Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Wrap-up

And just like that, 2017 comes to a close.
I've gotten back into the swing of things on the novel. When I write, I most often envision scenes and write those into the document. Once I have all the major scenes that I want, then I have to come back and get those scenes connected together. That's where I'm at now--of the 4 sections, I have 1 completely connected up and done, and another very close to complete. That leaves the last two sections still in "just unconnected scenes" shape. Altogether, right now, it's sitting at about 77k words. Thinking that when the rough draft is all done, it'll probably be pushing 90k or so. The problem I'm running into is this: very recently, a fairly major film came out that has a somewhat similar plot. Not the same, but, like, similar enough that my current work-in-progress and this film could take place in almost the same universe. That has me worried, quite frankly, that even though I started working on this book over a year ago, that when it comes out, some will see the similarity and think it is a case of copying. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone by my screwed up head, but that's where I'm at. Fingers crossed that won't be the case, because I'm too far in, now, to abandon the thing.
I'll be honest, I'm just relieved that the block is broken.
Being the end of the year, it is time for my end of year lists. Not quite as influential as Dennis Cooper's (my tastes in things tend to swing W A Y more mainstream than his), I know, but I still like doing them.
So, here we go!

Books
In 2017 I only managed to read 32 books for a total of 13, 531 pages. This is the first years since 2009 not to have read over 40 books. No pizza party for me. The excuse is that I had a course I was teaching where I needed to read the novels I assigned along with the students to prep lectures and be ready for their discussion sessions, and I didn't count those books as part of my leisure reading. Most of the books I read, too, were not published in 2017, so I'm behind on brand new books like Lincoln in the Bardo.
Still, my top 5 that I read this year (culled from the books that got a 5 star rating from me on my Goodreads list--are you following me over there yet, by the way?):
5 Bull of Heaven  Michael Lloyd



4 The Death of Expertise  Tom Nichols

3 Skyscraper  Scott Alexander Hess

2 David Bowie: A Life   Dylan Jones

1 Born to Run  Bruce Springsteen


Music
In 2017 I bought a lot of music, as always. One of my favorite things is waking up on Friday and perusing the iTunes new albums list. My music purchasing habits, then, lead to a reversal of my book buying habits--almost everything I bought in 2017 came out this year. Of the 30-some-odd albums I bought, 24 of them came out this year.
2017 saw some older bands/artists make comeback albums (or, at least, albums we waited a long time for) like Beck, Bjork, Ride, Tori Amos, and Quicksand. None quite so good, though, as Big Wreck's album, Grace Street. They went away for ten years and this is their 3rd album back. Grace Street, as you'll see, busts through to make it into my top 5 of the year. As does Beck's first album in a while, Colors. Many fans were a bit put off by White Reaper's change in style, but their album, Greatest American Band had me from the first few notes. And, of course, this is the year Todrick Hall dropped the utterly brilliant Straight Outta Oz. This year also saw the formation of the supergroup Dreamcar who put out the Duran Duran album we all wanted last year but didn't get (to be clear, from me, that's VERY high praise). And, though U2 is my all-time favorite band, Songs of Experience is not very good, which was hugely disappointing because Songs of Innocence, the 2014 album everyone complained about getting for free, was a mind blowing record. I had hoped that this one would rise to that level (especially based on the single Blackout). It also saw the last set of new songs we are going to get from David Bowie, the No Plan EP which has songs from his musical, Lazarus. I have to be honest, I haven't listened to that one more than once because it's just too hard, yet...hence the reason it, though drop dead brilliant, doesn't make it on to my top 5--I can't bear to listen to it very much, yet.
So, here are my top 5 albums that I bought in 2017 (that came out in 2017):

5 DREAMCAR  Dreamcar

4 White Reaper  The World's Best American Band

3 Todrick Hall  Straight Outta Oz


2 Big Wreck Grace Street

1 Beck Colors


with a HUGE runner-up award to the band Ratboys, whose album GN is really spectacular, but just didn't quite get as much airplay in my car as these did. Still, though, VERY worth your time.

