Monday, December 22, 2014

C & C Best of 2014

It's the end of the year, that time when every publication known to mankind publishes their "Best of 2014" list, be it books, movies, songs, cheese dips, etc. Which means my Cheesy Readers may be asking, "Michael, where is your list? What books made the top of your list? What science fiction movies? My God, Man, at least give us a list of your favorite block cheese!!!"

Nope. Not here.

Of course the fallacy of the above hypothetical questions is that my Cheesy Readers know better. The whole point of this blog and of my website is to read classic works of literature, read science fiction and fantasy from different decades, watch movies that everyone should know by heart, both the cinema classics and the cult classics. In other words, take it all in from a general perspective as a means of discovering what our cultural truly is and not what others tell us that it is.

Yes, I go through all those "Year's Best..." lists, and sometimes I find some truly good works, but by the time I read the list, and put that work on my ToBe Read/Watched list, it's already the end of the year. And by the time I actually watch the  movie or read the book, it's usually the summer of the next year.

For instance, Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya. I've been hearing about it all year, it's made many "Best of..." lists, it has garnered multiple positive reviews, and has a really cool title, so I bought a copy. Will I be reading it in 2014? Nope. Probably more like spring or summer 2015. True, true, I will never be able to say that I read such-and-such before it was popular, but as my Cheesy Readers know -- I don't care. I still have ten-year-old Jonathan Franzen works to catch up on (although I do highly recommend Freedom).

The same is true of video games. The hottest video games I'll sometimes buy within a week of their release will sit on my shelf until the winter rolls around, at which time, all the cool kids will have moved on to the next big release, and I'm trolling the internet for YouTube videos on how to defeat various levels of six month old titles (think Arkham City, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Halo 4, and on and on).

I still enjoy every moment of this, which is, after all, the whole point.

Until Next Time,
Bestly Yours,
Michael 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Quote for the Weekend

“It is likely I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read.”
- Lemony Snicket

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rubyfruit Jungle Party Massacre

Back in my early university days when I was toying with the idea of teaching English for a living, I became fascinated with post-Summer of Love literature, i.e., the novels and stories written by authors who were either involved with or influenced by the social movements of the late sixties and early seventies. A friend of a friend, who was a professor of Feminist Literature, suggested I read a few books by Rita Mae Brown, specifically Rubyfruit Jungle, a breakthrough feminist and lesbian novel of the 1970s, and Southern Discomfort, a novel published in the early 1980s, but written in the late 70s, and set across two generations in the American South.

Ms. Brown was deeply involved with many social movements of the 1960s and 70s, writing essays and novels, and participating in marches and social demonstrations. As an outspoken advocate, Ms. Brown was a woman's woman, exposing and arguing against many stereotypes and archetypes women of previous generations had been forced to comply with. She took an unpopular stance in the early 1970s at the height of the ERA era when she admonished the National Organization of Women (NOW) when NOW publically backed away from supporting lesbian causes. She later became infamous for a statement she made in a TIME magazine interview when she said, "I don't believe in straight or gay. I really don't. I think we're all degrees of bisexual. There may be a few people on the extreme if it's a bell curve who really truly are gay or really truly are straight. Because nobody had ever said these things and used their real name, I suddenly became [in the late 1970s] the only lesbian in America."

Recently, as I rearranged some bookcases, I looked back at a lot of the novels I read during that time period, and thought it was about time I put Southern Discomfort higher up on my ReRead list. I had purposely quit following Brown when she began writing mysteries - little cozies she claims are co-written with her pussy cat Sneaky Pie Brown (I'll let my Cheesy Readers figure out the double-entendre of that name). But because I had quit following her career at that point, I thought I'd hit Wikipedia first and figure out what she'd been up to lately.

As I was reading along, looking at her list of published credits, I was surprised to seen Screenwriter among those credits, then even more surprises to see...

Slumber Party Massacre

What?

THE Slumber Party Massacre? The cult classic slasher movie of the 1980s? The movie filled with gratuitous shots of college-age girls in sheer underwear being chased by a serial killer with a giant phallic symbol drill? A film that any feminist would decry as everything that is wrong with female exploitation films of Western culture?

No! That has to be a mistake. Wikipedia can be said to be only 90% accurate on average. Surely some goofball playing a practical joke put that in there to see if anyone would notice.

A quick trip to IMDB confirmed - nope, not a joke. Rita Mae Brown, the bastion of the lesbian and feminist movement of the early 1970s, the woman who fought for equal rights for all people, be they man, woman, transgender, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, or non-gender, was the screenwriter.

WTH?

Was she desperate for money? Emotionally lost? Did she write it while on a three-day acid trip?

None of the above.

She wrote it as parody. She was poking fun at the popular slasher films of the time. The problem was, the director and the rest of the production crew didn't know how to film it as a parody, so they shot it as a straight slasher film, and it was so bad, it was good. It became a cult classic, an icon, a symbol of 80s horror movies that many teenage boys stayed up late watching over and over again. Essentially, it became (in the words of your beloved blog author)...Cheese.

Who woulda thunk it?

