A thrice-told tale

GN-maleficMy most popular short story Malefic has now been published by three different publishers. Did you miss it the other times? You can read it at God and Nature in their spring issue.  Enjoy!

Cover Art Bronze Winner

bronze2015I wrote in November that the cover art for The Former Hero was a semi-finalist in the AuthorsDB.com Cover Art Contest. I didn’t bother to update the post when I learned I was a finalist. But now that the final results are in, and my book has won a Bronze Award, I will make the announcement.

Once again, I have to give credit to award-winning design artist Scarlett Rugers in Melbourne, Victoria in Australia who worked with me to come design the cover.

If you would like a signed copy of the book, please contact me.

My new short fiction piece is published

Topology Magazine published a short piece of mine today called “Water.”

You can read it here.

Please bear in mind that it is mostly fictional with few details that actually happened. However, it does accurately describe our family about 6-8 years ago when things were very tight financially.

The theme of the current Topology issue is “Thriftiness.” I recommend subscribing to anyone interested.

Cover Art Finalist

semi-finalistI am amazed to have another recognition for my debut novel. However, this time the credit goes to someone else.

I’m very honored to have the cover of The Former Hero be a semi-finalist in the AuthorsDB.com 2015 Cover Art Contest. Credit goes to my super cover artist Scarlett Rugers for the surreal, melancholy appeal of the cover.  The sun, moon, and stars emphasize a subtle motif in the book. You will notice several references to the swirling heavenly bodies, representative of the eyes of heaven, looking down upon the turmoil on earth yet placid and regular, distant and seemingly blind to the roiling activities of humanity here below.

But the man walking on a small planet against surging yellow clouds is a haunting image and suggests the personal dilemma involved in being formerly a hero.

Scarlett lives in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, Australia (at least she did). We had a skype consultation before starting the project, and she read some portion of the book to have personal hand-on knowledge of the mood of the book. The particular package I purchased included several other graphical goodies including a bookmark, a 12×18″ poster, and a Facebook banner. She does free updates to existing cover art as needed; she updated the back cover text after I received a battery of glowing blurbs and reviews. If you’re looking for a true professional, I can definitely recommend her.

 

An excerpt

Here is a fun excerpt from my novel, The Former Hero, published about a year ago. Omni-man has lost his super powers and, as he seeks their return, he reminisces about his initial summons to greatness. The book is available on my website.

FH-perspectiveIchabod! Oh, for the love man! I was there when the sky fell and mankind plunged into collective drunkenness. I saw it and I know specific details, names and facts. And I went to sleep, and you could say I dreamed it all—the children, the elderly, the fire and disease, all—but I say it was only the appearance of sleep, and a dream like an alternative consciousness. In those hours, some seventy-seven hours while I was unresponsive, while I was in an altered state of dream-sleep, I experienced a kind of chemical reorganization, what scientists call punctuated equilibrium, not a joyful rebirth or springing new from some cocoon, but a collapse, in long tortuous agony, an implosion, a recomposition of sorts, as enzyme juices expressed, a violent cleansing, burning like Drain-o through my veins, like all the salt from seven billion sets of tearful eyes, their voices in my blood and the bitterness like bile on my tongue, I could hear all their shrieks with every heartbeat and it was these howling voices and no less the unearthly muteness crying through the eyes of the voiceless that did its work in me, and all of the images that I can never remove from my mind that fertilized the soured and contaminated blood that continued to course through the lobes of my brain for those many hours.

It was that day that I received my holy endowment. I was actually undergoing a change—a transformation that somehow harnessed the power of the mind to change the body. Call it psychosomatic. I call it miraculous, nay more, I call it the need of the hour. My mind was churning, reorganizing itself, inventing new structures and schemata, new ideas both physical and spiritual, harmonic, philosophic, astronomic. My heart pumped out new chemicals, endorphins, peptides, neurotransmitters and steroids, epinephrines and serotonins made of new protein compounds, created by free radicals firing wildly and making ever-growing surges of complex electrical connections in the primordial miasma of my brain which now worked rapidly, freely, originally, akin to the activity during REM sleep, but breaking down the helpless old ideas of fearfulness and apathy, harnessing greater and greater percentages of dormant mental matter, the ninety percent that goes unused in most of us—not making me smarter. No. I am no genius. But giving me those powers of vision and strength which I have used for justice, for truth, in aid of law enforcement and defense, for healing, and indeed, to change my physical form into something of the ideal.