Movies
As I said, my tastes in things tend to run quite mainstream. That's not to say that I wouldn't love to see some of the more art movies that came out in 2017, but I live in the middle of nowhere in a state that is so Republican it doesn't even really have a Democrat party (100% true). This means that, while I would have been first in line to see "Call Me By Your Name," it isn't going to play anywhere within a hundred miles of here. They'd rather play the documentaries that blast Hillary Clinton for three months straight. "The Shape of Water" is almost certainly never going to play here. So, while I love going out to a theater to see a film, my options tend to be quite limited. If you think "Get Out" would ever be shown in this town, you're insane, you know what I mean?
I saw the controversy that "The Last Jedi" caused, but I didn't understand it. In some ways, the film was handing The Force back to us after the Midichlorians debacle. Saying to all of us that you CAN make a difference even if you aren't a Skywalker. I don't know why more people weren't super thrilled about that message. I wished Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had been better because it was a brilliant script--there was just zero chemistry between the lead actors. For being a huge tent pole picture, I thought there were some really nice moments in "Jumanji"--I wish critics had been a little nicer to it. I was at least 30 times more excited than anyone else to have my all-time favorite director, Ridley Scott, come back to science fiction. Unfortunately, while he is an utter genius at visuals, he has lost something in how to put stories together. I'll be honest, I'm hoping that the Fox merger with Disney takes Scott off the Alien franchise and allows Neil Blomkamp to have a go at his proposed Aliens-sequel. I liked "Logan" a lot, but if I'm being honest, I didn't get quite as emotionally involved with it as everyone else did; I'm very much looking forward to the fact that that may be our last time having to deal with the X-Men film mythology (which is awful) that has been established. I'm ready to have the X-Men back in the hands of actual Marvel writers who understand these characters and aren't trying to be smarter than the material. I don't think enough people talked about how ludicrously good "Atomic Blonde" was. Groundbreaking, powerful, KILLER soundtrack, this should be on everyone's list, and it baffles me that it isn't.
So, of the 28 films that I did see, just know that there were quite a few that I would have loved to see, but never played anywhere near here and/or haven't made it on to streaming services yet.
So, for me, here were my top 5 films I that came out this year that I saw:

5 Atomic Blonde

4 Logan Lucky

3 Baby Driver

2 It

1 Brigsby Bear



honorable mention goes out to this silly little romantic comedy called "Home Again" with Reese Witherspoon and my newest crush, Pico Alexander,

Normally, I despise Rom Coms, but Alexander and Witherspoon have such insane chemistry in this movie, and the plot is just bittersweet enough to seem at least somewhat plausible, that it won me over.


And, of course, I'm sure "Call Me By Your Name" and "Get Out" would dominate this list, had I had a chance to see them, but I haven't. 

So, folks, there you have it. If there's something on these lists you want to ask me more about, please don't hesitate to! Go investigate these things, though, and pick them up!
I hope that your New Year's Eve (if we're in the same hemisphere) or  your New Years Day goes well, that you are safe, happy, and healthy.
As always, thank you for supporting the books, and we'll see you in the new year!