See how fun this kind of thing can be? Maybe next time I'll tell you about the degrees of separation between Slumber Party Massacre and Fannie Flagg (yes, the author of Fried Green Tomatoes and regular guest star icon on Match Game that you can catch in reruns on the Game Show Channel!).

Until Next Time...
Feminally Yours,
Michael
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Avoid Clichés Like the Plague III (FOR JOURNALISTS)

This post is directed at anyone in the media. I'm thinking specifically of journalists, either print, television, or bloggers, but in all honesty I'm speaking to everyone.

I understand that sometimes the words we use to describe things aren't always that exciting, and the urge to be witty or add a small bit of humor has a certain appeal. But sometimes journalists "out witty" themselves and use a cliché under the impression that they're being funny and/or cute or even original. So without further ado, please journalists, stop using these two clichés:

facelift -- this is a lame way of saying a building has been remodel or reconstructed. Not only has this word been overused in this capacity, but it's technically inaccurate. To get a facelift requires a face. That doesn't stop journalists from using it every single time they broadcast a story about some place undergoing reconstruction or a remodel, and every single time they say with a little chuckle in their voice as if they are the first ones to ever use this word this way. Seriously, Cheesy Readers, start paying attention to how often this is used, and you'll notice the trend too.

across the pond -- this flippant way both Americans and the English refers to the divide the Atlantic Ocean creates between the countries might have been cute the first time it was used, but since then it's been overused to the point of annoyance. Could we at least modify it to "across the lake" or something, anything?

So... the "take away" from this post is don't try to be witty, or if you do, at least be original about it.

Until Next Time...
Cutely Yours,
Michael

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mailing Labels in the Middle

We all know that magazines choose their covers based upon what the editors believe will make their publication stand out on a magazine rack. The hope is that the cover catches your attention enough to pick it up and impulse buy it. For science fiction and fantasy magazines, obviously the art must be fantastical and pique the imagination.

Those of us who subscribe really don't need an attractive cover - we've already paid our money and will read the magazine regardless of what the cover looks like. With that being said, though, we subscribers should still have the opportunity to enjoy the cover, and slapping that mailing label right across the middle kind of spoils the fun. Not only that, the names of some of the authors are covered up as well. As an author, getting your name on the cover of a magazine of this reputation is a big accomplishment. Then to have it covered over by a stupid mailing label has to be disheartening.

Eventually time may cause the label to fall off, but honestly, how does this happen? Can't they have their label gluing machine put that label over the barcode since that isn't needed for mail delivery? Seems like a logical place to put it to me. But, I'm just a reader, so what do I know about these things?

Hopefully, whatever process put that label where it is, will be corrected so we subscribers get to enjoy the artwork that off-the-shelf buyers do.

Until Next Time...
Coverly Yours,
Michael

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Avoid Cliches Like The Plague II

I was reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility when Austen used the phrase "to all intents and purposes," and it reminded me I hadn't written a cliché blog post in quite a while.

Obviously it is a cliché, but the etymologist in me began wondering when it originated and when it became a cliché. Considering that Sense and Sensibility was written over two hundred years ago (published 1811), I thought there was a possibility that maybe the phrase wasn't a cliché when Austen used it. Considering how much I love Austen, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt (which, for those keeping track, is a cliché as well).

A quick peek at Wiktionary.com revealed that the phrase has been in use among the English since the 15th Century when it was used in legal documents, which means by the time Austen used it, the phrase was probably well-known and used quite often, like it is today.

It is funny and sometimes irritating when people get it wrong. Seriously. If you're going to use a cliché, at least try to get it right. "For all intensive purposes" is not only wrong, it sounds stupid, but you wouldn't believe how often I see it and the places I've seen it, for instance, in business documents and internet news stories - basically, people and writers who should know better.

Of all the clichés, this is the one of the few I find most tolerable, but I still avoid using it, and can't even remember the last time I may have. A cliché is a cliché, and this is one to add to your list.

Until Next Time...
Purposely Yours,
Michael

Friday, November 21, 2014

You've been there too...

As my Cheesy Readers know, I own enough unread books at this moment that it would take me nearly five years to read them all at my current rate. My Cheesy Readers also know of my self-imposed grounding from buying any more books, but they also know I'm terrible at self-discipline and I buy books anyway. I make it worse by dropping in at bookstores from time to time, browsing the stacks, and finding even more and more books I want to read. Like many bibliophiles, the compulsion to load up a basket and head to the checkout is strong. But I have learned to control this urge - up to a point.

On my most recent trip, I thought I'd pick up two particular leather bound editions of some classics that I had seen online, but the volumes weren't available in store. Since I was there, I thought I'd go ahead and pick up a book or two anyway. But that turned out to be tougher than I thought.

I have book related restrictions, for instance I've decided to not start a new fantasy or science fiction series without finishing up some of the ones I've already started. The catch being, I'm not always clear which ones I own and which ones I don't. Once I read a book, I never forget it, but until I read it, I may not always recall having it.

Thus was the case on my last trip. I have so many that I've purchased the first one or two or three books in the series, I'm never quite sure when I stopped buying them.

Eventually I admitted defeat, continued to wander the stacks, wanting to buy so so many and just take my chances. I took the safe route and picked up a Barnes & Noble printing of Persuasion (which I knew for a fact I did not own), and the latest edition of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Until Next Time...
Forgetfully Yours,
Michael

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A picture is worth...

