can be found in SF books. We’ve often heard the description “a cautionary tale” of a particular story, and that to me is at least a form of practical philosophy.

*****

“First they came….”

FIRST THEY CAME

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Short Story: GRANDPA

This is the first short story in my collection 14 DARK WINDOWS. You can get it in its entirety if you download the free sample for Kindle, but I thought that maybe some people who don’t do Amazon or have a Kindle might want to read it.  I wrote it a long time ago as a contest entry where the first sentence and six additional words were given and you constructed a story around them.  Enjoy!

GRANDPA

“All the King’s Horses, and all the King’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again!” Grandpa finished the rhyme and closed the book. “Well, Billy, what else would you like to do?”

Billy loved his grandfather. Grandpa always had time for a story, a game, or to simply talk. “I’ll do whatever you want to do, Grandpa.”

* * * * *

You can read the rest of this story by clicking this link or by going to “Stories” on the menu above and choosing “Grandpa.”

You can buy 14 DARK WINDOWS at Amazon by clicking this link:  14 DARK WINDOWS

* * * * *

Superheroes in Thriller Fiction

A few years back, I read three books in a row that sort of opened my eyes to the use of some sort of super human in crime/thriller fiction. The first was Greg Iles’ The Devil’s Punchbowl, the second was Robert Crais’ The First Rule, and the third was C.J. Box’s Cold Wind. Let me throw in Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series with this bunch.

It struck me as I read, that each hero/protagonist was aided by someone with almost superhuman abilities. In the three mentioned books all of them were Special Forces types. Iles’ main character is attorney Penn Cage, and I love his Natchez southern settings. In this book, however, Cage is up against really really bad guys involved with a floating casino, and he calls a guy to help out – an ex-Seal named Daniel Kelly. Kelly and his guys are so good it’s scary in itself. You’re certainly glad they’re on your side.

In the second book, Crais steps away from Elvis Cole, his usual protagonist, to allow Cole’s sidekick, Joe Pike, to move front and center. Pike is another Special Forces type, though I’m not sure about what branch. Totally confident and as tough as nails. And he’s got those Special Forces skills that make him seem invincible.

In the third book, CJ Box’s protagonist is a rather normal game warden named Joe Pickett. But Joe is friends with a guy named Nate Romanowski, who is wanted by the government. Nate is another scary-good ex-Special Forces type whose plans always seem to work out.

I threw in Bolitar’s name because he has his buddy Win Lockhorn, the prissy rich guy who (along with Myron) has some sort of Special Forces training and who also always seems to know he’s going to win. Fortunately for the good guys, he always has, so far.

Some of the other thriller series feature guys who are scary good at what they do, like Jack Reacher of the Lee Child series, or Lincoln Rhyme, the quadraplegic genius of Jeffrey Deaver’s books.

About the only guy who is really good but isn’t exactly a superhuman is Harry Bosch. But he’s close.

Just some stuff that crossed my mind as I knocked out those three books.  Does one “need” a superhero, invincible-type character in order to make things work in these sorts of thrillers?  If you can think of other examples, please post them in the comments.

*****

Publishing Paralysis

As you may or may not have noticed, I have not published anything…ANYTHING…in 2016.  It’s not for a lack of things to publish.  I currently have four works ready to go.  They are, in no particular order, ODD MAN OUT, RECIPROCAL EVIL, THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT, and finally, DEAD OR ALIVE.  Most are novella-length; RECIPROCAL EVIL is a bit over 50,000 words, while ODD MAN OUT clocks in at about 33,000.  I think that both DEAD OR ALIVE and THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT are around the same length:  approximately 27,000 words.

I have been writing.  I have a YA novel finished called THE SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD:  CIBOLA which is about 53,000 words.  I am about 68,000 words into an untitled end-of-the-world novel which was inspired by Hugh Howey’s WOOL.  I’m working on a longer vampire novel which would follow DEAD OR ALIVE and a horror story set in a fictional town called Addison Falls.  I’ve also been tinkering with a series that I started with my son a couple years ago, called THE NINE KEYS.  The first of that series is basically finished, and it is something around 68,000 to 70,000 words in length.  The second is about 20,000 words at this point and has a long way to go.  I also started a space opera novel but that’s stalled out at around 17,000 words at the moment.

