Recent Reading

I recognize that I haven’t been posting regularly here.  Haven’t had much writing related news to post, and there’s been a lot going on in my personal life.  But here’s a quick update on the reading I’ve done recently.

I read three books by John Everson:  COVENANT, SACRIFICE and REDEMPTION.  It’s a trilogy, and the first introduces us to Joe Kieran, a reporter who has fled the big city (Chicago) to go to a small town where he longs for the type of real reporting he used to do.  When a kid commits suicide, Joe sees the opportunity to investigate, but he is dissuaded by the powers that be in town and at the newspaper.  It seems that the town has some sort of deal with a demon, and the deal requires the sacrifice of some teenagers.  But there’s more to it, and as Joe investigates, he learns what’s really going on.

The next two books feature some of the same characters, but are really different stories.  They talk about an invasion of our Earth by a demonic race.  Lots of violence and sex, maybe too much.  I felt the last was the weakest of the bunch.  These were horror stories, and definitely not for everyone.

I followed up by reading K.D. Kinney’s post-apocalyptic story, HIGH PRESSURE SYSTEM:  FIRST SEASON UNDERGROUND.  This was originally released as a serial, but I read the combined edition.  In this one, humans are herded into underground bunkers to avoid the extreme weather.  We learn that man has learned to control the weather, and subsequently turned that control over to an AI.  Now the AI has decided to exterminate humankind, and all that’s left are the people in these bunkers.

This was a very good story and was a take that I haven’t seen or read elsewhere, though I have heard that others have done something similar.  I cared about the main characters almost right away.  I’m looking forward to the second “season.”

Then I finished CHILD OF MINE by V.J. Chambers.  This one was a psychological thriller where a mom (who happens to be retired from the FBI as a profiler) starts to suspect her borderline-autistic son of the killing of some young women.  The evidence seems to mount up as she investigates, and there’s a cop who would like nothing better than to hurt her and won’t stop at doing so through her son.

This one is really good as well.  I had a hard time putting it down, needing to know who the culprit was, if not her son Simon (who I was pretty sure was innocent).  Well written and solidly plotted, I was almost disappointed to reach the end of the story.

So that’s it for now.  I recommend the last two without reservation, and I recommend Everson’s stories for anyone who likes so-called “erotic horror.”

*****

Spiderman: Homecoming

I went to see the new Marvel movie with my sons, who are huge superhero movie fans.  I figured it would be entertaining, and it was, but there were some very good performances in it as well.  I especially liked Michael Keaton’s Vulture, who has this interesting good/bad thing going on.  Tom Holland as young (15 year old) Peter Parker was quite good as well.  I totally believed him as a high school sophomore, though toward the end he looked a little more like the 21-year-old man that he actually is.  The rest of the supporting cast was likable and hit the right notes.  I guess that’s a testament to good direction.

No one is going to claim this is more than escapist entertainment, but it was more fun than I thought it would be.  I wouldn’t necessarily go see it again, but I wouldn’t switch channels if I someday come across it on a television showing.

*****

Short Story: THE BAD COP

I wrote this story for a contest back in September of 1996, and found it in my archives a few days ago.  I did a very minimal amount of rewriting but didn’t change too much.  I’d write it differently today, probably, but I don’t think it’s terrible for flash fiction from my earliest days of attempting to write.  If you’d like to read it, click the link at the bottom of the post:

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THE BAD COP

“If you open your mouth again, I’ll have to shut it for you.”  The man in the police uniform spoke in a low voice, intending to intimidate Joe, and the rest of us were too cowed by the badge to interfere.  We all watched silently as Joe backed down.

It wasn’t every day that a cop showed up at a party and started hitting on our female friends.  No one knew what to make of it.  So we had ignored him, for the most part.  After all, cops are the good guys.  We’d just partied on, like he wasn’t there, or like his presence was a normal thing.