Discovered this little graphic the other day. It's not the best of quality, but it does a good job of epitomizing the things that genre fiction can do without us even realizing it. It reminds us that sometimes we don't notice symbolism, but it's there.

We are human; symbols mean things to us, even if we're not aware of it. And this graphic points it out more succinctly than I think I could ever do.

I don't know who created this, but kudos, because you Get It.

Until Next Time...
Symbolically Yours,
Michael

Monday, October 13, 2014

'Tis the Season

Every year I try to read 52 short stories, i.e., one per week. This works out well for many reasons. First of all, I love the short form. Second, it helps support the short form industry. And third, it allows me to read per season. Sometimes I'm in the middle of a long novel when a particular season rolls around, like the Halloween season coming up on us, and I don't want to abandon the novel I'm reading to read a more seasonally appropriate novel. The short story, thus, solves all my problems.

This year, I'm going to reread some great H.P. Lovecraft short stories.

During Lovecraft's times and prior, the distinction between science fiction and horror was not as sharp as it sometimes is today. For instance, many consider Shelly's Frankenstein as a horror novel, but among genre readers, it is actually the first distinct science fiction novel. By Lovecraft's time, though, these types of stories were referred to as Fantastic Tales or Tales of the Fantastic, and many times combined elements of horror and science fiction. What we call fantasy today was called S&S for Sword & Sorcery, which also border-lined into horror.

What made Lovecraft's tales of the fantastic unique though was that Lovecraft was an atheist, while the traditional monsters of the day were always in some ways tied into occultism, demons, or Satan worship. So how did this atheist author address that little gap? Well, his monsters were creatures escaped from other dimensions, gaps between parallel universes, or escapees from the Eternal Void. All could be summoned, contacted, or accidently released if an individual - any individual - had the arcane knowledge to do so. A person didn't have to have magic power or be the seventh son of a seventh son to do so.

So to wrap up here... In the mood for some horror as these leaves turn color, a chill nips in the air, and the traditional icons of Halloween pop up all around you? Turn to the short form, read a few of tales of other-worldly beings, and you'll be all set. Remember don't stare too deeply into The Abyss because it will stare back.

Until Next Time...
Cthulhuly Yours,
Michael

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Banned Books and Irony

We are constantly hearing about various books being banned across the United States and other countries. Usually in the United States, it's a small group of people from the Christian persuasion who find a book offensive, pornographic, blasphemous, etc. etc. For example, the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman is offensive to Catholics who then attempted to have it removed from various schools and libraries around the country (they even picketed outside movie theaters when the first book, "The Golden Compass," was made into a movie). It didn't help that Pullman admitted he intended for it to be offensive.

An attempt to ban a book by a group of small group is nothing new. 

But what is new is the (so far successful) attempt of books being banned for being "too Christian." Yes, you read that right. A small group of atheist in California successfully lobbied and compelled a local school to remove books from its library shelves for being overtly Christian. One of those books is "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Bloom. The book is an autobiography about how a families faith helped them survive the Holocaust. It does not preach or try to convert, and does not insist that the reader believe in God. It simply tells the story of a family who believe in God and how that belief affected how they treated and viewed both their fellow prisoners and their captors.


Maybe your first reaction is - Good! Maybe you're thinking, "It's about time those over zealous Christians know how it feels."
Maybe you aren't thinking those things. Maybe, like me, you're thinking of that old cliché: "Two Wrongs don't make a Right."

Banning a book because of the ideas it contains is bad. Period. Your opinion of those ideas is irrelevant. You have the right to free speech, you have the right to express your opinion, and people have the right to disagree with you.

You do not have the right to NOT be offended. If that sentence looks odd to you, then read it again and think about it. Just because you don't like something, doesn't mean you have the right to deny other people access to that material. Just because something offends you, be you a Christian or an atheist, a Jew or a Muslim, does not mean you have some moral right to prevent others from sampling the pool of ideas that make humans thinking creatures.

Freedom of speech exists to protect unpopular speech. Some of the world's greatest ideas and mankind's greatest steps forward started out as an unpopular ideas. But freedom of speech applies both ways, speech that comforts you and speech that offends you.

Sometimes Freedom is messy - Get used to it.

Until Next Time...
Messily Yours,
Michael 

Monday, October 6, 2014

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book, with many calling this the weakest of the five published thus far. I disagree with that assessment, but can understand it. It's the publication dates that matter and mold a lot of opinions.

Book Three: A Storm of Swords was published in 2000, and left the readers in quite a pivotal point in the story. So five years later, here comes the next book in the series, A Feast for Crows. Fans flocked  (pun sort of intended) to stores and online, they feverishly read the book, only to be shocked that there wasn't one bit of story about some of their favorite characters whose lives hung in the balance from the ending of A Storm of Swords. Imagine the indignation, the frustration. Five years, and not a word.

