Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: The Forgetting Moon

The Forgetting Moon by Brian Lee Durfee is a big book. The ARC I read weighed in at 777 pages. Massive. Been a while since I've toted a book around with that much heft. I drove my wife crazy shoving it into the swim bag en route to her dad's house with the kids. Being an titanic epic fantasy, I read at a slower pace, to make sure I didn't miss anything and got everything I could out of it. One of the things I "do wrong" as a reader is reading too fast sometimes and missing important details.  I didn't want to do that with this book. The Forgetting Moon is a great throwback to the late 80s/early 90s brand of fantasy while appealing to the ever present grimdark aesthetic that is so popular these days. It's like Durfee used the spices of 80s/90s fantasy while cooking something decidedly contemporary. It made the book infinitely enjoyable and when I sat down to read it, I read it in big sweeping chunks.

The Forgetting Moon starts with a familiar story: an orphan with a mysterious background raised by a grumpy mentor type in a backwater town then expands to a wider, vastly more complicated world. Durfee navigated this better than it sounds as there is some purpose to this other than strict adherence to the tried and true rules of fantasy writing. Durfee mixes the typical hero's journey story with the political intrigue that we've come to expect from our modern epics and he does it well. There are parts in the plot that get herky-jerky, almost like the idea came up all of a sudden in the writing and he couldn't ignore what he was doing, but it doesn't slow down the story at all. (I'm going to talk about this a little later on because of a very specific reason.)

The world building is amazing in this book. Durfee nails it on so many levels. The names alone worked on multiple levels for me. Names are important to me. They have to make sense and the names in Durfee's world make sense, The Five Isles is a living breathing world that is simple and complex at the same time. I'm guessing there are some roots in RPG settings in this world. His world is small despite the largeness that he's created and the constructs of that world work well. Orders of knighthood, secret societies and an terrifying order of assassins mingle together in a dangerous world that isn't specifically like anything we've seen before but is familiar enough that we're comfortable with it. In a lot of ways, his world is very old school and it worked for me. I wanted more of the world at large since the Five Isles seemed very, very isolated despite the implied epicness of the world.

Durfee's done something in the world building that's at the core of the basic conflict in the story that I adored. He's created an pseudo-Christian fantasy religion that works so well. It drives massive portions of the plot and is somehow appropriate in this day and age. I'm not a big religion in fantasy guy. I despise the "God/s on Speed Dial" method of story telling that is so prevalent in epic fantasy and Durfee avoids that while really driving home some thematic concepts about religion, faith and even Christianity. (Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are that this is coming up in this review.)

Durfee's characters are typical of epic fantasies, but well drawn and interesting interpretations of the tropes we know and love. (If you've read my reviews, and why haven't you, you know that I am a huge fan of using tropes!) But the interesting thing he does is talk, outright, about the roles these characters have to play in the story. I love this and think it's an interesting way to go. Our main characters aren't confined by the tropes that define them but they are comfortable in them and Durfee is deft as using them. (Tell me Prince Jovan isn't a combination of Derek Crownguard and every douchy 80s movie rich kid villain.) Some of the secondary and tertiary characters are a little cardboardy, but that's more out of necessity of the narrative than Durfee's skill as a writer. There are some character wobbles that frustrated me and occasional inconsistencies that were noteworthy, but not distracting.

The plot moves along, clicking into place along the way as we begin to see how these different threads weave together into one tapestry (if you'll pardon the metaphor.) There are a few places where I needed to review something from a previous POV chapter, but that's more me than the story. The end comes in a torrent where I was scratching my head at some of the twists and turns that occurred. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about that method of story telling, but it works for the story and what Durfee tries to do. And let me say, these did not diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. I loved it.

Durfee oscillates between different voices too that help make the story move along. The Tala POV reads like an intense YA book while Nail reads like a typical epic fantasy narrative and the soldier POVs are as good as anything out there. The only POV I found troubling was Jondralyn. It felt kind of all over the place, but I kind of chalked that up to the way her character was.

My only "complaint," and it's a funny one (trust me, you'll laugh), is how many elements of my own book, WINTER'S DISCORD, this shares. Orders of knights, a nation of refugees, archetypes and secret societies all play major roles in my book. It gives me some optimistic in that I must be close. I believe that Brian (I'm be conversational here) has described his book as heavy metal fantasy and I'd say that's accurate. Well if I can indulge, using Metallica, THE FORGETTING MOON is MASTER OF PUPPETS then WINTER'S DISCORD is THE BLACK ALBUM. Anyway.

