Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A Year in Review: The Reading

Well, 2017 was an amazing reading year for me. I cranked out book after book this year and I have a lot to talk about. I planned on reading 70 books in 2017. I read 154. No, seriously. 154 books. Pretty amazing, huh? Of the 8 books that I really wanted to read this year, I read 4 of the 8. One wasn't released and the other I got out of the library multiple times, but never got around to reading it. I've been doing microreviews of everything I read over on Twitter if you want a full recap using the hashtag: 150in31. I'll be done with them tomorrow.

So, let's talk some data first. (Hey, I'm a teacher, we need data, right?) Here's a breakdown of what I read:

  • Novels: 65
  • Graphic Novels: 58
  • Writing Books: 14
  • Nonfiction: 8
  • Art/Design Books: 4
  • Biographies/Autobiographies/Memoirs: 2
  • Plays: 2
  • Picture Books: 1
Phew. That was a lot of reading. And it felt like it. So, here's what you really read this edition of the blog for: my year end best of list. 
  • ROYAL BASTARDS by Andrew Shvarts: Probably my favorite read of the year mostly because I tried to write something just like it and can see all my mistakes because Shvarts does everything nearly flawlessly from characters to the world building to the all important voice. It's brilliant and earned the top spot of 2017. On a side note, this book got me through a very tough time in my life since I started reading it right after our house fire, so thanks Andrew for giving me a needed distraction as I dealt with my entire life crumbled around me. (Or singed around me.)
  • RIVER OF TEETH by Sarah Gailey: The only competition that ROYAL BASTARDS had for top read of 2017 was this book. Hippo riding cowboys, riverboat casinos and a thrilling caper...excuse me...operation make this book an instant classic. 
  • MARCH: BOOK ONE by John Lewis: Moving and appropriate at this time in our history as Congressman John Lewis looks back at his involvement in the Civil Rights movement. We are a better place because of men like Mr. Lewis. 
  • LUSTLOCKED and PRIDE'S SPELL by Matt Wallace: I love this series. It's flawless. Utterly perfect. Great characters, fascinating world, terrific plots and amazing voice. I'm going to finish this series this year. 
  • WHITE TRASH by Nancy Isenberg: Put a terrific spin on this last election: the promise to "white, working class voters" of taking back a country that was never theirs to begin with. Fascinating and enlightening. 
  • THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness: A few years old, but just the brilliant execution of a brilliant concept with the right amount of emotional moments. What happens to the kids in the background of the YA fantasy/dystopia novels and movies we know and love? Their lives are just as epic. 
  • THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS by Jason Rekulak: An fun YA book loaded with tons of nostalgia for someone like me. Part romance, part coming of age, part heist novel, it does things you don't expect it to at all the right spots. 
  • THE DUKE OF BANNERMAN PREP by Katie A Nelson: A great retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY with enough of it's own to not make it a straight retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY. 
  • SEARCHING FOR JOHN HUGHES by Jason Diamond: Remember when we could love what we love and not just defend what we love? That's this book. The things we love are important to us and they drive us.
  • A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT by Sabaa Tahir: Everything that is good and right in YA fantasy. Great execution of a great idea with great characters and interesting world building. 
  • SOUTHERN BASTARDS by Jason Aaron: Blew me away. Just an amazing, moving story about the deep south. Just unputdownable. 
  • BULL by David Elliott: The story of Theseus told in rhyme. Reminded me of HAMILTON in its presentation. Loved it. 
  • THE LEGEND OF ROCK PAPER SCISSORS by Drew Daywalt: An instant classic that takes the simple game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and turns it into an epic tale of champions seeking to prove themselves. Just delightful!
  • MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane: An older book that just shook me to the core. Amazing, brilliant and a study in 3rd person omniscient among other things. 
Honorable Mentions: RETURN OF THE JEDI: BEWARE THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE by Tom Angleberger, FORGET ME by KA Harrington, THE GRENDEL'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND WAR by AE Kaplan, ASTROPHYSICS FOR PEOPLE IN A HURRY by Neil deGrasse Tyson, THE LEGEND OF LUKE SKYWALKER by Ken Liu.

I'm not doing disappointments this year. We need more positivity and I'm not going to do that.