Thursday, November 30, 2017

My cat, the Morningstar

So, with Turkey Break firmly behind us, we turn sails for the dead of winter.
November felt like it went by very quickly, and that is a kindness.
I have to admit I'm a little down, truth be told. No real reason for it, just the usual seasonal stuff. Nice mug of Earl Grey with honey and I'm usually right as rain. I've been thinking that over this break I might go over to the local hotsprings for a dip. I truly do wish I had some kind of hobby like skiing or fishing or something...something that truly would pull me away from the day to day like that, but that kind of thing just never really interested me.
Someone suggested that, as a way to break the block on the current book, I might start another book with no plan in mind, no idea what it's about, just something to write. I have taken that advice, but so far (to be fair, we're only a few days into the idea), it hasn't loosened the logjam. I just need to buckle down this next month and power through it and get it done. Not that it isn't good, far from it...I think it may be one of the better books I've written, in fact. It's just...not coming very easily. 
The kitten situation took a truly interesting turn this month. Once the process of socializing got far enough along that I could see that the kitten and Onyx were going to get along fine, it was time for her to start getting shots and to get fixed. We had a chase that morning, so I warned the vet when we got there at 7 in the morning that the kitten was a bit "bite-y." She laughed and assured me this would not be the first nor the last time that was the case. She said she'd call me when the surgery was over to let me know how things had gone. I went home knowing that my new kitten, Lucille, Onyx's little sister, was in good hands.
Just after lunch I got a call from the vet saying that things had gone just fine and that I could come pick up the kitten that afternoon. This was unusual because they had wanted to keep her overnight after the surgery. I asked about this and she said, "Well, that's because you don't have a Lucy, you have a Luke." None of us had ever really really looked, I guess. Being so young and with all the other craziness going on, no one, not even the vets, had bothered to, y'know, really get in there and have a gander. It's a good thing the doctor who was doing the surgery did, though, because they had already put the little guy under, shaved his belly and run an IV. They were seconds from opening him up.
So, Onyx doesn't have a little sister, he has a little brother. A little brother who had already learned to answer to the sounds "loo""see." Which didn't leave me a lot of wiggle room in the renaming. Over the next few days, after relating this story on my social media, it became clear that the popular favorite new name was Lucifer (on the current TV show of the same name, lots of the characters nickname the primary character, who is the First of the Fallen, "Luci.") So, though none of his behavior warrants it because you truly could not ask for a sweeter kitten, Lucy became Luci.
As it turns out, when the woman who livetrapped both kittens contacted the family who took in the other kitten, they checked and, sure enough--what we thought were two sisters were in fact two brothers.
Music has been on my mind a lot this month. Out of nowhere, after the pleasant shock of getting a new Beck album last month, this month we got a new Bjork album, Utopia

I say shock because, let's be honest, most of us were pretty sure we wouldn't be getting more new music from either artist ever again. I wish I could say better things about it, because Bjork is a genius and I love her work. Unfortunately, she continues to move further and further away from percussion, and percussion is my favorite thing about music. It's a brilliant album, it really is, it's just not for me.
Currently reading Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clark (pen name for David Wellington)


I freely admit that I got interested in the book because of that brilliant Victor Mosquera cover. As I've talked about before, I come from the era where science fiction books always had covers with interesting ships and space scenes on them. It's nice to see that's coming back. Like album cover art, the art of the front cover of a science fiction novel is becoming a lost art. Luckily enough, the book is really quite good so far, too. Kind of a Dirty Dozen in space thing only with the good guys even more hopelessly outnumbered than that.
So earlier this month I did a quick survey from the Instagram and Twitter account to see who among those who follow me has also read at least one of my novels. I just wanted to see what the intersection is. After all, the whole reason for having all these accounts is to have ways to stay in contact with you guys. I'd like to do the same thing, here. So, if you are reading this blog, and have read at least one of my novels, could you take a second to leave a quick "yes" down in the comments? They're open--you shouldn't need to create an account to respond. I would really appreciate it.
During this gift giving season, please remember that there are all kinds of amazing books to be had from small press publishers. Even if you're not picking up one of my own books for a friend, colleague, or whomever, there are lots and lots of other brilliant authors out here on the fringes. Stop by Lethe Press or Queermojo or Arsenal Pulp press or Unnamed Press or Screaming Skull press or any of the hundreds of other small or indie presses out there and pick up a few new titles!
As always, thanks for your support, and we'll see you back here for my end of the year wrap up and top 10 lists! See you then. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Polyrhythmic


So we meet again here on the 31st of October, when the veils between the worlds are thin. lol
Happy Halloween. I have to confess, not my favorite holiday, but I do like that it celebrates, at its core, people letting their freak flag fly.
If I did get into Halloween, I wonder what I'd have dressed up as this year. Probably Kylo Ren. I'm feeling very Kylo-Ren-y these days.
I hope you had a blast at the party or low-key gathering or trick-or-treating that you did.
Thank you for the love you guys have been showing to the audiobook of Remains! It's been a wild ride seeing how people have responded to the book.
This month saw the release of a new John Green novel, the first one in years, Turtles All the Way Down

As I said in my Goodreads review of it, it wasn't perfect, but it was good. I don't mean to sound super hipster, but I don't know that he'll ever be able to hit the level of Looking for Alaska ever again. And, to be honest, I don't know that that should be something we should expect of him. He's an artist, and he's evolving like all the rest of us. It's a very good novel, though. I think the movie is going to be really great.
This month also saw the release of a new Beck album, Colors