*****This paragraph contains minor spoilers:
But to those fans in an uproar, Martin threw them a bone… at the end of Book Four, he semi-promised them the rest of the story within a year, give or take. He also explained why the story was published this way. Basically, there was so much story to tell he split it in two and instead of telling half the story of each of the characters, he choose to tell the entire story for half the characters and would follow up with the entire story for the other half. Many fans thought he picked the "weaker" story lines for Book Four as a way of guaranteeing the sales of Book Five, which may be true, but I disagree that the storylines were weaker. I feel that Arya, Brie, Jaime, and Cersei are just as strong and just as compelling stories as the others characters.
*****Spoilers end here


No big deal, though, the fans had waited five years, they got a bit of the story to whet their appetites, and although they were not happy about it, they could wait another year with a minimum of grumbling.

So…. the first year passed, the second year passed, jokes began to emerge – the most memorable of which was: "Is Winter Coming?"

Third year, fourth, etc.

YEAR SIX!
A Dance with Dragons (2011) was released. So not only did fans have to wait six years for the story to continue, they had waited a grand total of eleven years to find out the fates of characters they hadn't read since 2000.

That makes it a little easier to understand the belief that Feast of Crows is the weakest of the books to date, but in a general overall view, and when read back to back, it neatly fits into the plot gears and does much to propel the plot forward.

Until Next Time...
Feastly Yours,
Michael 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Odd Reading Habits

When I was in high school, one of my teachers was an avid reader, but there was a catch - he only ever read James Michener novels or reread The Lord of the Rings. Why?

I have no idea.

I found it fascinating though that someone who loved to read restricted himself to only those books. He even commented that he sometimes got tired carrying around a Michener heavy-weight novel, but he did it anyway. That was many many years ago, and maybe he eventually read all of Michener's novel and found another historical author to follow. But the thought and the image of that huge Michener novel sitting on the top of that file cabinet where he brought it in and set it every day that semester has never left my mind.

His love of Michener made me rethink my opinion of the author. At that point in my young reading life, I had read Space and enjoyed it well enough, but nothing else by the author compelled me enough to read anything else by him. Then his novel Texas came out and was a colossal sized book. At that time I was obsessed with reading exceptionally long books (one day I'll write about how I discovered Hubbard's Battlefield Earth), so Texas seemed like the perfect book to add to my "to be read" pile. My parents must have put two and two together (they had seen me reading Michener and knew I had developed a recent obsession 1000-plus page books) and bought Texas for me in hardcover for Christmas. The only problem was they also bought me the Stephen King short story collection Skeleton Crew and an omnibus of the Richard Bachman books. Considering that at the time I was practically obsessed with Stephen King, Michener was going to have to wait.

Michener is still waiting because I just never got back to that Texas-sized novel. But I never let it go, either. It's remained on my bookshelf all these years, hardly opened, and ready for me to read at any time. I occasionally lug it off the shelf, flip through those 1000-plus, view that exceptionally small print (especially in such a long novel) and ask myself if I'm ready to commit so much time to a novel about the state of Texas. I'm never quite ready. Every year I make the resolution that this will be the year I finally read it, but I also make the resolution to read the unabridged version of Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, The Satanic Verses, and reread Vanity Fair, The Mill on the Floss, Barchester Towers, and Battlefield Earth. None of which ever happens. I have too many other books to read.

It's September now. I have a stack of books I need to read before the end of the year, and I just don't see Texas moving from the "to be read" pile to the "read" pile by December 31.

Oh well... there's always next year.

Until Next Time...
Colossally Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Labels within Labels


When we think of genre, we think in general terms of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, etc. But within each genre, there are subgenres, usually known only to the fans of that particular genre, and created as a means of helping to communicate to other fans of the genre what they can expect from a certain author or title. For instance, many people think of Star Wars as science fiction, but ask any science fiction fan what genre Star Wars belongs in and the answer will be either space opera and science fantasy.

So off the top of my head, I tried to list out all the different subgenres within each genre.

Fantasy:
epic, fairy tale, gothic, magic realism, myth, legend, traditional, dark fantasy, fable, folktale, light fantasy, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy

Science Fiction:
alternate history, cyberpunk, futuristic, generation starship, hard science, invasion of Earth, lost colony, lost civilization, parallel worlds, post-nuclear holocaust, space opera, science fantasy, time travel, alien invasion, utopian/dystopian

Mystery:
amateur, cozy, hard-boiled, gum shoe, police procedural, historical, legal, medical, puzzle, locked room, forensic, coroner, whodunit
(I haven't included the suspense or espionage, and to some those are a genre outside of Mystery)

Romance:
(there are about as many categories as there are authors), standard, chick-lit, historic, Amish (yes, I really mean Amish), paranormal, futuristic, dystopian, fantasy, erotica, soft porn, comedy, pagan, RenFaire, foreign, crime, adultery, etc. etc.

I know for a fact that I've forgotten at least six or more subgenres with each of the general genres listed above. And I know that many of the subgenres break down into one more layer of subgenre. But like said, these categories are for the fans who read within those genres, and usually are of little interest to those outside genres.

If you know of any I've missed and can supply a real-world example of it (title and author), please shoot me an email or leave a comment.