So, what about 2018? I know I'd like to read more. Well, if you read my writing post...and why wouldn't you have...you'll know that I'm not setting specific number goals this year, so maybe I only set a vague number that I can adjust. Here's some random musings:
  • Read some more epic fantasy and study what makes it work. I say this every year and fail at it. Maybe this year is the year that I finally do it. I'm going to set a goal of 25 total epic fantasy books in 2018.
  • I want to read more middle grade. I'm going to set a goal of 2 MG books a month, so 24 MG books by year's end. 
  • Read more nonfiction with a goal of one NF book a month, so 12 NF books this year. 
So, by those raw numbers alone, I'm looking at 61 books. I tend to read a ton of graphic novels each year and also find other YA books that pique my interest while getting the occasional ARC to read along the way, plus I listen to a ton of books during my commute, so I'm going to set a goal of 90 books this year. As I read, I'll adjust accordingly. 

What did you read? What was your best of 2017? What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017: A Year In Review: The Writing

This was a weird year writing. The best word I could come up with to describe it was impotent. I just never felt like I could get moving on something and at times I was completely schizo in deciding what I was going to do. My buddy Mike, always the port in my writing storms, can usually talk me down and get me in the right state of mind with sound, practical advice. But even then I struggled in focusing on one thing as my mind raced from here to there. It's really got me thinking about my approach and the way that I do things. Or it could be that I've been reading a lot of books on writing lately. So, let's look at 2017 as far as writing is concerned.

I set out to accomplish the following:
  • Finish THE PENSIONER'S BROOCH
  • Write the first draft of MAGICAL GATSBY
  • Finish CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD
  • Write the GENDER SWAPPED ARAGORN epic fantasy
  • Write 360k total words.
What I did accomplish:
  • Finish first draft of THE PENSIONER'S BROOCH (34k)
  • Started FRESH TRACKS (7k)
  • Rewrite of WINTER'S DISCORD (135k)
  • Started GIRL IN THE PICTURE (55k)
  • Started a rewrite of LOST SCIONS (24k)
  • Started CHLOE (3k)
So, as you can see, schizo. Too many plates. I fell well short of my 1k a day word count goal. Rather than lament about my lack of discipline or need for a routine, I'm looking at each of these projects and what to do with them. I need to make a run at finishing something again, so, what are these projects?

BROOCH: Prequel to SCIONS. It needs another pass and it may be what I need to fix what I see as the issues with SCIONS.

TRACKS: I was just rereading what I wrote of this while writing this blog and I like it a lot. It's kind of voice-y (something I desperately need to work on) and I think there's something there, I just have to find it.

DISCORD: Done. Forever and ever. Until someone buys it, I'm not doing any more with that-at least for a while.

PICTURE: This was a story I fell in love with out the gate and threw out all my normal practices as I wrote this. And that became part of the problem. I didn't know what I was writing and tried pantsing the book. It didn't exactly work. It turned into two different books fighting one another. On one hand it wanted to be a procedural-esque mystery like MYSTIC RIVER (which I was reading at the time) or a supernatural thriller. I feel like I have to decide on one and pull the trigger on it.

SCIONS: I still believe in this project. I'm working on paring it down into something less meandering and tighter.

CHLOE: A working title. A MG/chap book idea that I'm writing for my daughter. Very early in this project and I need to study a bit as I plan this. 

The aim for 2018 is focus. Focus on skill, focus on execution. Mike preaches these things and I need to listen to him. He's not just saying these things because he likes hearing them, he's being the good teacher that he is. So, goals? I don't know. I don't know if I want to set goals for myself in terms of what I intend to write. I've never achieved them. Not even close. My tastes and moods change. My interest in projects wane. Inspiration comes from strange places (see PICTURE) and I have to learn to run with it.

So, maybe be a little less word county and concentrate more on my skill as a writer. What does that mean? Write every day. No matter what. At least an hour. As my friend Brian Fay does: 3 pages a day. It's not so ambitious. I can do this. And then at the end of year I can take an inventory of what I accomplished. I'm a planner as far as my work is concerned, but I'm not going to lock myself down to any plan. I'm going to write what comes to me as it comes.