But that was before he’d started hitting on Joe’s girlfriend…

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If you’d like to read the rest of this story, please click here:  THE BAD COP

*****

Two new post-apocalyptic tales

A couple of new post-apocalyptic stories came out recently:

The first is by Aden Cabro, and is called HARRIER HUNT (ISLAND SURVIVAL BOOK 2).  It’s more of a novella, a short quick read that is fast-paced with solid writing and good characters.  I’m looking forward to Book 3.  Here’s the link:  HARRIER HUNT

The second is by M.P. McDonald, and it is called ISOLATION:  SYMPATICO SYNDROME BOOK 2.   I’m not done with it, but so far it’s started strong.  I cared about the characters in book 1, and this one is continuing their story believably and with just the right balance of technical stuff with human stuff.  Here’s the link:  ISOLATION

Both are currently $0.99.  That may change, so grab them soon!

*****

Steven M. Moore’s REMBRANDT’S ANGEL is out!

Just a quick hit to let anyone reading this know that Rembrandt’s Angel by Steven M. Moore is out and available from Penmore Press.

I had the pleasure of reading this before it was published and can attest that it’s an excellent read.  Great characters and a tense situation with a broad plot that runs the principals all over Europe and the British Isles.

It’s available in trade paperback and as a Kindle e-book…

Here’s the link to the Kindle e-book:  Rembrandt’s Angel

Happy reading!

*****

La La Land commentary

So about two weeks ago we finally saw La La Land — though not at the theater; we watched it in our family room on BluRay.  Bought the CD at the same time.

I really enjoyed the movie.  I enjoy the CD even more.  I’ve been listening to it a lot, even with a free trial of Sirius in the car and a new all-Beatles channel (18 on the Sirius channel guide).  I love the eclectic mix of styles and the emotion that is behind all the pieces.  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling aren’t Broadway-quality vocalists, but they’re both passable (Stone is better than Gosling, I think) and can stay on key.  And they too convey the emotions of their acting performance in their vocal performances.

If you don’t know, the movie is about two young dreamers, an actress (Stone) and a jazz musician (Gosling) chasing those dreams and finding each other, supporting each other, and falling in love.  It was the ending that really made what would have been a good film into a great one, in my opinion.

Don’t read on if you don’t want some things about the movie spoiled for you.

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Okay, that’s enough space.  So, the ending…

As a viewer, you go through the entire film watching the relationship of Emma Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Seb (short for Sebastian)build up from their awkward first meetings to their budding romance to, finally, Seb’s missteps (betrayal seems like too strong a word) as they both chase their dreams. They have their inevitable breakup, and then Seb gets a call from a woman looking to audition Mia for a starring role in a big motion picture which will be filmed in Paris.  He has to go find Mia, and convince her to go for it.  She does, and does well, and then the film cuts to five years in the future.

We see Mia basically being the star, going to the coffee shop where she used to work.  From there, she goes home, where waits the baby and her husband.   She looks pretty happy.  She has it all, a family and her dream career.

But the husband isn’t Seb.  It’s someone else!

So she and the husband are going out and leaving the baby with a nanny, and they get off the expressway and end up wandering into a jazz club.

The logo at the door, the name of the club, is SEB’S.  It’s the logo that Mia designed over five years ago.  They enter and find a table to watch the talented combo play some old-school jazz.  After the song concludes, the owner of the club comes on and it’s no surprise that it’s her old love, Seb.  He sees her and they lock eyes right before he sits down at the piano.  And he plays the opening notes of the song that’s run through the entire soundtrack:  Mia and Sebastian’s Theme.  It’s a pretty song, with some intricate piano runs and a haunting melody, and it takes Mia back.

And we see in her mind that she’s back in the club where she first encountered Seb.  She wandered in after an unfulfilling party, and she hears him play this song.  Right after the song finishes, the manager fires Seb for not playing the Christmas music he’s been hired to play.  She goes to compliment him and…

Back then, he rudely bumps into her as he storms past and out of the club.

This time, he passionately embraces her and kisses her, in her dream, and their life together, a life that did not come to pass, plays out in her mind.  They go through their life, hit their milestones, and there are two distinct changes:  One, Seb turns down John Legend’s character for a job in his powerhouse band, and two, Seb is there, front row, at a packed house for Mia’s one woman play that she’s produced and starred in.  (The first time, the house wasn’t packed — there were only a couple of people in it.)