After I arose from slumber—what can be said? Only that I knew who I was, as you already know, but at that time it was dawning slowly upon my consciousness the semi-divine vocation that was now mine, the only explanation to the change that had taken place, that is as I said before, the need of the hour, to use the new clarity of vision, the very eyes and mouth of the prophet, and the might of my hands and feet and mouth and mind to do good in the world, to be what everyone really wants and needs and cries out for, oh how many times had I heard the word—a hero (it is unbefitting that I should use this word to designate of myself, but it is true nonetheless)—I would do what had never been done before, I would bring what they cried out for: justice, order, revival. At my advent, the nations rejoiced. Had I not been refashioned by some directed benevolent force in this freakish cauldron of flesh? For some purpose? Would not this bring a turning of the times? A body was prepared for me, and I must follow the path set before me.

(Admittedly, as these words pass through my mind, even now, as I lay on a hospital bed, tormented by the incompetent Doctor Sheitly and his horde of sirens, my flesh has failed, though not my heart! It is nothing to worry about. Yes, today, for a brief intermission, by the decree of heaven in suspending my potent grace, I walk as any other man, fasting, as it were, from my labors, reminded for a season of my earlier estate of mortality before I received the blessing of heaven. By tomorrow I expect to be fully restored and with a bonus. But back to my tale.)

Too well I remember wakening that morning some years ago—every smell and sound—as I awoke to the reality that greeted me, the pain in my head subsided, my senses returned to their balances. It was a new dawn, and the sweet sunshine flooded my bedchamber. No hunger did I feel, nor need of any kind. Fruit in a basket was lain at my bedside, placed there by some well-wisher I suppose, and I ate and let the juice run down my chin, sucking in life and energy from all around, and containing my astonishment as I beheld my new form in the mirror. Suffused with life, I reclined on the bed pensive and wistful for a moment as a quintet of robins conversed outside my window and a cheerful breeze blew a bouquet of spring apricot and almondine into the room, and rosy-fingered dawn filled the space in subtle drifting sequins of light. It seems that I recalled my mother’s tears of joy and my father’s clenching jaw as he shook my hand without words, sending me as it were, and in the moments that followed I paced and breathed and thought upon those mournful faces of grief, and the approaching night that was my foe, and I, now manifest as Omni-man, went out to meet them.

The heightened bliss of that day stays clear in my memory if events that followed have blurred with time. Indeed I thought I heard the peal of silver trumpets in my soul, a funereal clarion, simultaneously summoning me and burying me, so rich and clear were their tones, nature’s whole frame watching in anticipation of my rise, that at last her chains might be broken!

The euphoria lingered, the ecstasy of superhuman animation that poured over my head like a warm milk-bath upon waking from that dark night, and, Ah! by the weeping tears of Qoheleth!—you will forgive me if I get carried away in my descriptions!

Ah! How rapture took me that blessed morn!

And clarity, vision I say, such that I wrestled to maintain circumspection, judgment and self-possession. For I tell you as one who has ascended the cave and seen the sun for the first time that the blend of blinding intuition and physical empowerment bred a seed of giddiness, a lightness of spirit unbecoming such a calling, and was then handily quelled in the rising heat of day that now turned the dewy morning gradually to the arid dust of battle. Then how I moved like lightning. I traveled the streets of affronted freedom and beheld their alabaster cities in ruin.

Movie update

Here’s a few movies I have seen lately and a brief word about each.

MaddingCrowdFar From the Madding Crowd

Short answer: this movie caught my interest early. I enjoyed the English countryside and the subtlety of the main characters. So despite my final criticism, I can recommend it.

I have not read the classic book, although Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite authors, which I consider a kind of guilty pleasure since he was so relentlessly pessimistic toward human fate. What is exquisite about Hardy is the nobility, endeavor, and the search for redemption in the main characters who inevitably are foiled by a cruel fate; perhaps there is just the slightest uptick at the end of his novels. And Hardy’s poetry is usually as black as the night.

This movie, however, had a very uncharacteristic happy ending. The rest of the movie was very Hardian with its twists of fate, but at the end it became Hollywood. Let me just say, if the book ends with the guy getting the girl, then I will move it to the end of my reading list.

mad-max-fury-roadMad Max: Fury Road

All I can say is, I am too old for this kind of movie. I would have enjoyed it when I was younger. But my requirements have increased in 20 years, and Mad Max is a not much more than a roaring, mutant, post-nuclear war, road rally. I felt like I had sand in my mouth by the end of it. And character development? What? What!? Char. Act. Er.  Dee-VEHL-up-MINT? Sorry, wrong continent. This is Australia, and we got a desert to cross with 5 hotties in the boot and a band of maniacal, thirsty bounty hunters on our tail. We don’t got no time for no Kar-akt-er Di-vel-oop-munt. An none of that snooty moteefs or whatnot.