Also, unrelated to my writing (or maybe related to my writing), I'm going to work on being healthy and happy, two things I've neglected frequently in my life. It's come to a head recently. I'm a lucky man and sometimes I forget to enjoy that happiness. And I need to take care of myself. I have too much good in my life not to. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Partying Like It's 1994?

Tonight is the night before Thanksgiving. Every year I put up a post on Facebook asking who wants to go to Chuck's tonight. A little background. In my (and many of my friend's) salad days, we went to a bar on the SU campus called Hungry Charley's. We called it Chuck's. Wednesday nights were buy one get one pitchers and we'd go. But the night before Thanksgiving was a special night. People returned from college or visit from out of town and we'd wind up at Chuck's. (I've written about Chuck's before.)

It was a dive, in the basement. It had a horrible ventilation system, only served shitty beers on tap along with a few bottle choices and had assholes for bouncers (I know, I got my ass kicked by one). It also had decent prices, pretty good sangria and a Star Trek: The Next Generation pinball machine that ate almost as much money as the beer. (I also liked their chicken fingers, but maybe that had more to do with the beer than the chicken.) My beverage of choice was either Killian's Red or Honey Brown with Honey Brown being my favorite. I was reminded of that tonight.

Like just about everyone else in the free world, I had to go to Wegmans this afternoon. I had some errands to run, including picking up my dog's ashes (I'll write about that another time...I can't now, I've tried and I just can't) but I was going to try to avoid a trip to Wegmans. But my wife, who works at Wegmans, slipped and fell at work, hurting her surgically repaired knee. I brought her to the doctor and she got a thumbs up to go back to work, so I took her back. And she gave me a list of things I needed to get. No problem. I made good time and, having joked about Chuck's, perused the beer corner at the big W.

Now, something you need to know about me, I am not a big drinker. I put my time in during the early to mid-90s and that was enough. I'll crack open an occasional hard soda or a beer once in an almost literal blue moon. Honestly, in 11 months of 2017, I've had maybe 5 beers. Tonight I decided to make six. I walked by the craft beers, the hard sodas (which I love) and the ciders, finding a sixer of Honey Brown. But I was worried. I was worried about my daughter.

She seems very aware of when I drink and, for some reason, it bothers her. A few weeks back, we went to a family birthday party and I ordered a beer. My daughter was very upset and I have no idea why. I don't drink very often and I don't drink enough to alter my behavior. Okay, there is only one time I can think of where I drank more than usual (limoncello and something called Strega was involved, it was as fun as it sounds) and I don't remember her being upset about it. So I wondered. My daughter and I talk, so I asked her about it during the week and she said she just didn't like me drinking alcohol, though she was still evasive. This is a continuing conversation between us and I'll get to the bottom of it.

I waited until well after dinner was digested and cracked open a Honey Brown. And the first sip transported me back to 1994. No, really. (The good 1994, not the bad one I've blogged about before.) Now, Honey Brown isn't "great" beer. Hell, it's not even "good" beer, but Christ, it was delicious. It has been literally 20-something years since the last time I drank a Honey Brown. It was everything I remembered and more. I've had some good beers over the years. High quality stuff. But they couldn't hold a candle to the Honey Brown I drank tonight. Maybe it's the nostalgia of one too many nights in a dive of a bar filled with too much smoke and floor muck. Maybe it's the memory of having over 30 people show up, unannounced or uninvited, at my house some summer nights back then. Who knows? But it was the best beer I've had in years. And like I said, I was 21 again. And it was glorious.

My daughter noticed the bottle. She was okay with it, but did ask if it was the only one I was going to have. (I haven't had more than one beer in one day in easily over ten years!) When I assured her that it was, she didn't bother me again. But my son on the other hand, was despondent, but not for the reasons you think.

"Daddy, my gosh, why does your breath smell like that? What did you eat?"
"What does my breath smell like?"
"Garbage," he says, "like you're eating garbage."
"I'm drinking a beer, buddy."
"Well, I want you to stop, your breath smells like poop."

So, at least we know why my son doesn't like me nursing a beer.