She nails the audition, and the baby is still there, but now Seb is the husband and father, and they’re leaving for a night out, and they end up in the jazz club, but it isn’t “Seb’s” any more.  They’re audience members watching the band.  And then it fades and we’re back to Seb playing the final notes of the theme, and Mia is still sitting next to her husband (played by Tom Everett Scott — hey, she ended up with Skitch, the drummer for the Wonders and an aspiring jazz player in the movie THAT THING YOU DO).

They get up to leave, and there’s a sadness about it, but then she looks back and her eyes meet with Seb’s eyes, and they smile, a knowing smile, and it’s over.

So what happened?

I read some comments that suggested that in Mia’s daydream, Seb was the one who made all the sacrifices.  He doesn’t join up with the powerhouse band that has a big hit and is doing huge venues and pays well.  He doesn’t end up with his jazz club.  He just follows Mia on her career path.

I read another comment that suggested that during the movie, Mia was always the one supporting Seb.  She watched him perform multiple times during the film, and he never saw her, even at the play that he missed because of a photo session for the band.

But why is Seb in this band that clearly isn’t the kind of music that he loves?  There was a phone call early in the movie where Mia is talking to her mother about Seb and describing his job prospects, and Seb hears it and I think he gets the idea that Mia wants him to do something like this band, to be very successful.

It seems they’re both doing stuff for the other one.  Miscommunication?  Maybe.  But throughout the movie, they’re both chasing dreams.  Seb’s dream of owning his own jazz club where he does things his way seems to be a longshot without the band that he’s part of.  Mia’s acting career seems to be a longshot if she doesn’t do her dream project of the play.  It’s Seb’s one “selfish” act of not attending the play because of a photo shoot that he’s forced into that pushes them apart, and maybe makes them realize just how important their own dreams are to themselves.

In the end, the smile says that they recognize what they’ve done for each other…helped each other to achieve their dreams, but at the expense of the dream of having each other.  And maybe they could have had each other also, but that would have come at the expense of either Seb’s or Mia’s dream.

Are they happy with this?  I think the smile they share at the end shows that they’ve at least accepted it.  In an interview about the ending, Emma Stone said, ““I don’t know that they necessarily couldn’t have ended up together.  I think these two characters help inspire each other’s dreams and the way that that unfolds means that they can’t end up together but that their love isn’t any less important. I was talking to somebody the other night and he said that ‘What I really love about this story is that in the end, even though she’s happily married and has a baby, that this movie celebrates those loves that came before and that they’re just as important as the love you have now.’ It’s about how important each person is in your journey in wherever you’re going.”

So they know that without each other, they would never have achieved their goals, and they’re better for having known each other and having loved each other.

It’s a deep ending that provoked a lot of thought in me.

I’d love to hear comments about the movie in the comments to this post (assuming anyone reads this).

/end spoiler

As I said at the beginning, I really think this was a great film that will stand the test of time and will be enjoyable to watch years down the road…and will probably inspire a few people to follow their own dreams.

*****

My guidebook DOING DISNEY! has been published by Theme Park Press!

Hi, all,

In 2013, I published a Disney World guidebook.  The editor of Theme Park Press contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in seeing it published by his small press.

It’s finally out!

Doing Disney TPPLinks for purchase follow for Amazon:

For the paperback at Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Doing-Disney-Spend-Week-World/dp/1683900359/

For the Kindle Edition at Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Doing-Disney-Spend-Week-World-ebook/dp/B01MTXTFBL/

Take a look at it if it interests you!

*****

Recent reads

I finished a couple of very good thrillers recently.  First was Steven M. Moore’s GAIA AND THE GOLIATHS. This was the seventh Chen-and-Castilblanco mystery, and it deals with eco-terrorism and murder. It takes the reader from New York to Europe and also involves Moore’s Dutch Interpol agent Bastian van Coevorden on that end. It’s a well-constructed mystery that presents a balanced picture of the world of environmental activism along with several little nods to what’s going on in American politics today (the story is set a short time in the future, I believe).  As I’ve come to expect from Steve Moore, this is a really interesting, thought-provoking read right from the beginning.  Chen and Castilblanco are great characters, too.

