Thursday, November 27, 2008

The latest issue of Ray Gun Revival is up, and it contains the third episode of Thieves' Honor. When I read some of the other fiction included in the magazine, I am grateful mine gets to be included.

While you're over there, check out Johne Cook's review of the new James Bond flick, Quantum of Solace, or read it at his blog. Excellent.


Here's a little science fiction gratitude on Thanksgiving:

"There are things in the Universe billions of years older than either of our races. They are vast, timeless, and if they are aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know. We've tried, and we've learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on...They are a mystery, and I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the Universe. That we have not yet explained everything. Whatever they are, Miss Sakai, they walk near Sigma 957 and they must walk there .. alone."

-- G'Kar to Sakai in "Mind War" (season one, episode 6 of Babylon 5) (1993)

A Quiet but Thought-Filled Thanksgiving.

November 27, 2008, is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and though there is debate in a few groups whether or not such a day should be celebrated--some Native Americans want the holiday eliminated because they say the original "thanksgiving" concerned the pilgrims annihilating Indians then returning to the settlements to thank God for successful massacres--I am glad that such an increasingly secular country sets aside a day to be grateful.

And, in a society that more and more thinks of itself as entitled or victimized, and looks to government to solve its problems, it is good to cultivate the virtue of gratitude. Once, hard work, gratitude, and personal responsibility were core values. Now, not so much.


My family is scattered this holiday: brother and family in Ohio, mom in Oklahoma, dad in Mississippi, me in Arkansas.

Dad called me this afternoon, and our conversation was lagging, and then he read a poem photocopied from an old textbook (his wife is a retired teacher), and that kick-started a whole new conversation.


Because we were friends and sometimes loved each other,
perhaps to add one more tie
to the many that already bound us,
we decided to play games of the mind.

We set up a board between us:
equally divided into pieces, values,
and possible moves.
We learned the rules, we swore to respect them,
and the match began.

We've been sitting here for centuries, meditating
how to deal the one last blow that will finally
annihilate the other one forever.

Rosario Castellanos (25 May 1925 – 7 August 1974) Mexican poet and author


We talked about competition, friendship, government, war, politics. If his mother-in-law hadn't called for him from somewhere in the house, we'd probably be on the phone still.


I'm thankful for employment. Come January 1, there will be no annual rise in salary, and there may even be a cut a little further into the year, but there will--I pray--still be an income. Working in the nonprofit sector can be tough on the budget, and not so good for peace of mind when the economy weakens, but I know Who holds tomorrow, and am confident He is able to take care of any troubles that come my way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some Snarky Commentary, Some Whinging, and Even a Little Celebration

Aside from the CSFF Blog Tour and occasional bits of fiction, I haven't had much to say lately. The usual suspects have waylaid me: work, writing, life. And maybe a lack of want-to.

I started blogging as a writing discipline--a way to make myself write on a regular basis, even if the end result was crap--and for a long while, it worked.

However, though I passed along "tags" to a few other bloggers after I was tagged, all the tagging and memes left the taste of spam in my mouth. (pun intended) And after seeing the proliferation of invented blogging awards and reading obviously self-conscious essays meant to showcase a blogger's way with words--and I've written my share of "Oh, look at me! I'm a great writer!" posts--I'm just not as enamored of the blogging process as I once was.

Oh, I'll stick around--I have a piece of fiction to finish and post, just in case anyone's still reading--but the mode of writing discipline has changed. A few posts back, I mentioned trying to finish the next episode in a series. Serial fiction and a deadline, one either self-imposed or set by an editor, are excellent motivators.

That episode is finally finished, in the sense that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It was written in fits and starts, and scenes were added then deleted then added again, rearranged, shortened, extended, turned on their heads. But the episode is done. Now it's being edited and tweaked, and should be ready to submit in a couple of days. Whoo Hoo!


Sometimes, even though a writer has written inside a particular form on many occasions, he needs to go back and relearn how to do it. Ever look at "dog" or "small", or even "the", and wonder if you spelled it right? Well, that's a bit like what this episode has been for me.

I had to go back and relearn how to structure a story, how to cut from scene to scene, how to cut between the story's present and a flashback/memory. In order to help me get into that mode, I've been watching television serials on DVD. At the moment, a rented copy of Battlestar Gallactica, third season, is in the player.

The episode is still missing a necessary spark, but perhaps I can find it in the editing process.

Meantime, here's a scene that was added late on Saturday:

Curses and threats following her down the corridor, Captain Iona Zoltana scanned her dogtags across the security scan, the brig doors slid open, and she and her crew stepped into the holding zone between the cells and the entry. The doors closed with a hiss as the air pressure changed. Prisoners were given less oxygen—just under normal levels—than free citizens. Marty and his pirates could whinge at the top of their lungs all the planetary day long, but they’d just wear themselves down.