As I said about it in a few places, this is a return to the Beck of interesting time signatures and strange rhymes. Look, was Sea Change a beautiful record? Of course it was. Same for Modern Guilt. But try listening to those albums without suddenly feeling suicidal. You can't. That's why I love this new record so much. It's interesting and polyrhythmic, and it makes me happy (especially "No Distractions").  This is a return to the more fertile ground of Guero and of The Information. 
If you've been following the instagram, you know that this month I took in a feral kitten. She's doing wonderfully well. In just four weeks we're already completely docile and working on meeting my other cat, my copilot, my man-in-Havanna, Onyx. So far that process has gone really smoothly. I hope it continues to. 
 I wish I had better news on the writing front. The novel is at 66K words and is stalled. I'm rethinking it on so many levels that I honestly feel like just walking away from it. It would feel so much more comfortable (and easy, given the state of the world right now) to just write some first person novel about a character facing a bleak world and a horrible past and barely making it through day to day because that's what I wrote for so long. It's familiar. Almost default in some ways. That's why this novel is so difficult--it isn't any of those things. Fingers crossed that this fugue passes.
Luxuriating, still, in Dylan Jones's Bowie bio, David Bowie: A Life

It is so well crafted and wonderful that I am reading it as slowly as humanly possible. It has things other bios, even though they are wonderful, simply don't get or gloss over. I had no idea he was afraid of flying, for instance. That makes me feel so much closer to him (I, myself, am terribly afraid of flying).
If you are participating in NANWRIMO, I wish you good luck!
Thanks, as always, for the support. It means the world to me.
See you after Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Like Pizza

So, Fall has fallen. 
I keep saying to people it was like someone flipped a switch. One week we had 90 degrees and no wind and the next we were barely cracking the 60s with high winds. I have lived in this state for 7 years now and I don't know why it always surprises me, but it does.
It's my favorite season. Slightly gloomy but not completely bleak. And I like rain.
Judge me all you want, I like a nice pumpkin spiced whatever (which really just means they put cinnamon and allspice in it...you can do the same thing with your coffee at home on the cheap, which I do).
The literary festival went better than I could have possibly hoped. As I've said many times, you can never tell what you're going to get with authors. This time around I lucked out and they were all complete rock stars. Not just knowledgeable about their professions and talented, but also very approachable for the students. Books by them that I highly recommend:
Stephen Graham Jones's amazing werewolf novel, Mongrels
Nickole Brown's incredible poetry collection about her grandmother, Fanny Says

and Jessica Jacobs' equally amazing poetry collection, Pelvis with Distance


So that ended on a high note and I can pass the responsibility for the next one off to someone else for a bit.
The new Star Trek debuted. Of course, there were all kinds of signs of trouble ahead of time, but as it turns out it wasn't too bad. I mean, I've been a life long Trek enthusiast, so they already knew they had me, but even I got a little worried when reviews were embargoed until the day after the premiere. Usually when that happens for a movie or TV show, it's a sure sign of doom. They don't want word of how bad something is getting out before you see it. Turns out, though, I don't know why they did that. All signs point to the fact that enough people liked it that it will stay afloat. Were there some questionable choices? Yeah. The whole first two hours are spent with a crew and a ship that we won't really see again...effectively a two hour cold open (as one of the hosts of a podcast I love dearly said). Still, I was on board enough to buy David Mack's prequel novel, Desperate Hours.

See, though, that's how I feel about science fiction--like pizza, even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. And Star Trek: Discovery isn't bad so far. I don't love having to pay for another streaming service, especially because there isn't anything else on the service that I really like (except the after show for ST:D hosted by one of my biggest crushes, Matt MIra who is a super cutie). Still, though, I don't mind supporting science fiction when I can.
When I say things like that, though, people ask--well, you've got novels out there...why not write some science fiction? The truth is because it's the holiest of holy things. I've got one cooking, though, and I think it might even be the next one after the one I'm currently working on. We'll see. My academic book on the subject is coming along. Hopefully I can get that one done soon.
You've likely noticed that my reading/reviewing activity on Goodreads has slowed to a crawl. This is because my opportunity to teach for the university that I mentioned has me reading a novel a week (often re-reading..many of the books on the syllabus are ones I've read before but need to revisit because it's been a long time, like Lolita) to keep up with their pace. Bear with me on that front and I'll get back to it soon.
So, with that, I hope that your Fall is going well and that you enjoy your Halloween if you're in a country that celebrates it. Tweet me pics of your costumes! Who knows, I might even dress up and hand out candy for the first time ever here in the new house.
Anything is possible, you know.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Sight and Sound of Remains