THE FORGETTING MOON is a terrific, throwback debut epic fantasy that doesn't reinvent the wheel but rather gives it an electric guitar and pound drums soundtrack. It's clearly going to wind up in my end of year Best Of list. I'm looking forward to THE BLACKEST HEART.

(An ARC was provided by the author.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Month In Review: July 2016

The summer of 2016 has been pretty darn good in some ways and pretty miserable in others. That conflict is driving me crazy. It's been good in that I haven't had to worry too much about any of my financial responsibilities. We set up a separate account for all of our bills, put my summer check in their and now all we have to worry about is little things. It's been a relief. I also am working summer school, which is basically four hours a day for me to write and plan for the coming school year. However that's been the stress. But let's break it down.

WRITING: July was a miserable month for writing for a wide arrangement of reasons. I've been struggling to find something I'm passionate enough to write about. I've written before about how I'm a streaky writer at times but for some reason I haven't been able to engage in much. The epic fantasy I was planning wasn't working for me. The contemporary fantasy that wasn't sure what it wanted to be that I came up with next fizzled.  I tried revisiting a novelette I had started, but decided not to do it. I was floundering a bit. Then my buddy Mike Winchell slapped some sense into me, getting me back in the game. I decided to scrap all the fantasy I was working on. I don't want to build another world right now. So, with some inspiration from STRANGER THINGS (see WATCHING), I decided to work on the late 80s prank war story I had been toying with. It's another story that isn't sure what it wants to be, but I'm going to just get a draft on paper. The interesting thing is that I had a great idea pop into my head for later that I'm very excited about and another idea that I'm thinking about starting the world building on for much later. It's a big book political fantasy and unlike my previous efforts I'm going to take some time to build the geopolitical world. But for now, I'm focusing on the prank war story, per Mike's very good advice.

READING: I had a great reading month. I'm still working on THE FORGETTING MOON and it's terrific despite my pace. I'm really focusing on the book and reading massive swaths of it one of two days a week. It's a 777 page book. I keep promising to have my review up "this week" and it keeps getting pushed back. I'm making a run tonight. I've only got about 140 pages left then I'll do a long form review here, on Goodreads and Amazing. That being said, I read/listened to 6 books and there were some good ones in there, so here are the highlights:


  • SAGA Volume 6: If you are a fantasy or scifi or comic book fan and you aren't reading Saga, then you are doing it wrong. Everything about it is amazingly epic and beautiful. 
  • BIRTHRIGHT Volume 3: The direct inspiration for my contemporary fantasy that I didn't know what it was. Volume 3 was better than the first two and it was just a terrific story that I wound up loving more than I thought I would. 
  • GI JOE/COBRA: The Last Laugh: Way better than a GI Joe comic should have ever been. A great spy story that I couldn't stop reading. 
  • BINTI: Holy Christ on a Popsicle stick. Sharpie this in for my year end best of list. Amazing language and voice combined with a stunning story of war, peace and one woman's desire to live. I loved it. 
So for August, with school looming, I'm going to finish MOON then I'm planning to read the new Harry Potter book. My school librarian already had a copy and I started reading during summer school one morning, got 15 pages in and put it down because I knew that I would've lost about 3 hours of my life and couldn't afford to do so at the time. So there's that and I also got a copy of the HAMILTOME from the library, so I'm going to plow forward. Hoping to hit 6 books again this month, but we'll see.

WATCHING: Again, probably a little too much television watching (Mike called me on this), but here's what moved me:


  • James Bond Movies: Starz has been playing all the James Bond movies and I'm like the 11 year old me watching them in the summer in my parent's living room, which might be a good thing since I'm writing a story that takes place in the 80s. I'm going to long form James Bond movies at some point. I feel like I need to watch them all, including the "reboot" movies. I watched SPECTRE and liked it was better than people said it was. 
  • STARCHASER: I participated in an event on Twitter called Saturday Night SciFi and this was another thing from my childhood that I remember. (I need to rewatch Warriors of the Wind too.) It was fun, silly and a pretty terrible movie. 
  • PING PONG SUMMER: I caught this movie by accident and I still don't know what to think of it. I needed a movie about a "summer adventure" and this seemed to fit the bill, but I was confused by it. Set in 1985, it focused on a break dancing, ping pong obsessed teenager and the summer that changes everything (I stole this from IMDB). I couldn't tell if it was "serious" (for a comedy) or a farce. In the end I liked but didn't love it. It had moments that were really good: Susan Sarandon as a ping-pong Yoda, the town bully and toady (as every good 80s movie has to have) that drives an IROC blaring "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister, a training montage and break dancing. It's better than I'm describing it and I'm better prepared for my 80s book having watched it. 
  • SEVEN DAYS IN HELL: A hilarious mockumentary featuring Jon Snow and Andy Samberg...sorry Kit Harrington and Andy Samberg. While Samberg is the comedian, Jon...I mean Harrington steals the movie from him by playing the dense tennis prodigy 
  • 30 for 30: THE BEST THAT NEVER WAS: Marcus Dupree's story is a YA/NA book waiting to happen. 30 for 30 is the best thing next to play by play that ESPN does. 
  • THE RNC/THE DNC: Just follow my Twitter feed. 
  • STRANGER THINGS: I'm not going to link this because if you don't know what it is, you are probably hiding under a table with a paper bag on your head. I've only watched the first two episodes and I'm hooked. I just haven't had time to commit to sitting down and finishing it, partially because I hooked my daughter on the show and partially because like THE FORGETTING MOON, I need to pay attention to it. All I can say is that I want to write something just like it AND I am firmly TEAM BARB.
  • ELENA OF AVALOR: I am a fan of the Disney Princess universe and would jump at the chance to write YA books in it. A great addition to the same universe as Sofia the First, ELENA seems to geared to a slightly older audience but still a well done series with great world building and characters. One of my dream projects would be to get on the Disney Princess story canon writing team. 
DID: Spent some great time with my family outside at the pool, Water Safari and some day trips here and there. Getting back into lifting after some injuries (back, knee, getting old sucks) and trying to eat better. 

So, July was mostly great with some bad spots. My writing career has been a dark cloud for me lately and it's been hard not to let that affect my mood. I'm working on it. Anyway, August will be better, despite the end of summer clock ticking away on the wall in front of me.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

Month In Review: June 2016

2016 is half over. I thought about making this a Half Year in review, but decided against it, sticking to monthly reviews. The hope in this is that when I am a marginally famous writer, I'll keep my fans updated in a general sense. Pretty arrogant....but that's me. June was a meh month but with good reason.

WRITING: I pulled a little bit of a Hamlet this month. I couldn't make up my mind. I had a few projects in the chamber, but couldn't pull the trigger on any of them. I talked a little bit about this last month and settled on a completely different project than I intended. After talking to a handful of trusted friends, I've narrowed the idea down. I started sketching out some things, scrapping them, sketching out some more, then scrapping that...I rudimentarily built two worlds before settling on the one I'm setting this story in. I'm not in the outlining stage quite yet but I've sort of fumbled out some words on it. Not many, but enough that I have the framework for a story. So starting July 1, I'm diving back into the story and running with it. I'm teaching summer school this year and I'm creating a writing and workout schedule revolving around summer school. I'm very excited. I'm not going to set a word count goal for the month, but I've got a number in my head. By the end of July, I will have a robust word count and new YA epic fantasy to talk about.

READING: Four books this month, including one that is clearly going to be on my Best of for 2016. You can read my review of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES from earlier this month. It's spectacular and one of the best YA fantasies I've read in the last few years. Other things I read this month:


  • Oyster War: a mythically infused historical graphic novel about the Chesapeake Bay. Entertaining and well done. Liked it a lot.
  • Zodiac: Having watched the movie, I became consumed with the story of the Zodiac Killer. I listed to the audiobook in my car and walked away wondering if I was the Zodiac Killer. In all seriousness, I think I got a story idea from this. It just needs some time in the seed vault.
  • Rat Queens, Volume 2: Fun with some interesting spins on the tropes of fantasy, but a little kitschy at times. There are a lot of people that rave about this online and I can see why, but I have to admit that it feels a little overrated to me. 
For now, I've got a stack of summer reading I want to do. I got an ARC of THE FORGETTING MOON , a book I am loving for the nostalgic late 80s vibe I'm getting from it. I've also got 2 or 3 contemporaries from the library I want to read and my crisp new book that's all about everyone's favorite "bastard, orphan, son of whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of in the Caribbean by providence impoverished in squalor" ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Ron Chernow. There's a fantasy novel buried in there too. But we'll talk about that more later. 