AvengersAvengers: The Age of Zoltron. Or whatever

Same as above. I’m too old. The problem with this movie is that I never came to care about anything—not the Avengers themselves, the many humans who died, the robots, the future, life, the planet, meaning, literature, philosophy. Nothing. I’m afraid this is Joss Wheadon’s signature, condemned 400 years ago by Shakespeare himself, sound and fury, signifying nothing. And this from the guy who recently wrote a novel about superheroism and the plight of mankind. Superheroes themselves are not as interesting as what they say about us.

As I see it, this movie is a signal of Marvel Comics running out of gas. I can virtually see the throngs of 15 year-olds coming out of the theaters with a rapidly fading buzz of excitement, rapidly. Forgotten before their moms arrive to pick them up outside the mall. That’s exactly the point about this series. It has killed itself by having to continuously outdo the last episode. It’s so overwrought, it’s trying so hard, it’s following such a long trail of previous blockbusters, that there just aren’t that many eye-popping scenes, there just aren’t that many concepts left. I think if Marvel wants to have any more movies with traction, they need to dump Joss Wheadon and hire Christopher Nolan, who seems to be the only guy in TinselTown who can pile on enough layers to keep modern viewers happy with action thrillers. He’s managed to pull the mind-blowers out one after another for a while now; I think even his days are numbered.

But about the Avengers, I don’t care! I don’t bloody care about the Avengers. I don’t love them! I don’t support them. If they died I would feel the same as if my video game character died. Just press restart. That’s what this stupid franchise ends up with. Compare this to James Bond. Now, we all love James Bond. We have for years. Especially Daniel Craig. I don’t know. The masses are fickle, Joss. We are a fickle bunch.

AdelineAge of Adeline

This is a clever and sophisticated movie. I enjoyed it even more the second time I watched it. Adeline herself is totally classy. Harrison Ford plays himself in his character (whose name I cannot remember) and therefore he is delightful. The premise of the movie is tough for a skeptic of human infinite perfectibility such as myself (Adeline hits about 28 and ceases to age. Then lives that way in secret for 80 years for fear of becoming a government specimen). You can always find some Deepak Chopra or Andrew Weil or Ray Kurzweil who thinks we will inevitably discover the “aging gene” and learn how to stop the aging clock, and humans will effectively become immortal. But I would stake a bag of Doritos that science will never find a “cure” for aging. But anyway, even though this movie is based on this idea, and Adeline’s transformation is a freak of nature which has no basis in anything, it is still a clever idea and the filmmakers turned it into a charming film with charming characters and good, old fashioned drama and tension.

The_Spectacular_Now_filmThe Spectacular Now

[This post has been edited.] I knew after I wrote my original comments about this film that I maybe, just maybe, didn’t know what I was talking about because, truth be told, I was not entirely conscious for the last third of the movie. So, I have watched it again, and want to say that my first round was completely obtuse, ridiculously obtuse, I mean, Donald Trump obtuse. This is a good movie, full of real human struggling and growth. Yes, it was all very high-school-ish, with popular young, Divergent actors, but it delivered the kinds of things that I really look for in a movie. It wasn’t Lawrence of Arabia, but it was a meaningful contemporary film. I recommend it.

Two new items

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-200This was an eventful week for The Former Hero with two significant pieces of news. First, I received notice that I was a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Award in the genre of Thriller (alas, they don’t have a category for “Speculative, Psychological, New adult, Multi-Genre, Literary Thriller.”)

As you can tell by the name, this contest is a national one, which means I must have been up against a lot of other contestants. I am very honored to have placed as a finalist.

ERB-logo-Color-SmallThe second event is the publication of a review by Alicia Smock on the Englewood Review of Books. Am I allowed to even quote this? Smock calls the book a “philosophical masterpiece.” [turns red, kicks the sand].

I gave the mayor of Austin a copy

Austin Proc med 2

Today I had the pleasure with several other members of the Texas Association of Authors of meeting with Mayor Steve Adler at City Hall for the proclamation of April 12th as DEAR Texas Day. As you can see, I was more concerned about standing up straight and holding my stomach in than I was about smiling or paying attention.

Afterward, each of the authors who showed up gave Mayor Adler a copy of our books (at the suggestion of the TAA coordinator). If he actually reads my book I hope he will not take offense; the chief villain in my book is the city’s mayor.

