Saturday, December 23, 2006
During the course of my career, people have often asked me how I got my start in writing. Well, I learned at an early age you could get paid for it. As long as you're willing to do the work that goes with it.
So here, as best as I can remember it, is a facsimile of my first paid writing at age 6.
I HAVE YUR CAT.
I WANT $5 IN SMAL BILS.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Don McCue is a friend of mine who has a wicked sense of humor. To know him is to love him. His latest blog about "The Great Goose War" had me rolling on the floor. It's a treatise on how the animal world, popular opinion, and bureaucracy take both "individual" and "action" out of individual action.
We both grew up in small Oklahoma towns. This wouldn't even be an issue there.
Go read it, have a chuckle, and let Don know you stopped by!
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Coming On DVD Dec. 19! Perfect Gift For Kids And Families!
I've been reading the Alex Rider books for four years now and am a big fan. I've been ordering the books from Amazon UK because they were coming out a year earlier there, then picking up the hardcover here because they didn't come out in hardcover in the UK. There was no new book this year because of the international popularity and because Horowitz is working on a new series. He's a busy guy.
The movie came out in limited release in America, and never even close to Oklahoma. So I missed it. But I'll be picking up the DVD for myself and for Christmas presents.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Alex Rider Is Back! And His Life Is On The Line!
Fourteen-year-old super spy Alex Rider swings back into action in Point Blank, the second in the thus-far six-book series written by Anthony Horowitz. This time he’s matched against a South African madman, Dr. Grief, and his sadistic second-in-command, Mrs. Stellenbosch, who run an elite school high in the French Alps for trouble-making teenagers.
For those who may not know who Alex Rider is, he was dragged into the spy business by his uncle’s murder in the first book, Stormbreaker. Alex lost his parents in a tragic accident that hasn’t quite been explained, then raised by his uncle Ian, who Alex thought was a bank manager and led a very quiet, sedate life.
However, in that life Ian Rider also managed to see to it that Alex was raised very independently, taught how to drive, scuba dive, shoot, and fight in martial arts. As well as learning several languages. Looking back on his life at one point in the first book, Alex came to the surprising conclusion that he’d basically been trained to become a spy.
But not at 14.
In the first book, Alex was lured by Blunt, the taskmaster of MI6, the spy agency, and Mrs. Jones, his assistant, into avenging his uncle’s murder. When he’d turned them down, they’d blackmailed him by telling him they would send him away to foster care instead of staying with Jack Starbright, his live-in keeper. Alex had reluctantly gone along with the opportunity to go on a mission. After a few weeks of intensive training, Alex went out into the field and proved himself to be a natural spy and survivor.
After that mission, though, Alex told Blunt and Mrs. Jones that he never wanted to be a spy again.
Point Blank opens up with the exciting scenes readers have come to expect from Horowitz. A friend of Blunt’s is murdered by a mysterious assassin known as The Gentleman, and the murder is made to look like a terribly tragic accident. Before the man had died, though, he’d brought a matter to Blunt’s attention: a special school for boys of wealthy parents that promised to correct those boys’ bad behavior.
Meanwhile, Alex has discovered that going back to school after being a spy is hard. He’s bored. Nothing has the edge to it like it had when he was constantly in fear for his life. Spotting a drug dealer in action on the school grounds, Alex goes after the guy and his partner. The resulting action puts the bad guys into jail, but it also endangers Alex’s independence. He’s once more reliant on Blunt and Mrs. Jones to pull him out of trouble.
They want something in return, though. They want Alex to investigate the mysterious boarding school in France known as Point Blanc. When Alex becomes disagreeable, they again threaten him with taking his independence away. Having no real choice, Alex agrees to accept the mission.
Before he can go to Point Blanc, though, Alex has to adopt a new identity. He becomes Alex Friend, the recalcitrant son of a supermarket king who’s worth millions. Alex is just supposed to be there long enough to soak up some of the family history, but nothing ever comes easily to Alex. In not time at all, he’s nearly gunned down and almost hit by a fast-moving train.
Then he’s off to Point Blank to become a student, and he’s stepped into one of the most dangerous situations he’s ever been in.
Horowitz is an accomplished writer. Besides books for kids, he’s also written a few for adults. In addition to the Alex Rider series, Horowitz is currently working on a five-book series called The Gatekeepers, and a series off books about The Diamond Brothers, a pair of private investigators who get involved in wild adventures.
Horowitz also writes for BBC television. He contributed scripts to Midsomer Nights Murders, Hercule Poirot, and he created Foyle’s War.
In 2006, the first Alex Rider novel, Stormbreaker was made into a movie. It’s coming to DVD in December 2006.
I’ve read all of the books and am now reading them to my 9-year-old son for his AR program, which just proves how cyclical the books really are. I was introduced to them by a 12-year-old in one of the classes I taught on writing and fell in love with them. I’ve followed the books for the last four years, buying them from England because they came out there a year ahead of the American release. That appears to be changing since Alex Rider has become an international phenomenon.
The action and verbal sparring is suggestive of a young 007 (which is also being done at this point, but those books are set in the 1930s, making it a little hard for today’s readers to understand). The gadgets that are part of Alex’s arsenal are provided by Smithers, Alex’s own version of Q. So far they’ve included things like a yo-yo that could operate as a mechanized grappling hook. A Discman that had a saw CD that could cut through concrete walls. And an exploding earring.
Point Blank is loaded with a lot of over-the-top action that Horowitz deftly describes without missing a beat. Dr. Grief and Mrs. Stellenbosch are perfectly creepy villains. And the actual evil plot could have been ripped from today’s headlines.
My 9-year-old and I usually read 20 minutes a day in the morning while he has his breakfast before he goes to school. He had a hard time waiting between reading sessions because his active mind was constantly working to figure out how Alex was going to get out of his latest jam, and to figure out what was really going on.