WATCHING: Lots to talk about here. Maybe too much TV watching, but I watched a lot;

  • Game of Thrones: Let's get it out of the way. The last two episodes of this show were the best television of the last thirty years. I can't think of what was better than that. The Sopranos, maybe. It's actually the best epic fantasy we may have ever seen. Say what you will about the Battle of Helm's Deep or Pelennor Field. this topped it in a way that we have never seen. The deep, terrifying beauty of "The Battle of the Bastards" was everything that an massive battle like that should be and the epic ending that was "The Winds of Winter" was the perfect ending to what the previous episode had done. And guys....Lyanna Mormont.....just Lyanna Mormont.
  • Finding Dory: Cute, funny and smarter in a way you wouldn't expect. It's basically Slumdog Millionaire but with CGI fishes. 
  • The Thing: Masterful suspense and horror in the pre-CGI days. 
  • Conan The Barbarian/Conan The Destroyer: The first was actually less formative than the second. Destroyer was on HBO all the time growing up and it became the template for a fantasy adventure in my mind. And that Atlantean sword. No sword has ever been cooler.
  • The Tony Award: Because Hamilton. Just Hamilton. 
  • American Ninja Warrior: Research for the new project. This is so going to be part of that story.
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction: Guilty pleasure. I loved Revenge of the Fallen even though I knew it sucked and the same thing with this movie. 
  • Terminator: Genesys: I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would. I mean it doesn't hold a candle to the original and Judgement Day, but it was kind of enjoyable in dumb way. 
  • Empire of the Ants: Watched this late on a Saturday night and I was a little kid again. An old school, schlocky horror movie about giant, mutant ants. So formative. 
  • John Carter: Again, another movie that wasn't as horrible as people initially said it was. It slows down a little in the middle but it's still much better than people said it was. 
So, June was okay. July will be better. 

 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Irrational Fears

When I was a child growing up in Astoria, Queens, New York in the shadow of the Queenboro Bridge, I was terrified of army ants and one that seemed viable to the young me despite my very urban surroundings. I was reminded of this last night as I watched the movie San Andreas on television last night with my daughter and wife.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with reading and animals. I spent hours reading. Back in the late 70s/early 80s every supermarket had some kind of encyclopedia tie in. Each month or week a new volume would come out and I would eagerly await it's arrival. The one I was most obsessed with was The Funk And Wagnall's Wildlife Encyclopedia. I read them from cover to cover, imagining myself an intrepid explorer finding these animals. (I was also obsessed with atlases, but that's another blog entry.) When you think about the natural world, it's a terrifying place. Especially to a kid that grew up in a blue collar neighborhood of Queens, New York. And my hot button animal that terrified me? Army ants. I was genuinely terrified of being slowly and painfully consumed and stripped to the bone by millions of ants. It kept me up at night in a way that I cannot express in words. Completely and totally irrational, right? Not to the five or six or seven year old me though and I was faced with something similar last night.

My wife turned on San Andreas, the Rock-fueled disaster film about an earthquake destroying much of California. I didn't really watch and was starting to fall asleep anyway. I'm not so into disaster porn anymore and think that the 1974 movie Earthquake already did this better with really bad special effects and Charlton Heston telling the earthquake to get its filthy paws off of him. As we were watching, there was a scene where the Hoover Dam collapses and kills a man, among others. My daughter was sort of freaked out about this.

She started asking questions about disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes because she is a lot like me and has an active imagination, the kind of imagination that can put herself in the middle of an earthquake. To most of us, this is absurd, but to an eight year old with an active imagination, it's very real. So we had a very brief and quiet conversation about it so we didn't distract my wife who was watching the movie. (My wife has a practical mind that finds this line of thought absurd.)

I explained to my daughter that we don't get a lot of tornadoes because there are too many hills around us and they need mostly flat surroundings. I know this isn't scientifically accurate, but for the moment it was what I needed to say. Then I explains that occasionally we may get an earthquake, nothing like the movie would probably happen where we live (Syracuse) and the worse we would feel would be like a big truck driving by the house. I told her about the last earthquake I remember a few years back and that's exactly what it felt like. She seemed satisfied with this and went to sleep.