“Don’t they ever shut up?” Ensign Gaines scowled back down the corridor.

“A sleepy prisoner is a happy prisoner.”


Zoltana smiled slightly—“Mind the gap”—and gripped the handrail.

The holding zone shot sideways, and Gaines tottered into the wall and dropped his rifle. It skittered across the floor. The rest of the escort squad grinned or chuckled as Gaines righted himself, red-faced and scowling, and grabbed the rail.

At the guard station, a man in a standard dark blue uniform saluted. The gold wings of the government fleet marked his right sleeve. “Captain Zoltana.”

She returned the salute.

“I’m Liaison Officer Krieger. I’ve been sent to escort you to the admiralty, captain. Your detail is free to accompany us.”

“Officer Krieger.” Zoltana shook his hand then strode toward the exit. “Anything you can tell me on the way?”

“I don’t have the details, captain.”

“Then give me the scuttlebutt.”

Krieger waved his ID at the scanner, and the exterior door opened. “There’s been some chatter about Governor Bat’Alon’s daughter being aboard the freighter Martina Vega. Possible kidnapping.”

He looked puzzled when Zoltana laughed.

c. 2008, Keanan Brand

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shade - Day 3

This is the third and final day of the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour for November. This month's featured book is Shade by John B. Olson.

Today, I'll include some of the positives (in my opinion) of the story.


First, however, here's an overview of the characters:

1) Secondary character Athena was my favorite of all the characters: sharp-tongued, sharp-witted, dark-humored, tough-as-three-layers-of-fake-nails kind of street girl who sees through the lies and wants something better for herself than the false lives her "friends" pursue.

2) Malchi is simple, in that he was raised with a simple purpose and was kept outside the mainstream by his teacher, who may or may not have done him any favors by doing so. This mysterious mentor certainly did not pass along the entire truth of Scripture or of God, despite the underlying truth he did impart to Malchi: Mankind must stand against evil if it doesn't want to be consumed by it.

3) Hailey, well, hmmm. I knew I was supposed to like her--she's the heroine--but I just couldn't connect.

4) Boggs, Mark, Tiffany, while likeable, were essentially utilitarian.

5) Detective Smiley--Good guy? Bad guy? I liked that he was so ambivalent. The reader might even feel a little sympathy for him at one point in the story.

And, speaking of ambivalence, about three-quarters of the way through the book, the hero Malchi is presented as a possible villain himself. Hailey isn't sure of him: Is he her protector, or does he really want to kill her?

6) Sabazios is presented as a classic vampiric type, all suave and handsome and smoothly persuasive. He's scary, yes, but his minions seemed scarier.


Now, a few things I liked about this book:

1) Athena's storyline -- She starts her fictional life as a supporting actor; by the end, she's center stage. Her actions are crucial to the climax of the story. And there's just something about the way she's written that makes me believe her.

She loaded a plate with a huge mound of food and started eating in earnest. A couple of women glanced her way and broke out in tittering laughter. Fine, let them laugh. She wasn't hiding anything. Turtleneck had looked her in the eye and walked on by. They could laugh all day for all she cared. She was starving.

Setting her plate down on the table, she filled a plastic cup with blood-read punch. The sweet liquid burned as it went down, warming her from inside out. She added another ladle full. Another. The best way to hide was to fit right in. She laughed out loud and stuffed a huge California roll in her mouth. Hiding in plain view. Hiding in style.

2) Though this is not a laugh-out-loud book, there is still humor that might make a person chuckle. In this example from Chapter 22, Hailey is doubting Malchi:

It was like he had a Hailey allergy. He was afraid to touch her, talk to her, even be in the same room with her. Why couldn't she just accept it? He was a raving, out-to-lunch, pass-the-drool-rag lunatic.

...That little ball of string he'd tried to hide in his pocket wasn't going to hold his weight. And the pieces of wood--was she crazy or were they sharpened stakes, like in the old Dracula movies? What kind of cuckoo's nest had she flown over? The guy lived in a tree, for crying out loud. He was in love with Eve and ran around like some kind of interdimensional Dr. Who with a sonic screw loose.

And a plastic squirt bottle.

3) There are some unexpected twists and details that make this story a fresh take on vampire mythology. I like it when a writer can take a familiar story and turn it around, turn it sideways, make it dance on its head, and yet retain a core that is true to the source material.

(I include no sample passages from the book here, because I don't want to give away details that are best discovered on one's own. Read the book!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shade - Day 2

This month's Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour spotlight is on Shade by John B. Olson. (Spotlight on shade? No pun intended. Honest.)