Covers are done for three of the four ready-to-go works, editing and formatting are done for all four.  So what’s the holdup, you might ask (assuming that “you” are reading this and are interested in reading what I’m writing)?

I haven’t been selling much (okay, I really haven’t been selling anything!) and I need to do something different.  One option is to give up.  Or keep doing what I’ve been doing, which involves tossing up my writing, offering it for sale, and having no one actually find any of it.

The second option is to try to form a better foundation.  So far I have only published ebooks and only at Amazon.  So, my foundation is this blog/website, my Amazon author page, and my Facebook page.  I have, like, 64 followers on Facebook.  Not enough.  And depending on Facebook to get the word out is a crapshoot.  When I look at how many people view my posts on my Scott Dyson page there, often it’s like 7, or 13, or at best low 20’s.  So of those 64 people, only a small percentage even SEE my notifications when I publish.  Without paying FB to show the post to more people, I guess that’s about the best one can do there.

I am thinking of doing Instagram, just for my cover photos.  I have thought about taking down my collections and publishing the individual works for free on Wattpad, but after looking around there, I didn’t have much luck finding a lot of stuff I wanted to read.  I went specifically looking for my friend Steve Moore’s work there, and I didn’t find it with their search functions.  So I wonder how effective that will be for what I write.

I try to “network” with other writers as much as possible.  I will promote authors’ works (assuming they are something I like and read) here on these pages, with FB posts, and in any other way that comes up, and I have a few author-friends who have helped me out as well.  But I don’t think our audiences cross over very much, or at least what I write is not necessarily of interest to their audiences.  I read so broadly and across so many genres that I am happy to promote their stuff; even more, I WANT to suggest and recommend good reads to my friends.  I think that maybe if I could network with some horror authors, it would work better.  I have tried with a couple, but they don’t seem interested in reciprocating.

But the biggest thing I want to do is set up a mailing list.  And I don’t really know how to go about it.  I mean, signing up is easy.  And it seems that putting the widget on the website is not a big challenge either.  But most authors I’ve spoken to who use mailing lists effectively offer a free work, and all I have are mobi’s of my works.  I’d certainly be willing to offer one or both of my short story collections, or even one of my novellas, for free as an incentive to sign up for the list, but as I have not used any of the software (Vellum, Sigil, Calibre) that apparently can generate ebooks in various formats, I don’t know how to get these files to give away.

As a mailing list builds, eventually you have a ready-made list of people who are interested in receiving information about your releases, and maybe, just maybe, you can sell enough books upon release to push your work into some sort of visibility on Amazon.    I think that this sounds like the best way to increasing sales and visibility.

I also plan on giving away both of my short story collections (as they’re both in Amazon Kindle Select and in KU) and I want to try a FB experiment, ask some friends if they’d share the links to the free books, see if I can give away a bunch more than I usually do.  Watch this page for announcements about those giveaways, or if you’re a Facebook friend, watch my feeds there.

Anyway, I’m going to try to break the paralysis in the next month or two, and get this stuff out there for anyone and everyone to read.  If anyone is interested, that is…

***

 

ODD MAN OUT – Prologue

(I have three new stories ready to go; I’m just dragging my feet on publishing them because I want to get a few other things in place before I start running them out there.  One is a long version of my short story “Odd Man Out,” which was published as a standalone (with another short story called “The House at the Bend in the Road”) and as part of the collection 14 DARK WINDOWS.  What follows is the Prologue of that story, which is novella-length (about 33,000 words, if I recall correctly).  Watch this space or sign up for my soon-to-come mailing list to find out when it is available on Amazon.

ODD MAN OUT

Prologue

Roger Sinclair checked the calendar that hung on the wall over his computer. October nineteenth. Only the nineteenth. It seemed that the thirty-first was taking forever to arrive this year. Time was dragging.

Anticipation had a way of making the passage of time seem very slow.