But as I sit here today, I wonder if that's how we're somehow we're wired as some kind of survival mechanism. Or is it some gene that I passed down to my daughter. I still have some irrational fears as a 43 year old man. When I hear a noise outside, I assume one of three things: zombies, Bigfoot or a baby kaiju. I am terrified of moths. Seriously. When my son says there's a monster behind me, I take that seriously. And I'm terrified of being eaten alive. These are irrational fears. I'm old enough to recognize that and maybe that makes them infinitely more irrational than my fear of army ants. Is it hardwired? Is it learned? Is it the product of an overactive imagination? I don't know.

And just so you know, I will will obliterate any sign of ants in my life to this day.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: An Ember In The Ashes

I haven't been doing many long form reviews lately, instead choosing to do book reviews on a smaller scale in my monthly reviews, but I thought this one deserved a longform. (They'll be a few more of these as I have about 4 ARCs that I need to work through in the coming weeks!) As always, spoilers abound. 

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir is one of those books that I was interested in but was a little worried about it because it looked and sounded a lot like another YA fantasy that I had high hopes for and just fizzled for me, but it came up in my library queue and I thought I'd give it a shot. And I'm glad I did. This book was phenomenal on so many levels that it's clearly going to wind up in my Best of list at the end of the year.

There was so much I liked about this book and, as I read, realized it shared with my own writing. Great characters, well thought out but not overly complex worldbuilding (I mean that as a compliment and I'll get to that in a minute) and a snappy plot that keeps things small within the larger story. 

One of the things I've noticed about YA fantasy is the desire to kind of make everything about these giant stakes, this does that but on a vastly smaller scale, so to speak. As much as the competition between the Masks to be the next Emperor is a driving force of the narrative, the reason everything happens in this story is because Laia wants to rescue her brother. This is the engine that makes the story move and it's well done. Laia doesn't want to topple and empire, she wants to live her life and when that is thrown into chaos with the capture of her brother, she makes desperate agreements with the rebellion, a group she's never really wanted a part of. And Elias just wants to leave the empire. He wants no part of it, even though he is integral to it in every way. It's a huge way this story works. As epic as the stakes are in what is happening, that's actually secondary to what's happening. In the smaller story, Tahir makes it about the character's motivations not the world shaking events that surround them. It was actually somewhat refreshing. 

The characters make this book move. Laia and Elias are great characters. Hurt, wounded and damaged, they figure out what they need to do to survive the brutality of their existence. Elias's mother, the Commandant, is chillingly rendered and his best friend, Helene, is a young adult version of Brienne of Tarth but Tahir has the skill not to just make her a shade of that great character but breathe a whole other life into her. Elias's antagonists, the twins Marcus and Zac, are thinly made, almost caricatures, though I wished there was a little more Zac as I feel he was underused in the story. Many of the background characters in the Elias thread are stock characters, almost necessary in a cast this size, but they work well, filling the roles they need to fill when they do. 

In the Laia thread, from the moment we meet them, the members of the Rebellion are all menace. As a reader, you aren't to trust them from moment one and that is a real strength. The idea that the rebels aren't these righteous warriors of truth has been put forth before, but is often ignored. Tahir does a great job with it. Laia's interactions with the Commandant are cringe worthy and I mean that in the nicest way possible and the mystery of Cook has me wondering if that's a question that will ever get answered. 

The romantic elements were well done, though the Keenan/Laia pairing seemed forced at times. The tension between Elias and Helene is just taut and well written. It's not so much a love triangle as it is a love dodecahedron, so to speak. And it doesn't get in the way of the story.

The world building is sound and simple. I don't mean this in a bad way. Fantasy writers have a million different directions to go in when building a world, some create vast histories of their worlds and can tell you who ruled an empire three thousand years ago then will make sure you know that they know that which then distracts from the story. Others are sparse, concentrating on the action within their book then they wind up with dozens of inconsistencies and holes that can also distract from the story.  There's a balance and Tahir nails it. Others still fill their world up with complicated names and ideas that can confuse the heck out of a reader or hit us with the Our Elves Are Better trope too many times. Tahir doesn't do this, instead calling her people Martials and Scholars and Mariners. Makes sense right? The history is there, but it's not relevant to the story, so we don't need to know it.  She tells us what we needed to know about the Empire and the Blackcliff school, which were important to the story, without sounding infodumpy. It's really well done and I liked it.