Until Next Time,
Categorically Yours,
Michael

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Short Fiction

Since the beginning, heroic stories of great feats and daring adventure have always been long epic tales. From the poetry and narratives of Homer and Ovid, to Le Morte d'Arthur of Sir Mallory, mythical stories, legends, and now modern fantasy stories have become long tombs covering multiple publications with thousands and thousands of pages. Sales figures for such lengthy stories continue to climb as each successive generation acclimates to longer and longer story arcs. In modern publishing history, what may have started with a prequel and simple trilogy with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, has now turned into series that span 3, 6, 9, or even 14 books.

Yet there is a discrepancy.

We are told that because of the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, etc. that our attention spans are getting shorter; our ability to remember details over the course of a long story is less and less; we can't follow narratives that arc across various episodes or chapters. The fiction we buy, and the shows we watch tend to contradict those statements though. In fact, book sales figures indicate just the opposite. Modern readers demand fantasy at least a trilogy, and while science fiction fans will enjoy stand-alone novels, they too like trilogies and longer.

In the pulp fiction days, writers were able to make a living writing short stories, and many rarely wrote novels. It wasn't unusual though for some authors to write serial stories published over several issues. The days of making a living writing short fiction are long gone, and modern publishers rarely publish short story collections unless big names are attached - authors who have established a strong following through their novels - because of the poor sales of those collections. 

I'm not the first to ponder this enigma: If our attention spans are so short, why isn't short fiction more popular? My regular Cheesy Readers know I'm a big fan of short fiction and I always encourage readers to buy and read it whether it's in magazine or book form. Short fiction is not a lost art, as many have proclaimed. It is as strong as ever, popular among writers, but only marginally so among those who aren't. There are many wonderful stories, adventures, and excellent writing in short stories. Many well-established novelists began with the short form and frequently continue to write it long after novels become their main vocation and revenue stream.

Honestly, put down your smartphone, quit checking your text message and Facebook updates, and instead pick up a short story collection. Read a story while waiting at the dentist, while waiting on your flight, or getting an oil change. Your life will be enriched and you'll be promoting an art form that very much needs your financial backing.

Until Next Time...
Shortly Yours,
Michael

Thursday, August 7, 2014

See... Even Jo Does It

Yet another example that just because an author isn't considered mainstream, or intellectual, doesn't mean that they don't have deep academic influences.

Something that was recently brought to my attention was J.K. Rowling's inspiration of the "three brothers and Death" folktale told by Xenophilius Lovegood in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. According to two different sources I've researched, the parable was inspired by The Pardoner's Tale of Geoffrey Chaucer's Middle English epic poem Canterbury Tales.

I remember as I read that folktale that I thought it seemed vaguely familiar, but I didn't put it together until I read that above little bit of information. So I'm happy to have learned that Rowling not only read Canterbury Tales, but that she enjoyed it so much she modeled part of her fiction after it, and thereby indirectly exposing millions of children and adults to one of the greatest poems in the English language. Unfortunately many of Rowling's readers, adults and children, have never heard of the epic tale and will never read it, thus robbing themselves of a beautiful piece of historic poetry.

If given the chance, you should read Chaucer's work, or at least The Pardoner's Tale. At first, it may be difficult to read because of the archaic spellings*, but the more you read from it, the easier it gets. I promise you, you'll find it very rewarding.

Until Next Time...
Brotherly Yours,
Michael

*There were no dictionaries in the 14th century, so each author could spell a word any way they wanted. Some were known to spell the same word multiple ways throughout long texts.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Make Millions Writing Romance

Okay, not quite millions, but it's no secret that in the modern publishing era, romance novels outsell every other genre, and women make up a majority of book buyers in nearly every category of books except for war, science fiction, and sports. With the romance genre alone, women make up 84% of the purchasing market (note: I'm surprised it's that low, I didn't realize that men make up 16% of romance readers).

Ebooks haven't changed that trend too much. The overall male/female split of book purchasers remain the same, women are buying a lot more of their books as ebooks. In fact, ebooks have increased the sale of romance novels, but not necessarily in a way that has increased the profit of publishers. In fact, publishers are feeling the pain of ebooks because many authors, especially in the romance genre are self-publishing or publishing straight through Amazon, choosing to cut out the middle man. This lowers the costs of publishing and creates a higher profit margin for authors.

Yahoo! has an article with a lot more facts and figures, plus a few real stories of authors self-publishing and making a better living at writing now than they were before ebooks.

If you're interested in learning more, just follow this news link to the Yahoo! article.

Until Next Time...
Trendily Yours,
Michael

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Smart Librarians

Many years ago, I read The Hitchhiker Trilogy (age disclosure alert: back when it was only four books), and decided it was high time to read it again. I'll probably buy the leather-bound version from Barnes & Noble the next time I'm there, but in the meantime I decided to check it out from the library.

So.... you know how libraries help shelf browsers by putting little stickers of the bottom of the spine to indicate the book's genre? A book may have a sticker with a unicorn and the words "Fantasy" on it. Or a book may have a ringed planet or a rocket ship and the words "Science Fiction," etc. etc. Western, Romance, blah blah, you get the point.

Now as I scanned the 'A' section of fiction, looking for the first book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, once I found it, I saw the sticker at the bottom of the spine read "Classic."