The Cabin Weekend was approaching, and Roger had big plans for the traditional yearly gathering of his friends.

Friends. That was a laugh. They didn’t like him any more than he liked them. They used him. They always had. Vinnie, Jack and Paul – they hung around with him – no, they let him hang around with them – because he was smart, dependable, and well-off. He made them feel superior – Look at rich, smart, loser Roger, who can’t get a girl and gets shunned by everyone…but us! We’ll take pity on the loser, and we’ll take advantage of his brains and his wealth.

Like the Cabin Weekend. They always went to Roger’s cabin. None of them had cabins. And why spend money on a real vacation when they could just sponge off Roger? Vinnie and Susan, Jack and Nancy, and Paul and whatever hot-looking hosebag he was dating at the moment.

Well, not this year. Paul wasn’t dating a hot-looking hosebag anymore. He was engaged. To Amy Wellington. Amy might be hot, but she was no hosebag. She was the epitome of class. She was the girl of Paul’s dreams, as Paul himself had pointed out.

She was also the girl of Roger’s dreams, but that was beside the point. Paul never cared about what Roger wanted, only what he wanted. He wanted Amy, so of course he ended up with her. That’s how it worked with Paul.

No matter that he had been Roger’s guest at a charity function when he met Amy. Paul had deigned to accompany Roger to the event when Roger’s own date fell through. ‘Fell through’ is sort of misleading. She dumped me on my ass, he remembered. Bitch.

Focus! Roger forced himself to get back on track with his thoughts. This wasn’t about Melissa, the stick-up-her-ass bitch that worked in the IT department of Roger’s family’s company. The point was Paul, and how he met Amy, and how he had practically run Roger over in his zeal to get to her first.

Paul knew that Roger saw her first, that Roger wanted to take a shot with her, but could Paul let him have a chance? No, of course he couldn’t. What Paul wants, Paul gets.

Roger’s fantasy was that Amy would see Paul for what he was and eventually they’d split up. It would be Paul’s fault, of course, and Roger would be there for Amy. He’d be the understanding friend she would need, the shoulder she could cry on, the guy who’d be there for her as she worked through the pain of their broken engagement. Of course it would end Paul’s friendship with Roger, but that was okay. It wasn’t a real friendship, and it had not been one for a long time. Ever since that day at the frat party back in college…

Focus! he told himself again. This isn’t about embarrassment that Paul caused him in college, this is about Amy Wellington. Paul’s fiancee. Roger’s one true love.

And the Cabin Weekend would be the time when things would turn in favor of Roger.

#

(To find out what happens at the Cabin Weekend, watch for ODD MAN OUT at Amazon or on these pages…)

What I’ve been reading…

Finished a couple of books recently. SLOW BURN 8: GRIND by Bobby Adair is still telling the story of Zed and Murphy as they kill zombies. I’m still reading, but I have to say I think this series is getting a little long in the tooth — there might be a lot more to tell, but I don’t think this book did a great job of conveying that…  The two heroes of this story just seem to be moving between an old place and a new place, and along the way they find new ways to mow down (literally, in one instance) the infected “whites,” who are the zombies of this series.   I’ll probably read SLOW BURN 9: SANCTUM sometime soon, but my brain isn’t clamoring for it at the moment.

Also finished THE LAST SURVIVORS by T.W. Piperbrook and Bobby Adair. This book is a free download, the first of a series. It’s a futuristic tale of a society that’s lost their technological ability, and when humans show signs of some sort of infection, they are put down immediately by sword or by fire. One woman finds signs of infection on her son, and she runs. It was a pretty interesting story, in the far future but with zombies of a sort, but ended on a complete and total cliffhanger without really resolving anything from this story.  That sort of bothered me.  Not sure I’ll read on in this series, but we’ll see.

I read SOFT TARGET by Iain Rob Wright. Wright’s a horror author, but this was a bit of an over-the-top thriller. Also a free download. I already bought the next book in the series, called HOT ZONE. Wright’s hero is a scarred female veteran of Afghanistan, and she is drawn into an organization that is fighting terrorism in the U.K. Seems ordinary Brits are acting as suicide bombers. Why? What’s the common thread between these folks, and why are they doing the bidding of Middle East terrorists? Wright presents a more balanced and nuanced picture of terrorists than we often see in thrillers in general, and SOFT TARGET is a fun story, if a bit fantastic at times.