The one aspect of the book that really struck me was the relationship between the commandant of the Blackcliff school and Elias. (SPOILER: She's his mother.) I love a well done, complex child-parent relationship, especially in a fantasy book. I love writing them and think that when I get back into a rewrite on my SCIONS book, I'm going to make the parental issues with the book more apparent. That being said, the thing that struck me about this the most was that is was a son and mother. It's just not one you see a lot of in YA fantasy. The Commandant is just terrific. She's chilling and cold and amazingly diabolical. The chapter when she finally explains herself to Elias is just some of the best writing I've ever read in this genre or any other.

My only complaint, and this is strickly a personal thing and it has no bearing on the quality of this book, is that I wish it were 3rd person close and not 1st person. Seriously. That's my only gripe. And it's just a me not you thing.

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is one of those rare books that can sate both the YA fan and the epic fantasy fan in me. It does what it does incredibly well and is a joy to read. It's intense and unputdownable. It's definitely going to be on my Best of 2016 list. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

An Oral History of June 17, 1994

We Muricans love fallen idols. We love when the people we love, especially celebrities of any sort, fall from grace in an epic fashion and no celebrity ever had a greater fall from grace than Orrenthal James Simpson. OJ was a cultural icon that crossed barriers that few had ever done before. And his epic fall (you all know how I love the word epic and what it implies) changed our society forever and ushered in this day and age of reality television.

Now, I'm not going to go into every detail of what happened, just the events of June 17, 1994 for me and what I remember. The day the OJ and his friend Al Cowlings fled the police in his white Bronco. An event watched by millions live on television all over the country. It was riveting and something you couldn't turn away from. I know, because I was one of the people that couldn't turn away from it. For years, if asked, I could tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing. I remembered it vividly. Most people my age could as well. It became on of the hallmarks of our generation, a single shared event that any of us could bond over in a moment.

We don't have many moments like that anymore. Information is so immediate and accessible in this day and age, it's hard to express the "I remember it..." story. Today, we live tweet events as they happen. And I recognize the irony of me talking about live tweeting something. If there was such a thing as Twitter when I got married, I'd have live tweeted it.

As I remembered that night for years, I was at Club 37 in North Syracuse, New York. Club 37, for those of you that don't know, was a dance club located along a main drag in a suburb a few miles north of the city of Syracuse. Friday nights was Ladies Night, maybe, and my friends and I would go their often. It was a typical club with a large dance floor, lots of black lights, crappy carpeting, thumping music and a balcony that overlooked the dance floor. Club 37 was also notorious because it was where professional wrestler Shawn Michaels got his ass kicked by a couple of US Marines. Seriously, look it up.

I had gone to Club 37 with my friend Brian, with our friends Andy and Bianco in tow. I have vivid memories of watching the Knicks and Rockets on the TV in the lounge area. I was still pining for Christina, a girl that had just broken up with me, so I was kind of standoffish, watching the game. Well, they kept going to the OJ chase and eventually the dance floor emptied and we were all watching OJ. For twenty plus years, this was as I remembered June 17, 1994: watching it on TV while some dance music thumped in the background.

My group of friends was amorphous at the time, as most groups of friends are. We moved in and out of different circles, depending on what was going on, where we were going and who wanted to go. But there was also a separation between my groups that was pretty clear and I have different memories of each. If I was at the center, Brett and Brian (I have a thing for friends whose names begin with Br I guess) would always be around me. Looking back on it, my relationship with the two was very different. Not in a bad way, but Brett and I were always partners, in a way, more Captain American and Iron Man. I always felt like Brain's sidekick, very Batman and (Fat) Robin. Again, not in a negative way, just from my perspective that was the way I always felt. People came in and out of our lives and we into their's, as a duo or alone, as such groups of friends frequently do. The flow chart would be astounding. But Brett and Brian were more often than not separate from one another. They brought out two different parts of me and got different versions of me. Our groups bled together more often than not. With Brett it was my oldest friends: Adam, Jamey, Anzalone...with Brian it was Bianco and Andy. For example, Bianco crossed over to the Brett side when he started dating our friend Nickerson, who is almost part of a third group that blurred the lines between both of these groups. (For those not in the know, Nickerson is a woman and as I write more of these oral histories, you'll hear more about her.) These complex relationships are things I try to duplicate in my writing. Groups of friends are often not as clear cut and simple as they are in fiction. Maybe one of these days I'll do a long form on that with a flow chart. But that's not the purpose of this piece. I remember being at Club 37 with the Brian side of my friend flow chart that night. At least that's the way I remember it.