Thursday, October 5, 2017

Swoon Reads: WINTER'S DISCORD, The Character List

I took the plunge a few weeks back and submitted my "YA Game of Thrones" novel WINTER'S DISCORD to Swoon Reads. I'm keeping an eye on how it's doing and reading comments being left by readers. One was that there are a lot of characters (true) and it is hard to keep track of them. There is a Character List at the end of the book, but it's a nightmare to toggle back and forth between it and the pages readers are on. So, I decided to post it here. It has to be easier to move back and forth between browser pages or apps on a phone. So, here you go. And if you're not reading it yet, click on the link, register for the site and give it a whirl. Thanks.

Winter’s Discord
Dramatis Personae

The Grange Family
Duke Thomas Grange, Duke Paramount of the Heartlands
[Duchess Rebecca (Gander) Grange, first wife of the Duke]
            Samuel Grange, their Blessed son
Duchess Emma (Ellerton) Grange, second wife of the Duke
                        Kirsten Bartlett, a lady-in-waiting
                        Saundra Blane, a lady-in-waiting
                        Serena Heath, a lady-in-waiting
            Harold Grange, his heir
                        Matthew Stumps, his crony
                        Eric Cross, his crony
            Benjamin Grange
                        Marcus Green, an outrider and companion
                        Johnny Mules, his companion
                        Charlie Duster, his companion
                        Vester Duster, his companion
                        Mikey Duster, his companion
                        Egan Norlander, his companion
            Jessica Grange
                        Elizabeth Dowdell, a lady-in-waiting
                        Kathleen Endicott, a lady-in-waiting
                        Nell Cole, a lady-in-waiting

            Household:
                        Elario Venette, the Duke’s Advisor and rumored sorcerer
                        Sir Adam Wyndham, captain of the guard
                        Serjeant Roarke, a guard
                        Murielle Cook, a cook
                        Edwyn, a guard
                        Kelene, a servant
                        Brody, Master of the Horse
                        Oscar Blane, the Duke’s valet
The Fields Family
Sir William Fields, master-at arms for Grange Manor
[Mina (Farthing) Fields]
            Jeremy Fields
            Alicia Fields, Jessica’s lady-in-waiting

The Meadows Family
Lord Paul Meadows, Duke of the Westmarch
Lady Marielle (Stanfield) Meadows, 41, his wife
            Sir Theo and Sir Thom Meadows, twins
            Peter Meadows
            Amelia Meadows


The Graydon Family
Lord Hallam Graydon, Baron of Wolf Hollow
Lady Kendra (Irons) Graydon, his wife
            Lewis Graydon
            Victoria Graydon

The Chase Family
Lord Eldon Chase, Earl of Teasedown
Lady Benethea (Oakley) Chase, his wife
            Sir Walton Chase, his heir and eldest son, friend of Harold’s

The Gaines Family
Lord Francis Gaines, Earl of Renfield
Lady Joanne (Gill) Gaines, his wife  
            Sir Lukas Gaines
            Colton Gaines
            Kimberly Gaines, a lady-in-waiting to Jessica Grange

The Rhodes Family
Lord Lleyton Rhodes, the earl of Westfield
            Deron Rhodes
            Adam Rhodes

Heartland Vassals: Graydon, Royce, Bannock, Vinland, Wheaton, Prior, Cotton, Rhodes, Chase, Blane, Cornwall, Crossley, Mead, Heath, Still, Gaines, Grass, Ellings

The Drake Dynasty
King Vitor Drake, King of Galidan
Queen Thalia, his wife, a Thalassan
Princess Isabella Drake, the Crown Princess
            Mistress Miranda Fitts, her governess
                        Christine Stockley, a lady-in-waiting
Hailey Anstanando, a lady-in-waiting
Gianna Fortia, a lady-in-waiting
           
Household:
            Denholm Marron, the King’s secretary
            Mistress Adele Bunn, the Queen’s secretary

Prince Vincent Drake, Disposed Crown Prince, known as “The Bachelor Prince”
            Household:
            Yvan Sorretto, the spymaster
                        Tybalt and Dennis, soldiers in Yvan’s service
            Sarita, a watcher and later Jessica Grange’s governess
            Garrett Dalibar, his swordmaster
            Marco Apareaz, his physician
                        Reynold Apareaz, his son and knight candidate
The Maglore Family
Duke Jurrell Maglore, Lord High Steward, Duke of the Black Capes
            Sir Owyn Maglore, his son
            Veronica Maglore, his daughter
            Household:
Marlon Gorash, a page