Last, I read Chris Fox’s THE FIRST ARK, the novella that precedes his NO SUCH THING AS WEREWOLVES book. I’ve been meaning to read on in this series.  The series sort of combines a lot of genres:  shapeshifters, zombies, aliens, Egyptian gods, archeology, and in the third, vampires, I believe.

I also read a (free) PDF of Steven M. Moore’s novella, THE WHISTLEBLOWER. (He’s giving it away at his website.)  This one reads really well.  I felt like maybe the very end was rushed a bit.  I could have seen this going novel-length.  But it told a great story.

One more: JEDI SUMMER WITH THE MAGNETIC KID by John Boden. A fun read I found through Christian Larsen’s publisher’s site. It’s short, not quite a novella perhaps, but a little longer than a short story. Just a coming-of-age story about a couple of brothers back around the time that RETURN OF THE JEDI was a movie event that was worth waiting for. It kept me reading, though in the end I was sort of disappointed that more didn’t happen but I finished it and was interested all the way to the end.

I have another Steven M. Moore novella (PORTAL IN THE PINES) in my queue, and I have a stack of hardcover bargain books both at the office and at home that I need to get through.  I’ve been carrying around Denise Swanson’s DYING FOR A CUPCAKE for a couple of weeks now; maybe that will be next.  Or Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novel, MOTIVE.  So many books, so little time.

Maybe I should write instead of reading…

*****

Cubs win the World Series!

I wanted to do a long and heartfelt piece about what the Cubs finally getting to, and winning, the World Series meant to me.  But I just don’t have it in me right now.

So instead I’m just going to ramble a bit.

I became a Cubs fan as a young kid.  The first season I remember vividly is 1969.  Ron Santo clicking his heels as they left the field, jogging down the left field line to the clubhouse gate in the corner.   Billy Williams taking practice swings at his own spit.  Ernie Banks and his cocked elbow.  The smooth double play combo of Kessinger and Beckert.  And of course the Rebel, Randy Hundley behind the plate.  I remember the winning, but for whatever reason, I don’t recall the downturn that became known in the future as the “September Swoon.”  Maybe because we were back in school, and the games were all day games at Wrigley in 1969.

I’ve suffered through a lot of really bad teams.  Oh, they always had a player or two that gave fans hope, but in hindsight…they were bad.  Then the Tribune bought them, brought Dallas Green aboard, and he built a GOOD team:  he brought in young players like Leon Durham, Ryne Sandberg, and Greg Maddux, and vets like Rick Sutcliffe, Dennis Eckersley, and others.  1984 brought us to the brink…needing one win to go to the series.  Alas, it was not to be.  They lost the final games of that league championship series to the Padres and were back down.  Injuries took their toll on the team, and we next went to the playoffs in 1989, with Don Zimmer at the helm and Maddux and Sandberg the pillars of a good team.  But we came up against a buzzsaw in Will Clark and the Giants, and I believe we were swept out of the playoffs.

In the late 90’s we got there again on Sammy Sosa’s back.  But we had nothing in the playoffs, and we didn’t get anywhere.  Finally, 2003 popped up, and we had a great team built around the dynamic young arms of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.  We took out the Braves to go to the LCS, and were 5 outs away from the World Series when Moises Alou threw a hissy-fit over what he perceived as fan interference, because a fan may have touched a foul ball.  Ten people were reaching for it, but the unlucky fan who touched it became a pariah and had to deal with death threats from moronic fans who blamed him instead of the pitcher who served up some meatballs and the shortstop who blew a routine ground out.  I threw up my hands.  Could I subject my kids to this kind of torture?