Then, this past year FX played their The People vs. OJ Simpson, which was a riveting show. My friend Sharon sent me a message on Facebook saying that she remembered being at Hungry Chuck's with me and my best friend Brett celebrating his 21st birthday. She was Brett's girlfriend at the time and the two of them were inseparable. Hungry Chucks was a dive in the basement of the building that wasn't air conditioned. (A few years ago they moved Chuck's upstairs and now it's a nice bar. It's not the same.) And I loved it. This sent me into a tizzy, sending messages on Facebook and my phone. I followed some leads and shook some trees to find out if I misremembered it.

I came to a conclusion: I didn't misremember it. Sharon was correct that she was at Chuck's with Brett, but my location was still in flux. I've confirmed it, with Brett even remembering the detail of yelling "Run OJ, run" as they watched on the big screen TV at Chuck's, which is the most Brett thing ever. It makes complete sense that Brett and I would've been together for his 21st birthday. But I know I was at Club 37. Now, why was I at Club 37 and not out celebrating my best friend's 21st birthday? It makes no sense.  This became a vastly more interesting question and I tried to figure it out. I narrowed down my varying theories to one of three;

  1. Brian and crew went to Club 37 then met up with Brett and crew. Plausible, though I don't remember it that way. This was pre-cell phone 1994. That level of coordination would be unprecedented, especially knowing us as a group. 
  2. I had gone to Club 37 in pursuit of a girl, probably Christina. This would fit my personality and the emotions I would've been feeling at the time. Having asked her, she doesn't remember if we'd hung out or seen each other that night. It's plausible, though she doesn't remember being there that night. 
  3. Brett and I were in a snit. Yes, guys can get into snits and we all know what most of those were about. With apologies to Sharon, who will likely read this, our group of friends weren't crazy about her at this time. This was no reflection on her. It wouldn't of mattered who Brett was with, we would've had a problem with them. We were still young enough then that we still lived by the code of "bros before hoes." (I was 21 and such misogynistic code has been mostly written out of my program by now.) The reality is that we were all subconsciously jealous that Brett had found someone to love him and we hadn't. 
With apologies (on many levels) to Sharon, I was at Club 37 that night. The reasons being? I'm still not sure. Of the scenarios listed above, I'm thinking it's a combination of 2 and 3. Twenty-two years is a long time and I can't say with any certainty which story is completely correct.

1994 was the start of a pretty dark time for me. 21-23 weren't good years. I was broke, directionless and maybe even borderline depressed. I had made every mistake that someone with boundless opportunities could make and instead of rising, I dug deeper with an almost deliberate intent. Thinking about it now, I wonder if my suddenly hazy memory of that time is directly linked to the way I feel about that time in my life. There are things I vividly remember about that time in my life and things that I've effectively blocked out. (Nothing too terrible in the grand scheme of the world, mostly white person problems, but you get my drift.) The spring/summer of 1994 was particularly difficult, coming off the end of my first real relationship. I was immature and reeling from it. It was not a good time, though there were good times in there and the vast majority of them were because of friends like Brett, Brian, Nickerson and Sharon.

Time moves on. I always try to live by a credo of never looking back, but sometimes it's hard to ignore the real pull of nostalgia. As much as I lament my life back then, there was a lot that happened that formed me into who I am today. There are a load of stories, good and bad, to tell and this Oral History series is part of that.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Month In Review: May 2016

Come what May, thank goodness April was over. May was definitely a better month than April and I gained back some productivity and a slight nudge in a newish direction for me and my writing. So, here's what I did:

WRITING: After the disaster that was April, I found a pretty good groove in May. I finished the first draft of THE FALCON AND THE CROW and I'm very happy with it. But more on that in a minute. I finished that up and then dove into a rewrite of THE SEVEN LABORS OF NICK JABLONSKY. And I discovered that LABORS was better than I thought.

The story made a lot more sense than I remember and only needed a few tweaks and cuts along the way. I blogged a little bit about some major changes I contemplated making to the story but decided against because of the fundamental changes it would make to the story. In the end, I told the story I wanted to tell and wound up coming up with a great narrative concept for another project. I was so happy with the rewrite that I decided to just send two "Aw, what the hell" queries out into the world. I don't know if LABORS is completely indicative of me as a writer, but who knows what'll happen.