We'll start with the negatives today, then the positives tomorrow. Always end with the good stuff, I say.

Though I am an advocate for putting the reader into the middle of the action, the style of storytelling in Shade sometimes makes the reader feel as schizophrenic as the characters seem to be.

In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 3, the male protagonist--Melchi, a homeless man who does chores for the Booklady as thanks for her kindness--is cleaning out a mop in the bookstore restroom:

...(A) burning sensation tickled at the back of his mind. He leaped across the room and swatted at the light switch, plunging the room in darkness. Clenching his eyes shut, he backed against the bathroom wall as the crushing weight of darkness pressed in on him from all sides.

A silent scream quivered up his spine. He held his hands over his years, but he couldn't shut it out. Rage washed through him like water through a saturated sponge. Not tonight. Please, not tonight. Holy One, help me. Please don't let it hunt tonight.

A tremor snapped his head back, bashing it into the hard edge of the cast-iron sink. Another silent scream.

I like the imagery--"water through a saturated sponge"--and I can see Malchi trying to ward off the evil, but the rage? Whose is it: Malchi's or his enemy's?

I don't like being talked down to as a reader, but neither do I like being kept in a contrived confusion. The above example is mild, and is only one of several instances where the mix of emotions and/or thoughts is sometimes not untangled--or, at least, not easily untangled. Anything that causes the reader to stop and say "Huh?" begs a closer edit. In this case, something as simple as "His enemy's rage washed through him like water through a sponge" might clear up any unnecessary confusion and still keep the reader in the dark. (After all, unanswered questions are what keep readers turning pages to find out what happens next.)

In another sample from Chapter 16, Hailey--the female protagonist--is running from a couple of the lesser villains but is captured nonetheless:

His grip crushed down on her like a vise, pinning her arms to her sides. He drug her out of the elevator and swung her around.

Waves of exultation tumbled across Hailey's senses. The garage lights melted into rings of rainbowed light. The garage was turning, spinning.

Since the reader is, by now, accustomed to the main characters sensing and being affected by one another's thoughts and feelings, as well as those of the ancient enemy and his minions, this wave of exultation--where's it's source? From her captor, triumphant because he caught her? From his master, pleased that he has done so well?

** spoiler in this paragraph** The reader learns later that the ancient enemy is not averse to using drugs to accomplish his purpose. Therefore, this exultation is a result of an aspirated hallucinogen. The exultation is Hailey's as she gets high on the drug.

A simple fix to keep the reader clear (without giving away too much too soon) might be letting the reader know the sense of exultation came from inside Hailey herself. Again, this keeps the information clear without giving away any secrets.

This is an exaggeration of simplicity, but an outline of the story's action might look like this: Running, running, running, rescuing, running, running, running, hiding, running, running, running, getting caught, someone else running, running, running, escaping, running, running, running, a little more explanation about the monster(s), running, running, running.

You get the picture.

But no one can honestly say that the story doesn't move. (Okay. That pun was intended.)

Maybe I'm picking at minor issues. Maybe someone will venture past this blog and wonder why I'm whinging. "What's this guy's problem?"

Well, I'll admit that--as negatives go--the above examples are small. Still, they drew me out of the story and activated the editor in me.

When I open a book, I want to be informed (if it's nonfiction) or entertained (if it's fiction), and preferably both. If the editor is wakened, I cannot enjoy the book. Instead of being immersed in the words, I am pulled outside of them to an objective and workmanlike point of view. I don't know of any fiction writer who wants his story to be work for his audience. Those kinds of books get assigned in high school literature courses, and are usually accompanied by Cliffs Notes.

Shade is published by B & H Publishing Group; visit their website for other entertaining reads.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Shade - Day 1

Supernatural thriller Shade by John Olson is a quick read: The story doesn't linger in one place for long.

I was intrigued by Shade's premise (the following paragraph is lifted from the book's page on, with my apologies for not finding my own words):

A monstrous waking nightmare is pursuing graduate student Hailey Maniates across San Francisco to Golden Gate Park where she is rescued by a towering homeless man. She seems able to read her rescuer’s mind, but is it just a delusion? Doctors diagnose her as a paranoid schizophrenic and attempt to prescribe away her alleged hallucinations. But too many questions remain around Hailey and the man who saved her. He appears to suffer from her same mental condition and is convinced that some type of Gypsy vampire is trying to kill them both.

Against reason, Hailey finds herself more and more attracted to this strange man. But what if he is a fantasy? What if he is the monster?

I picked up the book from the post office on my way to work one day, and was happy for new reading material. So, when I arrived home later that night, I made some supper and immediately settled down with the book.