I watched after that, but not with nearly the intensity that I did before that.  I watched those teams from 2007/2008 go to the playoffs, carried partly on the back of Alfonso Soriano, but stop hitting and go nowhere.  Then the ownership change.  A FAN (!!!) was buying the team!  Tom Ricketts took over, putting Theo Epstein, who had worked a miracle in Boston, in charge of baseball operations.  Theo brought in his guys and went to work making the Cubs the worst team in baseball.  They tore it down.

Then they built it back up from the ground floor.  Astute drafting and trades brought new good young players like Anthony Rizzo (trade), Kris Bryant (draft), Javier Baez (drafted by previous regime), Kyle Schwarber (draft), Addison Russell (trade), Jake Arrietta (trade), Kyle Hendricks (trade), and Dexter Fowler (trade).  Then came the free agents:  Jon Lester, Jason Hayward, Jason Hammel, John Lackey, Dexter Fowler (their own free agent), and Ben Zobrist, the MVP of the World Series.

In 2015, they were surprisingly good.  Great, at times!  Lost to the Mets, whose pitching mowed them down, in the LCS.  2016, they set records.  They were determined to get to the end.  They kept winning.  And finally, they did it!

Cleveland played really well.  But in the end, the Cubs were the better team, and after 108 years, they have brought the World Championship back to the north side of Chicago.  No goats, no black cats, just great play and teamwork and a focus that was enviable.

I didn’t get to watch as much as I wanted to.  But I feel like I was a part of this, as much as the people who watched every single inning.  Because they’ve been a part of me since I was a little kid pretending to be Ron Santo, and finally, they haven’t broken my heart!  They no longer play the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around.  Wrigley is no longer an “ivy covered burial ground.”  And no one will ever call them the “doormat of the National League” again!

We’ll always have Paris?  No, Cubs fans, we’ll always have 2016!

*****

PS  Not bad for off-the-cuff, huh?

***

Christian Larsen’s THE BLACKENING OF FLESH

Once in a while I read something really interesting and unexpected.  I’ve been getting a bit of reading done recently, having plowed through Stephen King’s END OF WATCH (thumbs up), Harlan Coben’s HOME (also thumbs up), Jim Butcher’s SIDE JOBS (very good), Steve Richer’s THE PRESIDENT KILLED HIS WIFE (good), V.J. Chambers’ THE GIRL ON THE STAIRS (title copying of all of those “Girl on the…” books aside, a really great psychological thriller), and MP McDonald’s MARCH INTO HELL (good and interesting!).

Then I read THE BLACKENING OF FLESH by Christian A. Larsen.

I met the author at a Printers Row festival in Chicago a couple of years ago at the Post Mortem Press booth, and his new book (at that time) called LOSING TOUCH intrigued me enough that I bought it at the booth. That was an odd, almost-superhero-but-not story about a guy who develops the ability to pass through solid surfaces. But really well done, and very fun to read.

This latest one is a ghost story that takes place in a little town somewhere in Illinois. This kid is an outsider who doesn’t even want to attend his own graduation. He works delivering prescriptions for an old-time pharmacy, and meets a college girl on one of his deliveries. She knows him, though, because she researched the house he lives in and she’s seen him around. The reason she researched the house is because she says that an entire Chicago mob family was wiped out in the house, but there were no bodies and no evidence, so no charges were filed and everything about their disappearance is speculation. Turns out, the ghosts are still around…

Great horror story, very tense and original. Chris isn’t afraid to not pull his punches, in a storytelling sense. He gets a little unfocused in places with the story in places, as there were sections where I just wanted to get past the meandering narrative and get back to the meat of the story.  But there weren’t a ton of those places, and the payoff of the story works at a high level, much like LOSING TOUCH did.

Here’s me and Chris at the Printer’s Row book fest a couple of years ago.  I’m the taller one.

img_11561

PS:  I see that LOSING TOUCH currently costs only $0.99!  Such a deal!

Hugh Howey post-debate

Hugh Howey posted a blog today titled “The Greatest Threat” which echoes some of what I’ve been thinking.

I don’t generally post much political stuff here, but I really don’t think this is political.  It’s just common-sense.  Give it a read, if you believe (or if you don’t believe) that income inequality in our country is a serious problem.

The Greatest Threat