The Burleigh Family
Lord Carlton Burleigh, Duke of the Gates
            Household:
            [Sir Francis Wayman, a knight]
                        Elliot Wayman, his son

The Snowdale Family
Lady Alice Snowdale, Baroness of the
            Elise Snowdale, her niece
                        Arrosa, her maid’s daughter

The Vanaccio Family
Lord Alonso Venaccio, the Earl of Cape Paranccio
            Rodrigo Venaccio
            Tyla Venaccio
            Household
            Sir Oliver Gallins, master at arms

The Ellestare Family
Lord Niles Ellestare, the Count of Gabbins Downs
            Brent Ellestare
                        Hugh Beaumont, his companion
                        Will Oarster, his companion

The Drummond Family
Duke Timothy Drummond, Duke of Welford
            Household
            Sir Malcolm Worley, master at arms

Crownland Vassals: Fulbright, Shalesworth, Brighton, Graves, Stepford, Stockley, Burleigh, Gloriarra, Ellers, Snowdale, Caspari, Delia, Brand, Cromwell, Sofre, Neeves, Fulbright, Cowan, Angier, Calvencho, Rogoux, Collinsworth, Jonio
Nahrish Vassals: Volstaad, Meldore, Balgore, Evgoth, Garum, Gorash, Sothosh, Skalus, Adeleh, Vainglore, Nallone, Dulmash
Western Vassals: Worley, Bullock, Varens, Whalen, Gannon, Sweeney, Wast, Zellers, Beverly, Weston, Hagen
Orchardland Vassals: Bartlett, Braeburn, Grover, Hazelton, Hamlin
Atlasian Vassals: Oarster, Dunn, Gilbride, Gavanaugh, Dacey, Farthing, Bollingsworth
Vehrish Vassals:  Hanover, Lange


Knights of the Golden Rose (Unoathed)
Sir Kevin Southerly, Order of the Horned Boar
Sir Roland Durgo,
Sir George Venner
Sir John Farthing
Sir Michael Correy
Sirs Talbot and Trent Ironwood

Knight Candidates at the Summerhurst
See tourney rosters

Knight Instructors at the Summerhurst
Sir Nathaniel Bullock, Knight Commandant of Summerhurst
Sir Dwight “Dewey” Zellers, Earl of Amdel
Lord Frederico Arizzio, Count of Estwyk
Sir Rickard Dacey
Sir Abner Bollingsworth

The King’s Heavy Cavalry at Grange Manor
Sir Douglas Moore, Captain of the Expedition
                        George Umber, a corporal and his valet
            Sir Keith Evgoth

From Naobi
Omazo Swelzod, a prince and cadet
            Amo and Lessolo Birenty, his cousins