It opened well, and I stayed with it for several chapters until I couldn't stay awake any longer. I finished the book a couple nights later--darn that work schedule, always interfering with my entertainment agenda--and was left with the residual spinning sensation of having just survived a literary whirlwind.

Over the next couple of days, I'll discuss the book further for potential readers. Meantime, check out other bloggers who are also discussing the book; just click on their links listed in the sidebar under the CSFF Blog Tour logo.

John Olson's website has information about his previous books, or you can read the first chapters of Shade, and decide for yourself.

Hey, if you like it or you hate it, it'll be because you read it! And that's that point, right?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Literary Mind Cleanse

I own more books than I have actually counted. The last time I attempted a number, I stopped after reaching 400. Some books are shelved in double rows--one row of books behind the other--and I still wander from bookshelf to bookshelf, muttering, "There's nothing to read."

The same goes for the movies I own; I suffer from an overabundance of entertainment choices.

The literary side recently received an infusion: Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead, and The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez. Both books have been languishing on the dining room table (which serves more as a book and manuscript repository than an actual dining location) for a while, though The Automatic Detective has been sampled on several occasions, usually days apart, until Friday night, when I consumed its remains in one long feast.

Nope, this isn't a book review (though Martinez does serve up one tasty treat in the detecting adventures of Mack Megaton). It is, however, a reminder of how cleansing a book can be when one's mental house needs swept for cobwebs and dust bunnies.

Yeah, I'm mixing metaphors--food and housekeeping--but both are good descriptors for the experience of reading a good book. Another excellent descriptor: a drink of cold, clean water. Or this one: a long, true rest after a hard day's work. I actually feel energized. Crazy, huh?

A desirable reading side-effect for writers is renewed creativity, a juicing of the battery cells, and that's precisely what's keeping me up at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday after a tiring Friday. Some nagging problems with a for-publication piece of writing are starting to work themselves out, and I'm actually getting excited about a story that has been more difficult than it should be.

Just needed a little literary mind cleanse.


For the science fiction junkies, here are a couple quotes from different Farscape episodes:

"No, Pilot, I'm here to tell you that the Nebari are a bunch of geeks!And that the damn mind-cleansing doesn't work on Mama Crichton's baby boy."

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nebari mental cleansing doesn't get the tough stains out.”

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Legend of the Seeker

For those who read and view fantasy, The Legend of the Seeker is now in its second week of episodes. It's based on The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind.

It's filmed in New Zealand, and--from the images on the website--it has a great look. Since it plays on an obscure channel in my area, I would have to listen more than watch; the picture is intermittent between the grey lines of fuzz.

I read the first few books in the series--three or four--but each book was not as intriguing to me as the first, Wizard's First Rule, upon which these early episodes are based. Catch a sample of the book here or buy it here.

There are interesting episodes in the subsequent books, but I felt the story was dragging on too long and tangling and tripping over itself, and I so I never finished reading the series. There is plenty of material for several seasons of a television show, that's for certain.

FYI: Craig Parker (Haldir, The Lord of the Rings) plays the baddie, Darken Rahl. I'd like to see that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Crichton

Verbatim, from website:

In Memoriam

Michael Crichton

1942 - 2008

Best-selling author Michael Crichton died unexpectedly in Los Angeles Tuesday, November 4, 2008 after a courageous and private battle against cancer.

While the world knew him as a great story teller that challenged
our preconceived notions about the world around us -- and
entertained us all while doing so -- his wife Sherri, daughter Taylor, family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes. He did this with a wry sense of humor that those who were privileged to know him personally will never forget.

Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields, and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand.

He will be profoundly missed by those whose lives he touched, but he leaves behind the greatest gifts of a thirst for knowledge, the desire to understand, and the wisdom to use our minds to better our world.

Michael's family respectfully asks for privacy during this difficult time.

A private funeral service is expected, but no further details will be released to the public.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Minor Update

I'm trying to ward off pneumonia (been there, done that, don't ever want to do it again) with some medication to loosen up the crud in my lungs, and the coughing keeps me awake. On the other hand, the stuff meant to cure any infection makes me sleepy.

Good thing this computer is on a bookshelf, forcing me to stand, and therefore keeping me awake.

I came home early from work last evening because I was so short of breath. Simple tasks make me tired. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.

What makes me feel better almost any time? Writing.

This being National Novel Writing Month, I am plugging away at a story for my oldest niece. I don't have a title for it yet, and the summary posted on my NaNo page is kinda bland, but the point of NaNoWriMo is to push on through 50,000 words without stopping to edit oneself, not to pause and make everything pretty.

6,800 words down; 43,200 to go.