Oh... Librarians...genius! ... People after my own heart. Yes, the book is science fiction. Yes, it's a comedy. And finally, YES, it's a Classic. Good call, Anonymous Librarian, good call.

Until Next Time...
Classically Yours,
Michael

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Just Proves My Point

My assessment and summary of the May/June 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction serves as a perfect example of why my blog and website are necessary for readers of either classics or genre fiction.
 
It's important to cross read - to read more than just one certain category. Stephen King's advice to budding writers is to read as much as possible, especially books outside your chosen niche.
 
One of the best short stories on the long term scars of war came from the story The Memory Cage by Tim Sullivan. As a man goes through his father's effects - a father who served in World War II - a father who would later commit suicide because of the images he continued to see many years later, the adult son makes this observation:
     Three sentences from another keepsake, a letter sent to my grandparents from French Morocco, were most telling.
     "We shot down a German bomber. I guess we killed the men in that aeroplane," he said. "I don't know how to feel about it. Good, I guess."
      Good, I guess. An eighteen-year-old boy, on the opposite side of the world from all he knew, had just killed a group of other boys whose faces he never saw, consigning them to a twisted-metal funeral pyre in the Sahara from the business end of a gigantic cannon. I don't know how to feel about it. Good, I guess.

And here's proof that Sullivan read much more than just science fiction. When describing the father's mental state after coming home from WWII, the author makes a one-line reference to Hemingway in what many might think is a casual way, but shows a clear brilliance of writing:

     He didn't waste time sitting on the porch like the damaged vet of Hemingway's story. 
There's our proof! That shows not only a depth of reading, but the ability to create a character's state of mind with one sentence. That, my Cheesy Readers, an example of great writing - the ability to completely capture a character with one simple sentence. If I offered a Classics And Cheese annual short fiction award, this short story would be nominated.

The novella featured in this issue is Bartleby The Scavenger by Katie Boyer. A clear homage to the classic Melville story many of us read in high school. It was a bit long, and the author went above and beyond in establishing parallels between the original and this futuristic dystopian version, so in my opinion its overall length could have been trimmed by about 25%, but it's still worth reading if you get the chance.

Rooksnight by Marc Laidlaw and Containment Zone: A Seastead Story by Naomi Kritzer are two novelletes worth their time. Fun stories, told well, and worthy of these pages.  

Until Next Time...
Bartlebly Yours,
Michael 
 

Monday, July 14, 2014

It Was One Simple Task...

THE MISSION: Drive to the grocery story. Pick up two items.
 
ESTIMATED TIME TO COMPLETION: 15 Minutes
 
MISSION SUMMARY: Pulled into parking lot, walked into store, spotted dump bin full of bargain books, priced 5 for $10. Felt overwhelming compulsion to sort through dump bin until I had seen and evaluated every book. Came away with two (pictured). Left store with a total of four items, the two I was originally sent to purchase, plus these two additional items.
MISSION COMPLETION TIME: 30 Minutes
 
MISSION STATUS: Failed.
 
LAME EXCUSE: Still a sucker for dump bins full of bargain books.
 
Until Next Time,
Ashamedly Yours,
Michael


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Word of the Moment V

It's no surprise that people can increase their vocabulary by reading, and I've often bragged that a person can increase their vocabulary by reading genre fiction as well, but I had no idea that you can increase your vocabulary by reading reviews of science fiction and fantasy novels.

That is until I read James Sallis's column Books reviewing The Land Across by Gene Wolfe and Cordwainer Smith, Lord of the Afternoon by Pablo Capanna in this month's The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Seriously. When I sit down to read book reviews, I don't expect to have to run over to the dictionary every few minutes to look up words the reviewer is using. If he's quoting a passage from the book and I have to look up a word from the quotation - then fine. But to look up words from his writings? Come on? Are we sure he's not showing off?

Well, doesn't matter. Mr. Sallis expanded my vocabulary this week, so I suppose I must thank him. So without further (boring) adieu, here are this entry's words of the moment:

  • encomia - noun - a formal expression of high praise; eulogy
  • shibboleths - noun - 1. a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc., that distinguishes a particular class or set of persons; 2. a slogan or catchword; 3. a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.
  • mimetic - adjective - 1. characterized by, exhibiting, or of the nature of imitation or mimicry; 2. mimic or make-believe.
  • cavil - verb - to raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily (usually followed by at  or about)
 
So there we go, four new words we can struggle to actually use in our daily lives. And don't let people convince you that you're just showing off your superior vocab, because you're not, you're just letting them know you read science fiction book reviews.
 
Until Next Time...
Cavilly Yours,
Michael

Friday, June 27, 2014

Enough Already

1. I like mysteries
2. I like gumshoe detectives
3. I like epic fantasy
4. I like science fiction
5. I used to like them mixed together
6. "used to" being the operative words of Point #5

Seriously...

It was cute at first, but the cuteness has worn off - kind of like a cute, little baby alligator who grows up into a big adult alligator and is eating everything in sight.

There's only so much I can take of these stories, yet authors keep pumping them out, and publishers keep publishing them because apparently there are people out there buying and reading the dang things.