From the Seldish Republic
Donnal Loyngran, an ambassador

From Anakhabar
Prince Abulkazhir, the crown prince

From Sethic Duchies
Myron Kuttle



The Challenge Cup Tourney Rosters

Team
Sword
Lance
Bow
Melee
The Prince’s Men (mixed)
Brannen Worley, Omazo Swelzod
Phillip Varens, Greg Weaver
Hal Coventry, Robin Terrell
Jeremy Fields, Charles Swift
The Third Sons (Nahrish/ Crownland)
Ben Grange, Evan Brecker
Stephon Meldore, Julien Brendell
Lloyd Yost, Adam Vanders
Craig Belgore, Jeff Cooley
The Angry Cocks (mixed)
Silas Garrow, Benton Vedder
Donnell Avery, Louis Vanard
Jack Post, Henry Vale
Barrett Vogel, Erik Bent
The Mad Bullmen (Veihish)
Conrad Veilt, Edward Ragan
Herest Kilen, Gunter Vagler
Gerald Vokk, Karl Brandt
Hugo Larget, Ian Ehrends
The Stone Dragons
(Stonemen)
Alexander Jasper, Vincent Cork
Winston Brass, James Welt
Aaron Bender, Michael Fenton
John Pinchbeck, Jeff Forrest
The Bloody Barbers
(mixed)
Radley Simcoe, Edison Winslow
Vito Corso, John Wylie
Vance Amando, Edward Teake
Massimo Ogato, Benito Delsoro
The Wild Ponies
(Veishish)
John Hastic, Terrence Dahl
Derek Brill, Norman Zucker
Henry Tock, Garrett Belt
David Boyer, William Heck
The Green Griffins (Woods/ Heartlands)
George Chase, David Meade
Winton Faile, Benson Oakley
Kevin Noomes, Nathan Currell
Felton Woodale, Bryan Chestnut
The Red Shepherds (Veihish)
William Huft, Wendel Murst
Ned Salz, Myron Faltzen
Erik Dabin, Kelvin Frontel
Braden Fotz, Peter Ochs
The Night Watch
(West/ Crownlands)
Chris Heath, Michael Sapp
Brett Cobb, Dennis Wystin
Matthias Bale, Lleyton Renton
Ned Winstrom, Phillip Vernon
The Border Reavers (East)
Brandon Weller, Simon Merridew
Brian Ghant, Jack Sydell
Bryan Bowyer, Wesley Venter
Harold Worrell, Reginald Pyke
Diamonds in the Rough (Stonemen)
Adam Fetters, Corey Toledo
Nathan Rockwell, Joseph Bessemer
Edward Gold, Seth Coldiron
Peter Furrey, Ralph Silver
The Craftsmen (Crownlands)
Phillip Dauson, William Fox
Jack Snow, Patrick Debbons
Thomas Ash, Louis Debbinia
John Wenners, William Breyers
The Terrible Titans (Atlas)
William Cordovan, Casey Sutcliff
Chris Mims, Walter Janett
Thomas Farwell, Steven Brisby
Joshua Helton, Jarod Nokes
The Iron Redoubts (Stonemen)
Fredrick Copper, Selwyn Irons
Kevin Jordan, Ezekiel Nickelworth
Tucker Ore, Mark Cliffton
Ronnell Invar, Thad Tungsten
The Lions of Atlas (Atlas)
Rhett Upton, Harris Farley
Brenden Poulter, Dennis Perman
Corey Wells, Ryan Mayhew
Dean Bryce, Roger Waylan


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Marvel Cinematic Universe Redux

Back in June 2015 I did a ranking of all the Marvel movies. I'm now caught up all the way through GOTG Vol 2, so I thought that I'd update my list since I moved some around and ranked the new ones. So, in reverse order:

15. IRON MAN 2: The movie is a mess. It has moments but it's the weakest MCU movie.

14. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON: Another mess of a movie. How can one movie (Winter Soldier) get Black Widow so right while this one gets her so wrong? I mean the Hulkbuster was awesome, the party scene was fun and Ultron was a worthy opponent, but the character stuff fell short when it was good and was offensive when it was bad. It feels like some of the worthy human opponents of the Avengers got cast aside in favor of the big baddies.

13. THE INCREDIBLE HULK: See my previous post.

Again, if this were a race, these would be way behind.

12. THOR
11. IRON MAN 3
10. THE AVENGERS
9. IRON MAN
 (See previous post, but IRON MAN and THE AVENGERS both moved down a slot.)

8. ANT-MAN: Marvel's attempt to do a heist movie with a lighter tone...and it works in spades. It helps that Paul Rudd is charming as hell and the rest of the cast is pitch perfect, which is something you could say about every one of these movies. The movie balances the comedy perfectly with the action of a Marvel movie while building on the mythology of the universe, which is important at this point in the MCU. And yes, I think it's a better movie than all those other one, mostly because I think that Marvel's really good at doing these films at this point, so it's a sharper product this time around.

7. DOCTOR STRANGE: A terrific and exciting introduction of the mystic side of the MCU. Benedict Cumberbatch oozes charm and brings a character I knew very little about to the forefront, instantly making him a major player in the MCU. His mention in Winter Soldier helped, which makes me want to look up a MCU timeline to see where these movies take place in relation to one another. But that's a question for another time. I liked Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One a lot. I know that's an unpopular opinion, but the hand waved explanation worked for me and it fit the story. The supporting cast was terrific as well, which is just as important as anything else in the MCU. My only gripe with the movie is that they completely wasted Rachel McAdams.

Back to the race analogy: movies 7-12 would be in a pack, close together and sometimes switching order, depending on my mood at the time. The next set is a little bit ahead but in a close pack as well.