The second was Steve Richer’s THE POPE’S SUICIDE.  Like Richer’s THE PRESIDENT KILLED HIS WIFE, this takes an unlikely crime involving a world leader and turns it around this way and that way.  There are many layers of intrigue going on here, and I found it to be a can’t-put-it-down type of book.  When the Pope is found hanging in his shower, suicide is the apparent cause.  But of course it can’t be that simple, not to mention the complications that a Pope’s suicide would cause for the Catholic Church.  Detective Donny Beecher is going through a rough time of his own, marriage falling apart and teen daughter rebelling and getting into some things that Dad wouldn’t approve of.  And he’s assigned as the lead detective for the investigation.  Solid plotting and writing make this a top notch read.  Now I have to go read THE KENNEDY SECRET.

Last, I read CRYSTAL CREEK by William Malmborg.  In this one, a paranormal investigator goes to a small town in Washington State where Bigfoot has been sighted, and a woman has disappeared.  Crystal Creek barely exists anymore, but there is still an inn, a police department, a diner, and a newspaper.  And everyone left in this little town seems to have a secret of some sort.  It’s a great premise and a good story.  If I have a bit of a problem with it, it’s that I didn’t care about the characters too much.  I don’t know why, but they didn’t make me feel that they were worth worrying about.  Everything about the story is well done, and it’s a good, fast read.  (As an aside, is it horror?  A thriller?  Whatever it is, what makes it that?)

So there you have it — three good solid books by indie authors.  Check them out!

*****

Health Care Debate

I rarely get political on this blog.  I think I can count two posts that might be seen as having political overtones.  And this will be the third, though for me, it has nothing to do with being a democrat or a republican, a liberal or a progressive or a conservative or right-wing extremist.  It has to do with health care, and what our goals should be.

It seems to me that most discussions between the two sides of our very polarized country break down because we start with different premises.  Case in point:  the second amendment.  There is a legitimate debate about exactly what the “founding fathers” meant when they stated:  “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Most gun proponents look at the second part — “the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  They therefore assume that they have the RIGHT to own any type of weapon that is manufactured, as long as it can be classified as “Arms.”  Others look at the first part of that quote — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” — and see that right to bear arms as being limited to their participation in a militia, say, the National Guard.  Still others look at the quote, written over 240 years ago, and believe that if the founders had an inkling of what would develop in weaponry — things like assault rifles and grenade launchers and ammo that could punch through the thick metal bodies of tanks (which were also unimaginable to them, certainly, in present form), they would have wisely incorporated some limits.

The point isn’t what is right or wrong about the second amendment, it’s that when we start with different premises, we will never agree.

So the trick is to find a common premise and that may indeed be a difficult trick.  So let’s start with this.  Is health care a right?  If so, at what level?  And if not, how do we deal with the health issues of those who can’t afford to pay for their care?

For example, I start with the premise that some basic level of health care should be accessible to all Americans.  I see that access to affordable health care at some level as a right.  Others do not.  I’d love to hear their reasoning.

I also see it as a reasonable penalty to pay some relatively small amount as a penalty for someone’s choice to not pay for coverage, because if that person ends up in the hospital, be it because of disease or accident, they’re not going to pay for it — the rest of us are, in indirect ways like higher hospital costs and higher insurance premiums.  Others see that as an infringement on their own right to not buy health insurance.  Where does their right end?  Does it end when that choice ends up costing the rest of us a lot more money in terms of health care?

Can we agree that an accident or a disease should not bankrupt a person or a family in order to pay for their health care costs?  That seems like a pretty low standard.

If we can agree that the above is a reasonable thing, then we have to decide how to achieve it.  I can tell you that lowering providers’ reimbursement will not work.  Sure, some physicians might be making inordinate amounts of money compared to an Amazon warehouse worker.  But who gets to decide how much money physicians, who have one of the most important jobs in the world, should be paid?  How much is enough?  I think it should be substantial.  I won’t go into all the reasons here, but I do know that if I’m having surgery, I want the best trained and smartest person available doing that surgery, and so do you.