You’re going to find this weird, but I watched ‘Twilight’

Now.

I didn’t pay extra to see it. Are you kidding? No. I didn’t go out and rent it. I’m a grown man.

But it showed up on Netflix last week, so I thought, “Oh. That thing that everyone was talking about a few years ago.”

“Ugh. Alright. Play.”

Being in the world. Popular culture. Knowing what people are talking about. Listening to the stories that people identify with. All that stuff.

OK, Go.

Synopsis: a guy vampire, Edward, and human girl, Bella, who go to the same high school develop extremely (supernaturally?) strong romantic feelings for each other. Edward is wildly fixated on Bella and all the while fighting back his own savage vampire urges to kill her for food. For some reason, Bella is especially tasty as vampire food, and Edward has to try extra hard not to eat her. Meanwhile, other vampires want to eat her too, and he protects her from them while holding at bay his own instinct to kill/eat her. Roll credits.

So, what did I think? What did I think about the movie/book/story that sent millions of young girls into raptures of ecstasy and millions of women between ages 18 and 59 into paroxysms of guilty vicarious pseudo-nostalgic euphoria? And probably a lot of guys too? First an aside.

I’ll admit. The main reason I saw this movie is because somewhere once I heard a talk-show preacher talking about it. He labored to parse out, to elucidate what was the nature of the magic of that film that affected so many. He opined, with the breathless wizardry of an O’Connor-esque southern prophet, that it was about how Edward was SO INTENSELY FOCUSED on his human inamorata Bella, and this reveals the deep psychology of how every woman longs to be desired like that by her man. And you men out there need to cherish your women so they feel loved like Bella did. Everything about this guy’s message made my skin crawl, but I wasn’t sure why at the time. Perhaps because I had not seen the movie.

So. My response to the film? I was expecting the worst and was all prepared to hate it just for being this big teen sensation. But ya know what? For a vampire movie, it was pretty good, I thought.

Edward was pretty cool, I guess. The tortured, noble vampire from whom all strength of will is required to keep from making a bloody wreck of his beloved Bella.

And Kristen Stewart. Despite how much abuse she has taken from the celebrity gossipers and internet haters, I thought she was pretty good in the film. I’ll admit that I think her dark-circled eyes, her taut little mouth, and her dark hair are very successfully melancholy, and I like that.

OK, so she’s not Cathrine Zeta-Jones, big deal! Why so do many people hate her? I don’t get it. But whatever. Let’s move on.

The film had a cool, wet, evergreen, overcast Seattle vibe. The colors were muted and blueish. And pretty much all the humans were good characters.

twilight-mainThe vampires however were a ridiculous failure, all walking around with their eyes extra wide open, all looking at each other with sidelong knowing glances, all a little too cliche’ goth-looking. But I suspended disbelief.

The so-called magic of the film, the recipe that made girls and women so captivated was not, as Mr. Clueless Pastor tried to explain in a tiresome play to cultural relevance before his bewildered sheep-flock, that Edward was giving Bella the kind of intense attention that every woman longs for in a relationship, and which men are now challenged to provide.

Edward and Bella’s attraction was anything but realistic, anything but a model for the rest of us. Sure, we’re all fools in love, as they say. But we’re not all obsessive.

In fact, back in the 90’s Edward and Bella’s hyperactive attraction used to be known to psychologists as “codependency” (maybe it still is) and was a condition for which a person should seek counseling. Are we saying now what used to be clearly unhealthy is the new gold standard, the unattainable perfection, the crack-cocaine of romantic feelings?

And not to put to fine a point on it, is this pastor’s observation and prescription more a capitulation to the ever-increasing-ism of the last so-many decades (harder louder music, intenser movies, bigger explosions, fatter muscles, smaller bikinis, taller skyscrapers, extremer sports, sharper graphics, faster communications, double-down super-sized Dub-step-and-Red Bull-infused Nutella wrapped-in-bacon culture) than sane counsel to lovers about what to expect from life?

Or maybe this whole thing isn’t so new. After all, romance stories have been creating hot&sweet, gladiator-pecs, boom-shicka-wow-wow, unfulfillable longings and dissatisfaction with real life for many decades. But those Harlequin books were never set up by the sages and teachers of society as instructive.

My advice: watch movies you like and enjoy the art. Escape for a while in a good story. And then forget about it and go build a birdhouse or something.

C-Spot Magazine features TAA Award Winners

C-Spot Magazine this month is running  an article honoring the winners of the Texas Association of Authors Book Award winners, including The Former Hero.

Thank you to the editors!

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