6. THOR: THE DARK WORLD: See my original post, but this one dropped a bit because of some additions and a promotion of another.

5. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER: See original post, but I moved this up substantially because, really, the Captain America movies are so much better than the rest and this one really is well done, so I felt it deserved the promotion.

4. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2: I really, really liked this movie. I don't know why people didn't like this movie. I thought it was a great continuation of the first movie that expanded on the idea of family in so many ways while adding depth. I love the whole father/son theme that ran through the entire film and the terrific shout outs (as a film buff, English teacher and 80s nostalgia buff) that the movie makes. The continuing fleshing out of the galactic side of the MCU is important to the upcoming Infinity Wars while giving inspiration for the forthcoming THOR: RAGNAROK. It also kept the same tone as the first movie, which I thought was incredibly important, while upping the stakes, another incredibly important part of this universe.

3.CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR: Really the best Avengers movie made. It had everything you'd want and built on everything that happened in WINTER SOLDIER while effectively poaching what actually worked in AGE OF ULTRON. The movie had me on the edge of my seat for almost the entire movie and the quiet moments were just as good as the loud moments. And the loud moments were amazing, visually, story wise and emotionally. Every aspect of it was damn near perfect but it's only 3 because while I think it's a better movie than my number 2, I thought number 2 was even more entertaining and did more.

2. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: See my original post. If I was ranking these movies as the BEST, this would slide down to 3, but it's so entertaining that it's still my 2.

Okay, the race analogy still stands. 2-6 are a close cluster, but number 1 is far and away ahead. The right balance of a great movie and an entertaining movie. I just rewatched it this weekend and man, it was amazing, so number one:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Missing the Sense of Awe

I had a thought last week while writing. It was sort of out of the blue and it brought my writing to a screeching halt. It's not a bad thing. I was at the end of a chapter and really happy with the progress I. I made. I still don't know exactly what this book is, but I'm very happy with it and I'm already thinking of ways to fix it in the next draft. It needs a heavy rewrite and is definitely not ready for eyes other than my own. It's very much a zero draft.

When I write, I usually multitask, so I had a couple of browser windows open and was moving back and forth between school stuff, my writing and some good old fashioned book browsing over on Goodreads, seeing if there was any good epic fantasies I was missing. I'm thinking a little bit ahead and have some ideas of what I want to write in the coming months. One of the things I want to do is go back to my roots and write a new spin on an old school epic fantasy. I want to sort of go back to school and study some of those kinds of books to see how I can spin them. As I was looking at some of the Goodreads lists and I was overcome with a sense of melancholy about some of the books I was seeing. Let me explain.

I cut my teeth on LORD OF THE RINGS, DRAGONLANCE and DRIZZT. That was my early education in fantasy. It's a pretty good list, nothing to shake a stick at. I learned a lot from them and they are formative parts of who I am as a person and a writer. But as I was looking at these lists that people made or added to, I was overcome with a degree of sadness at all the things that I missed as a young reader. I didn't read Lloyd Alexander, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Tamora Pierce, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Robin McKinley, Guy Gavriel Kay, Diana Wynne Jones, David Gemmel or Melanie Rawn as a teen, and I can't help but feel like I missed out on something.

Now, don't get me wrong, I've read many of these authors and their work over the years, but I think there is something that I'm missing by reading them as an adult. And that something keeps getting more and more distant the older I get. When I read LOTR or DRAGONLANCE as a middle schooler, there was a sense of whimsy, of awe at the work I was reading. The characters. The world. The intricate plots. There was something to that feeling. There was some weight to it that has stuck with me all these years later. And as I've gotten older, that feeling isn't there as much anymore. And that struck me with a deep sense of sadness.

There are still books that move me, don't get me wrong. There are books that as soon as I start reading them put me in that right state of mind that is close to that feeling. A GAME OF THRONES did it when I first read it in December of 2000 in Oswego, That one changed my life. NY. SHIP BREAKER did it when I read it a few years back. Most recently MYSTIC RIVER really wowed me. But it's not the same as the sense of wonder and awe I got as I read about Boromir's death or the Battle of Helm's Deep or the Ride of the Rorhirrim. I know this is fact because I recently reread the DRAGONLANCE books and the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower fell flat. And that made me sad. The wonder was gone.