So if providers’ fees aren’t going to be cut, where’s this savings going to come from?  Everyone has different ideas.  Sometimes those ideas get put together into health care legislation, and an attempt is made to solve some of the problems.  But the people who were getting rich off of other people’s misfortune might not like those solutions because some of them might cut into their profits.  And sometimes the goals of the people purchasing the insurance (employers and individuals) are at odds with the goals of those selling it (the insurance companies).  So nothing is ever going to be perfect.

In a perfect world, we’d all be able to go to the doctor when we were sick and not have to worry about not being able to afford the care we need.  And isn’t that what we should be striving for?  A perfect world?  We’ll never get there, of course, but it should be a goal.  The goals of American society should include affordable and accessible health care for every American, whether they are rich or poor, sick or healthy.  When you need health care, you need health care.  There’s no getting around it.

Can we all agree on that premise?  It seems so logical to me, but perhaps that’s because of my perspective as a family man, as a health care provider, and as a businessman who has employees.  Perhaps others have a different perspective on that premise.  Maybe there are those out there who don’t see that goal as being part of a perfect society.  I’d love to know why if that’s the case.  Please feel free to comment, anonymously, if you’d like.  (Just don’t get abusive or disrespectful.)

Because if we CAN agree on that premise, then we should see this new republican plan for what it is:  a BIG step in the wrong direction.

*****

Recent Reading

I haven’t been posting much here, but I couldn’t get through the entire month of March without at least one entry, so here it is.

I recently read a couple of non-fiction books.  First was The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis.  Yeah, it’s the same guy who wrote The Big Short and Moneyball.  I can’t say I liked this one as much as I liked some of his other works.  It just didn’t seem as focused.  In the end, I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be about the people he was talking about or about the ideas they came up with, or about the impact of those ideas on our everyday lives.  Maybe it was about all of those, but in the past he’s focused more on one recognizable goal and used the other parts to illuminate that goal.  It was an interesting read, but just not as good as some of his others.

The other non-fiction book I finished was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Now this one made me think.  It’s about success and the role that chance plays in that success.  It doesn’t say that success can come without hard work and a willingness to correct things that might be causing you to veer away from a successful outcome, but it does say that there is a lot of “right place at the right time” involved in peoples’ success.  For example, did you know that an inordinate amount of professional hockey players (at least in Canada) have birthdays in January, February and March?  Why would that be?  It can’t be just a random thing.  It turns out that many of the youth hockey programs have age-cutoff dates of January 1st.  So because of that, kids born in those months are simply older and bigger than other athletes at a period of time in their young lives when a few months can make a large difference physically.  So these are the kids who are a little bit more physically developed and they stand out, so they get selected for all-star teams and traveling teams and such, and get better coaching and more practice time.  And it keeps going until they actually ARE the best players.

I found that take to ring true, even in writing.  Sure, there are things you can control.  You can control the quality of your own writing and storytelling.  You can work to get better.  You can edit and proofread and take advice and criticism from your “team.”  You can work on your covers and on your blurbs.  You can market your works in such a way to increase their visibility, and when something doesn’t work, you can try something else that might work better.

But you can’t write what you can’t write.  If you write in a relatively unpopular genre, like I do (horror), you might just be stuck.  Conversely, if you write in a genre that tends to have voracious readers who stay in that genre, like romance, you might do a lot better.  Or psychological thrillers, or erotica.  Apparently those sell better in e-books.  If you’re just getting started today, you may find yourself with more of an uphill climb than if you had started right after the Kindle came out and e-books really became a thing.  Or if your stories just don’t strike a chord with readers, you are not positioned to take advantage of the market trends that are out there.

Luck might just be described as being in the right place at the right time.  It might be that you published your book on a day that, for whatever reason, it became more visible and grabbed the attention of more people so that it became ranked highly and thus became more visible.  It might be described as already being positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

Even Joe Konrath admits that “luck” played a part in his own phenomenal success as an indie author.  Here’s just one post of many he has dealing with the subject.  (The comments are great, being from respected authors like Blake Crouch, Jude Hardin and Mark Terry, to name a few.)

Anyway, I got a bit sidetracked.

I’m currently reading Creativity, Inc.:  Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand In the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, with Amy Wallace.

I’m also reading some fiction, but I think I’ll make another post (with links to what I’ve read) soon.  Before the end of March, for sure!

*****