There's got to be at least a dozen of these wise-cracking gumshoes, each one in their own universe, but deep down, all exactly alike - so much so that I think the word "dame" is probably one of the most used words in the genre right now; "sultry" might be a close second. And their "smart mouth" always gets them in trouble, and local law enforcement is out to get them, except for one inside guy/gal who is really their pal and goes out on a limb for them all-time risking their career on behalf of the P.I., etc. etc. etc.

Yawn. Now I'm tired. Bored. And a bit irritated.

So before I turn into a mean ol' nasty alligator and start publicly calling out authors and publishers for flooding the market with this over-done cuteness, I should probably stop here.

Until Next Time...
Toothily Yours,
Michael

Thursday, June 26, 2014

It's Only Sensible

We're all guilty of it. We mean to read more classic works of literature than we actually do. I love many of the classics, but I get so caught up keeping up with modern books and publications, that I don't read nearly as many of these works as people assume I do. And looking back over the books I've read since January, I realized I haven't read any so far this year.

Among my reading friends, it's well known I'm a Jane Austen fan, so I figured what better way to get back at it than to pull "Sense and Sensibility" off the shelf. I love Pride and Prejudice (before you ask, yes, the Colin Firth BBC adaptation is my favorite of the screen versions), so I'm hoping S & S is just as good.

And while this may sound crazy to some, I think Austen is a good place to start for people who normally read fantasy. Let me explain: As we all know, most fantasy novels takes place in what many characterize as medieval or prior times in terms of technology, so fantasy fans, by choice read stories in which there are no phones, cars, electricity, etc. Also, Austen is know for her witty characters and rapid fire dialogue to keep readers engaged and propelled forward. Which means the only adjustment fantasy fans have to make is the lack of magic or strange creatures -- something some fantasy novels even use sparingly, if at all.

Okay, maybe I'm stretching here a little, but seriously... Austen is a fun author to read, one who engages her readers early and let's the dialogue and characters' actions propel the story forward.
If I did have to recommended one Austen novel, it would be "Pride," but I know others who recommend "Northanger Abbey", "Emma", or "Sense" (all of which have screen version, either via the BBC or Hollywood, or both).

It's time for me to stop gabbing and head back to the 19th century.

Until Next Time...
Sensibly Yours,
Michael
 
 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Poetry & Music

Monday, June 30, the Tavern of Fine Arts (313 Belt Ave, St. Louis) will be hosting "Poetry & Music" starting at 7:30 pm. Presented by CHANCE OPERATIONS, this intimate event will feature poetry readings by Michael Castro, Jerred Metz, and Howard Schwartz. Music for the evening will be provided by Tracey Andreotti and Henri Claude.

Free parking is available in a small parking lot across the street, and outdoor seating is available in front if you wish just to sit and enjoy the atmosphere of a quiet neighborhood.

You can see an entire list of the summer's events here.

Until Next Time...
Poetically Yours,
Michael


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Daniel Keyes (1927 – 2014)

A classic science fiction author now knows The Secret.

Daniel Keyes passed away at his home in Florida on June 15, 2014, due to complications from pneumonia. Keyes was best known for his short story and later novel "Flowers for Algernon," which became an instant and well-loved classic.

First published as a short story in my favorite magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, "Flowers" won a Hugo in 1958, then as a novel won a Nebula award in 1966. A movie adaptation, "Charly," was nominated for an Academy Award.

Told from the point of view of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, who is mentally-handicapped, Algernon is a laboratory mouse who has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence by artificial means. Charlie Gordon has also undergone the same surgery and these reports are a method of measuring the success of the surgery to the scientist who performed it.  The story has many moral themes, and like any classic story whether science fiction or not, it leaves the reader pondering those issues long after the last page.

As is typical with many controversial stories, this book has been challenged and banned in libraries and schools at various points in time. (That makes this a perfect title to consider during the next "Read a Banned Book Week.") Seems like all the greats always scare some small-minded people at some time or another.

Until Next Time...
Flowerly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Word of the Moment...IV


(Alternate Title: Am I An Idiot?)

I follow poet Taylor Mali on Twitter, and after reading a recent post, I had to wonder if I'm an idiot or if he was being too witty for his own good.
"The wise path to peace resembles surrender to those jingoists distrustful of nuance. Don't get it? Then I'm talking about you. "
What?

Did his autocorrect screw up again? I read it two or three more times and still drew a blank, so I figured he must be talking about me, because I have no clue what his tweet meant. I did know it all centered around that funny "jingo" word. Off I went to the dictionary, where I found:
"jingo - noun - a person who professes belligerent patriotism"
Um.... okay. That was totally...  unhelpful.

Maybe it's just me, but I still didn't get it. So I piece together that jingoists must be those people who profess their love of country in a belligerent way and don't trust nuance. But the wise path to peace is like surrendering to those people who belligerent profess their love of their country. And not only that, by using the word "profess" it can imply that the person isn't patriotic, or at the very least, isn't as patriotic as they think they are.

Still with me? I'm not so sure I am. So, yeah, now I really think he's talking about me.

The only other explanation is that I'm taking him too literally because he's unintentionally been too witty and out-smarted his sense of how smart his followers are. Or maybe his followers are that smart, and I truly am just an idiot.