Was it me? Or was it the work? Or was it a combination?

Had I become so angry, so jaded that these things of wonder didn't register with me anymore? The HARRY POTTER books came close, but not nearly close to the memory of the way I felt reading LOTR or DRAGONLANCE.

Was it the romance of the experience? The days of bookstores is nearly over. I can remember vividly buying the DRAGONLANCE books at an independent bookstore in the local mall. I remember obsessing over them and devouring them. The entire experience was romantic, I suppose. I can remember the cold and snow as I bought them. I remember what they meant to a giant, awkward me in the halls of Soule Road Middle School. I remember being more comfortable with those worlds than my own.

And maybe that's enough. Maybe that memory is enough. But there's still an underlying sadness in that I'll never experience that again.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Romantic Notion

Thursday night, I did something I view as "romantic." I wrote by candlelight.

We had a power outage. A big storm came blowing through (a motif this Summer) and after a few hiccups with the power, it eventually decided to crap out on us, leaving us without lights, television and the blessed Internet. It was just about dusk, so there was still some light out but it was just dark enough to not be completely comfortable. Both of my kids were a little freaked out about it, especially my son Cooper.

Cooper can be skittish when presented with things that aren't routine or normal. A power outage at dusk is something that clearly falls into those parameters. He curled up on to my lap only the way a tiny skittish boy of four can, begging me to turn the lights back on. I often say that if I could I would move Heaven and Earth for my children but the laws of physics dictate that I can't. (Reason 437 why my wife things I'm annoying.) I soothed him as best I could, assuring him that everything was alright and I was right there with him (albeit playing a rousing game of Candy Crush on my phone) as I held him.

Cooper is a cuddler and has a thing for ears (that's going to be a fun middle school phone call, isn't it?), so as we sat curled into a ball of Zeleznik crammed into an oversized leather chair, he rubbed my ear like a well worn worry stone. Luckily, Cooper has been attending a summer camp at his daycare and was particularly tired. I also took him swimming at my in-laws, so with no electronics to overstimulate him, sleep came quickly in the dark. It was a relief.

Across the room, my wife Kim complained that she was going to have to sit in her car to charge her phone because she was under 10 %. My phone wasn't much better at just south of 30%. (Admittedly, Candy Crush wasn't helping.) We are staying in a rental place while repairs are taking place at the house, so we do not have a land line. Our cell phones are necessities, so keeping them charged is a must. Kim suggested taking a ride to see how many people didn't have power. I was all for it except for the bundle of nervous four year old curled beside me. I suggested that she, Natalie and my mother take a ride and leave me at home. I was afraid that if Cooper woke up and I wasn't there, he'd be even more skittish than usual. So they left, taking my phone (now under 20%) with them to charge and leaving me with my mother's phone, just in case.

As the sun waned, I noticed some candles on the hutch in the dining room. I also had my trusty writer's notebook. I could write. I might as well right since I had nothing going on, so I set Coop down on the chair and set about hunting for a lighter or match or something. It took about fifteen minutes to find a match and it took two matches to light the candle. (I am not a smoker and my pyromania ended in my mid-twenties.) It created a lot more light than I expected and I set about working. I wrote most of this in that time period and also worked on a section of THE GIRL IN THE PICTURE, which I started to feel like I was stalling and decided to charge through it and fix what I'm seeing as glaring issues in the rewrite. It was the right decision.

As I was writing, I began to wonder if this is what writing was like for the writers of yore. There was a notion of romanticism in it, like I was somehow writing something of great importance. Something that had some weight to it. (It's neither of those things.) I liked the way it felt. I mean, sure, I was using a Pilot G2 pen, not a fountain pen or a quill. I was writing in an old school composition notebook, not on parchment or in some fancy notebook. (I still hold out hope that one day I will upgrade myself to a fancy notebook though I'm still a fan of the durability and versatility of the composition notebook.) I don't know how long I wrote for, but the session ended when I got a text message from Kim that she wanted me to open the garage door. And like a dope, I tried to do it, forgetting there was no power. As the girls entered the house, Kim and I laughing about how we were both idiots about the garage door. the power popped on. Just in time for Natalie and I to catch our Thursday night tradition of watching the Gong Show together.

Maybe I'll write by candlelight some more in the future. Maybe not.