The school year just started this week, and so it's back to real life for a while. This last few weeks of vacation crept by and if I'm honest, it's nice to be back in the office. I started the semester off by talking to the students about the old curse, "may you live in interesting times." I told them that we are certainly living in interesting times, and I asked them to consider these times something of an anomaly, and that things would sooner or later return to some kind of normalcy. I really hope I'm right about that. I try not to get super political here on the blog--I tend to save that for twitter, where it's more of the norm for the discourse there--so all I will say is this: the continued attack on education at all levels that we currently see in our culture can only be described as suicidal at best, and it has to be stopped.
I wish I could say that things had been more productive over the summer, writing-wise, but the current novel is creeping by. Over the summer the rough draft only grew by about 18K words or so. It's only just now making 55K. I'm not one of those writers who prides themselves on producing reams of work per second, but I did have hopes for being further along. I'm trying something new with this book and the differences are making it so that the book doesn't flow immediately like some of the others. Not that the work is bad--I think this is some of the most interesting work I've done if you'll allow me to say so. It's just very different from, say, Drowning, which is probably the most "me" of all my books.
Remains is doing well out in the world, though, and I can't thank you all enough for the support. Out in Print gave it a really nice review. If you'll allow me another somewhat self-congratulatory-but-not aside, I agree with them--that cover is haunting, and difficult to get out of your mind. Inkspiral did that design for the book and they just knocked it out of the park, I feel. In another huge milestone for not only me as a writer but for Remains, you can purchase it as an audiobook! (also here through Amazon). This is my first ever book-made-into-an-audiobook, and I'm over the moon about it. I didn't have any say in the selection of the reader, but I really like Garrett MacLauchlan's voice. His take on Mike's narration is good.
The sheer amount of "I live in Japan and I want to tell you about the culture here" vlogs I am watching on YouTube lately leads me to believe there's something brewing in my subconscious. I just realized this morning that, minute for minute, I've been watching more of that kind of content than anything on cable. TokiYuYu, Only in Japan, Tsukasa and Jonas and Life Where I'm From are particular standout favorites.
At work, our yearly literary festival has a rotating directorship. This year it is my turn and I've put together one I'm really proud of. Our featured speaker is Stephen Graham Jones. If you keep up with my Goodreads reviews, you'll remember I was blown away by his novel, Mongrels
I loved the underlying metaphor as social commentary, plus I just loved the idea of someone writing a werewolf book in this day and age so saturated with zombies. As you'll recall, I *highly* recommend the book. I'm also excited about him coming to speak because he publishes both with small press and major presses, which I think is cool. If you look at his output, he maintains what can only be called a blistering publishing schedule. I think the students are going to get so much from workshopping with him.
As always, thanks for the support for the books. If you have read one or more of them, please do me a favor and stop off at Amazon or Goodreads (or maybe both if you have a bit of extra time) and leave a review. Every review (even a bad one) helps sales and is super appreciated.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Salinger-esque

Man, it has been a busy month here at the Stronghold.
Just yesterday I finished teaching an intensive two month course on Greco-Roman mythology/Homer. That was a real treat not only because of my love of the material, but the students were absolutely fantastic. I won't lie, after a fairly disastrous Spring semester, to have students who were whip smart and engaged and curious was a balm. I feel ready to go back into the classroom in a month. If you haven't re-read Iliad and Odyssey lately, do yourself a favor--go get the Fagles translations, a few nice bottles of red, and settle back in. Some of his tongue-in-cheek translation choices had us giggling.
The postal snafu was finally resolved and I got the author's copies of Remains!