Either way, I eventually reached a point where I didn't care. I learned a new word - probably one I'll never actually use* -  but I'm way past the point of caring anymore.

Until Next Time...
Jingoly Yours,
Michael

*to be fair, I did use the word as the topic of this post. I don't think that counts though.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rustle Me Up a Couple of Western Yarns


I recently had a friend say, "The older I get, the more I find I'm starting to like country music."
 
A few years ago, I would have laughed at her for that statement, but The Boss and I found ourselves laughing with her, because strangely enough, we had both noticed that change in our tastes. I used to proudly say was, "The only thing I hate more than country music is LOUD country music!" I can no longer say that with any degree of honesty. 

The same goes for westerns. I hated westerns growing up. Friends used to watch reruns of The Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, etc. etc. Not me, I would have rather watched static than even 30 seconds of a western. I even avoided non-western John Wayne movies, just in case.

But eventually, I did watch one because it truly was the only thing on: "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (Paul Newman, 1972). I actually liked it, but I considered it the exception - not the rule. Many years later I found myself watching "Once Upon a Time in the West" (Charles Bronson, 1968). Loved it, but again it was the exception, not the rule. That eventually gave way to "Unforgiven" (Clint Eastwood, 1992), "Quigley Down Under" (Tom Selleck, 1990), and finally, "The Quick and The Dead" (Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, 1995).*

Hm.... somehow those pesky westerns snuck up me and the blasted things hooked me. Dagnabit!

At this point I decided I had to read a Western. I had to know one way or the other if, as a young impressionable kid, I had been too caught up in science fiction and fantasy to legitimately consider a western as something worthy of my time. Afterall, who wants dusty boots and cattle rustling when you can have either dragons and wizards or spaceships and lasers.

So now, the decision was.... what western to read? I could read Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" which won all sorts of awards, both as a book and as a made-for-TV movie, but that's a darn thick book and I wasn't sure I wanted to spend that much time finding out. So I decided to pick one of those thin, pocket-sized westerns off the rack at the local library, and to really play it safe, I chose one of the best-loved western writers of all time, Louis L'Amour. "Dark Canyon" seemed decent enough, so I checked it out, brought it home, and read it.
 
Did I like it? Darn tootin' I did.

So that confirmed it. Granted it was only one novel, but I had proven once and for all that the western genre was I could categorize as Enjoyable. I still haven't read a whole lot of them, but have picked up a few of William W. Johnstone (whom many considered L'Amour's replacement). I've also decided to read a few Tony Hillerman mysteries - no, they're not westerns, but they concern the modern Native Americans and their customs juxtaposed against the culture that invaded them. 
 
Lots of great reading ahead, so I supposed it's time to move along, stop writing and start reading.
 
Until Next Time...
Good, Bad, and Ugly Yours,
Michael
 
p.s. "The Rifleman" can now be seen on MeTV, and come to find out, The Boss has always liked that show, and recently managed to convert me. She also insists that one day I find the time to watch "Tombstone" (Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, and Dana Delany, 1993) - says it's not half bad.

*If you ever get the chance, read about the making of Sam Raimi's "The Quick and The Dead" from Bruce Campbell's memoir "If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor". He tells a funny story about how Raimi convinced Gene Hackman to speak lines he didn't want to speak.
 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Business of Books

Don't know if you follow the publishing industry, but if you do, then you know all about the current feud between Amazon and Hachette publishing. To make a long story short, Amazon wants to make certain books loss-leaders by cutting the retail price below wholesale costs thereby attracting customers to those books and then sell them other books at a slightly higher cost to make up the difference. The catch is -- they don't want to cut their profits, they want the publisher and authors to take the loss in revenue.

Hachette Publishing stood up to Amazon, so Amazon decided to retaliate by making it difficult for customers to buy books published by Hachette. Some of the tactics they've imployed include not allowing pre-orders on Hatchett Publishing titles and purposely delaying shipments for weeks at a time, encouraging customers to buy used copies from other locations (thereby insuring that the publisher, and more importantly the author, from receiving any compensation for their work). These tactics affect authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen Colbert. So, Colbert being Colbert, he uses a segment of his show to let his feelings be known on this topic, while giving his viewers a bit of education on the matter as well.

If you have a few minutes, watch both of the below links, follow their advice, and you'll be helping out a new debut novelist as well.

Colbert's Thoughts on Amazon

Amazon vs Hachette --- Author Sherman Alexie offers up more information

Join the fight against Amazon and their attempt to deprive authors their just compensation for writing the stories we all enjoy.

*************

Like Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming services? Enjoy checking out books from your local library? Wouldn't it be cool if you could combine the two?

Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, publisher Simon & Schuster and E-Book services Oyster and Scribd have made a deal where, like other streaming video services, readers can pay a monthly fee and have e-reader access to thousands of S&S titles in "Netflix-like" style.

I haven't heard what the cost is yet, but many suspect it'll be somewhere in the $10 per month range, and this will allow you access to as many books as you can read with no limit on the number of books per month.

Of course, this move is being closely watched by other publishers, since the success or failure of this new business model could radically change the book publishing industry once again.

So that's the publishing business news of the moment.

Until Next Time...
Profitably Yours,
Michael