After finishing LABORS, I reengaged FALCON and I'll be honest, it's good. Really good. I'm cruising through a revision because it doesn't need a major rewrite. It needed some fixes here, mostly continuity for the "McGuffin" and a few other tweaks here and there, then I'm going to work on a synopsis and the query letter to see what it can do in the world.

As for what's next, I'm kind of grasping right now. I had a great conversation with someone I trust a great deal about my writing and it has me thinking about what I do. I need to think about what is going to make my writing stand apart from everything else, make it distinctive. It was a great point that should've been made to me years ago, but that's a gripe for another time. For my next project I have to think distinct, which has me questioning my YA fantasy I was contemplating and has me thinking of how to make it distinct. Or do I try another project to see what makes sense.

READING: Another slowish month of reading. I finished four books and I'm in the process of reading two more. It was a pretty good month. I'm moving through DRAGONS OF WINTER'S NIGHT slower than I want and I can see the flaws in it as much as I can the things I loved. But I'll get to that in a separate entry. (Plus, we did a massive housecleaning and I have no idea where my wife put the book.) I'm about half way done with AN EMBER IN THE ASHES and adoring it. It's really good. I have a stack of library books out that I'm going to tackle for June. I'm aiming for at least six books this month. So, here's what I've read:


  • The Iron Trial: I'm all for putting your own spin on an idea, especially when it comes to genre. I mean I put my eggs in the "YA Game of Thrones" basket from day one. But there are two things that drive me crazy: someone trying to hitch to a trend where you can tell the author didn't really read the inspiration and one where they are so in love with the inspiration they make minimal changes. The Iron Trial is the latter and it ruined the book for me. It had some nice moments but the twist was obvious,but I wonder if that was more of a middle reader thing than bad writing. It uses the tropes all wrong and felt rote and formulaic. 
  • Better Days and Other Stories: A Firefly comic collection. Very good. Nice to be among friends. 
  • Birthright Volumes 1 & 2: A fantastic graphic novel that taps into some great and timely things right now in a lot of ways. It seems like returned missing children is a hot topic in pop culture right now and this plays right into it as a little boy goes missing in the park while playing ball with his father. His family falls apart and just as they reach the tipping point a grizzled man in armor and carrying a kingdom's arsenal with him is detained by police, claiming to be the missing boy having returned after growing up the Chosen One in a fantasy kingdom. The PTSD portal story is another story that's gaining traction and this one starts off this way before veering in a different, satisfying direction that I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I was, giving some great insight into some of my own writing. (Related to directly to my rant about "distinct.")
WATCHING: All over the place this month, but here's a sampling of things I watched:
  • Game of Thrones: Wow, seem to be gaining back some of their first few seasons form this season. I mean the Tower of Joy, Coldhands, Hodor....poor, sweet Hodor. 
  • NBA Playoffs: Steph Curry....just remember, a clown sports commentator that once tried to get people on Twitter to get me fired compare him to Carrot Top. And Fox Sports 1 pays him 6 millions dollars a year to do this. I can do the same for 2% of that. Call me.
  • Castle Series Finale: I adored this show, but the final season was lazy, rehashing old plots and turning the best comedy flavored crime procedural since Moonlighting into a conspiracy thoery mess. The finale was a disaster with a trick ending that tried to do one thing but did something else and failed miserably at it. 
  • The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?: Wanted to be Jodoroesky's Dune but it wasn't. Still enjoyable. I'm all for more Kevin Smith talking movies. 
  • A League of their Own: The second best baseball movie ever made. Fight me about it, Field of Dreams people, I'm ready. 
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire: The last of the Potter movies I actually watched and pretty much the EMPIRE of the series. I forget how well done these movies are. They are the best book to movie adaptations I can think of. I'm going to do a blog post on this at some point...I may even reread the books. There are a lot of parallels between Rowling and Martin that deserve some conversation.
  • Rick and Morty: I have a blog post in my about things that I love mostly because I feel like I could've written them. This is one of those things. 
What's in store for June? End of the school year and I've adopted a motto from HAMILTON, I'm going to write like I'm running out of time. I'm also going to read. Lift some weights in earnest. Ride my bike with my daughter and try not to kill myself doing it. Blog a little bit more. Read some books.

What about you?