Huge shout out to Steve at Lethe Press. I can't imagine what a nightmare it is to keep a machine like that moving, and when something snags (especially when that snag isn't your fault), that must be infuriating.
Speaking of, Jayne Lockwood reviewed the book for the fellas over at WROTE podcast. "Anyone fascinated by the “small-town America seething with murky skeletons in the closet” genre, will love this. It is a Salinger-esque character study of one man, but also one place, the town, and the lengths it will go to, to remain normal on the outside." she said. You can't ask for better praise than that.
Speaking of the WROTE podcast, I was the guest for episode 121. Baz, Vance and I had a great time hanging out and talking about not only Remains, but the state of queer sci fi and other things for a while. Have a listen!



The other great news is that University of Mississippi press has bought the book that grew out of my doctoral dissertation! We're early days on that, yet, so not much to report other than that it has happened and that we're working toward maybe having it out early 2019, but it's very exciting. I spent a lot of time on that book thinking it would just sit on my shelf the rest of my life. It's exciting to think it will eventually be out in the world. There is a ton of work to do to get it into shape, though, so more on that as it develops.
After setting out on the project to re-read and get caught up on Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, I have finally gotten all the way to the current book. I just finished reading Prince Lestat

As I said in the beginning of my Goodreads review, I don't know what happened in the ten years or so since she wrote the last one (Blood Canticle), but wow. She emerges in this book with prose that is refreshed, taut, and (though I don't mean this in a mean way) finally taking on some of the implications of the early books in the series. Plus there is a scene in the last third of the book that will flat out knock your socks off. I cannot wait to see it dramatized in the upcoming TV series. If this had been the last book ever to be written about these characters, what a fantastic button it would have put on the series. With there being one more book so far, though, it obviously marks a tremendous pivot point and refreshes the series in a wonderful way. I can't recommend it enough, even if you haven't picked up one of these since Queen of the Damned (mostly because there are two EXTRAORDINARILY helpful appendices that will catch you up instantly).
Man, did I want Valerian to be better. Just wanted to throw that in there.
So, we head into August with a lot on the plate, but feeling overall optimistic.
As always, if you have read one or more of my books recently, I would love it if you'd take a minute to stop by Goodreads or Amazon (or both) and leave a review! They help people make decisions about the books they see advertised, which really helps sales so much.
See you back here in a month!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

New Digs

I just unpacked the last box a day or so ago. I turned in the keys to the old apartment on Thursday. I live here, now.
I was not sorry to see the last of those 3 flights of stairs without an elevator, I can tell you that.
This is the first time I've lived in a house and not an apartment in almost 15 years. That's a really odd thought. The last time was a four bedroom that I shared with two other guys and a newly-married couple. That's a particularly odd thought, too. A friend of mine said the other day that she'd only moved 3 times in her whole life. I've lost count of how many times I've moved.
I made my first ever mortgage payment this morning.
So here is the first blog post from the new digs. From the new office.
I'll be honest--during the entire boxing up and moving and then unpacking, I haven't written a single word on the novel. No news on that front. I'll get settled in here, though, and then get back to it.
I did, however, in the unpacking, find the paper where I laid out the initial structure of the novel I finished last year, though. That was really interesting, to see how it changed from the initial planning to the final thing that I turned in. Hopefully, as I keep saying, you'll see that one next year sometime.




Remains is now live. It's out there in the world in both paperback and on Kindle. That, too, is a really odd thought.
Unfortunately, due to a postal snafu, I still haven't even seen it. My author's copies have disappeared in transit, somehow. They are out there in the ether. If you've gotten your copy already, tweet me with a picture of you with it and let me know what you think of the design.
Due to the stress of the move, I haven't been reading very fast, either. I'm still plugging away on Rice's Blackwood Farm.



Not her best, but part of an interesting trend in her work where the undead (vampires) become involved with the living (Talamasca, Mayfairs, etc.) who can see the unquiet dead (spirits, ghosts, etc.). I'm also fascinated with her idea that large, old Louisiana families all wind up having sex with their cousins constantly--is she playing with the stereotype of inbreeding with tongue in cheek, or is she finding things in her research that I just never heard of?
So, next month we'll hopefully be back on track. Plus, the ink will be dry on something I'm working on putting together now, and I'll be able to tell you about that.
As always, thanks for your support.