Through all of the action, though, Alex emerges as a complete and unique character, despite the immediate comparisons to James Bond. Alex has his own troubles, and his parents’ deaths are mysteries that plague him and keep cropping up throughout the series. These are great books for adult readers as well as middle-graders. There simply isn’t enough of this stuff – this good – out there. If you haven’t discovered Alex Rider, this would be a great book to start with.
Especially if you see the movie and you and your kids want more teen spy action!
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Ah, the vagaries of the human heart. When I talk about love and what it means, I get all kinds of responses. Many women cut loose with Oprah-speak, Dr. Phil-speak, and Dr. Laura-speak. Whatever pop psychology that is currently being turned out into the world. I talk to men about it, and most of them don’t want to talk about it at all, or immediately tie it to the present sexual climate they have in their relationships.
Poets have written volumes on it. Wars have been fought because of it. And divorce lawyers have made mints. Not to mention the latest dating/sex gurus that are on tour.
So what is it about men and women that we can’t speak our minds? Women I know tell me that it must be great to be married to me. They tell my wife that as well. I’m a writer by trade, so I speak my mind. But I don’t think that’s why I’m as communicative as I am. I see myself as a student of the world. I’m constantly learning, and no matter how hard I try, I’m not going to be able to understand it all. But I put forth the effort because I have to, because that’s the way I am. I’m ADHD, and explaining what I think I understand to other people – the sheer act of putting it into words – helps me understand things a little better.
My wife agrees with some of the women who have told her that they enjoy the way I’m in touch with my feelings, but she also points out that as communicative as I am, I still don’t always listen and it’s usually my socks that are found lying around the bedroom. Also, I suffer from the male blindness syndrome of not being able to find my keys, my wallet, or a favorite shirt when I’m trying to head out. I’m more communicative, but at the end of the day, I’m still limited, still male. She’s okay with that, though, and it’s part of what makes me attractive to her. Frankly, it’s my guyness that makes me look on her with love and desire. Even without the physical relationship, though, we’d still be good friends. I’m really glad everything has worked out the way it has.
But what do you do for women who want to understand men? You buy ‘em Men, Love & Sex: The Complete User’s Guide for Women by David Zinczenko with Ted Spiker, of course!
Zinczenko is the editor of Men’s Health, a magazine devoted to helping guys understand all there is to know about being a guy, and how to get the best out of that Y chromosome that makes us so alien to the female of the species. He’s written op-ed pieces and articles for several metropolitan newspapers and USA Today. And People magazine listed him as one of the 50 Most Eligible Bachelors. This is obviously a man who knows men.
Ted Spiker is a contributing editor at Men’s Health and an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Florida.
So why are they spilling their guts to women?
Because, as Zinczenko mentions on several occasions throughout his book, men tend to be sedentary and won’t bring change in their lives unless they have to. Therefore, it’s up to the women to bring about the change in a man that he needs but doesn’t know how to reach for or is too frightened about do. Yep, you read that right. Men get frightened about relationships. That’s another point Zinczenko makes in his book.
When it comes down to it, Zinczenko says, men and women really want the same things out of life. It’s just that too many people (on both sides of the gender line) don’t know that. They tend to accept that they’re just “different”.
Men, Zinczenko contends – and rightly so from where I’m seated, can’t fathom their own feelings about things. And then, even those few that are blessed enough to truly know, lack the words to say it to anyone else. Even among themselves. Part of being male is being a guy who has no weaknesses. We’ve all got to be tough guys. Which means that we’re not going to tell even each other when things aren’t going so well for us health-wise, financially, or in relationships that we really care about.
Five thousand men and women were polled for answers to the questions posed in the book, so it’s not just a personal memoir that Zinczenko has put together. It’s well researched, filled with the burning questions that women want to know – as well as the surprising answers men have given.
One of the most attractive things about the book is its presentation. First of all, it’s only a little over 200 pages in length. It’s a fairly quick read, but it doesn’t stint on information. As a further enticement, the chapters are short as well, and the pages are broken up into sections dealing with Q&A topics.
A chapter is generally outlined at the beginning, then broken into three or more questions from women that detail that topic with clear, insightful answers given by Zinczenko and supported by answers from men. As a result, there’s an awful lot of dialogue in the book, and we all know how much we like to gossip and listen in on other people’s conversations. This book lends itself to that, almost like sitting across an aisle in a restaurant and eavesdropping on the couple seated at that table as they discuss private matters.
The book gets further divided up by sidebars tossed in by the author. Almost every chapter contains a “Say This, Not That” section, a “What It Means When” section, a “Male Mysteries” factoid that breaks men’s reactions to different things down into a percentage, a “Wondering Woman” section that offers another short but defining question, and a “Say This Tonight!” featuring quotes by men and women.
The book, cleverly disguised of course – unless you don’t mind people knowing what you’re reading, is the perfect material for subway rides, trips to the dentist, anywhere that you’re going to have five or ten minutes at a stretch to devote to it. The sections are just like Hershey’s Kisses, easy to pop one down, and before you know it, you’ve read a whole chapter!
As a woman, you’ll find a lot to talk about with your girlfriends. As a man (and yes, I do recommend this book to men as well), you’re going to find out a lot about yourself – primarily that you’re not the only one who thinks or acts a certain way. Of course, that doesn’t excuse some of how you think or act, but at least you know it’s not just you.
You can read the book from cover to cover if you want. Or you can read through by chapters. With 25 chapters to choose from, all of them titled tantalizing questions from Must-Know lists, you can just dive right in and begin your education. The material is definitely worth more than one trip through, though. Learning comes along in layers, and the more you get introduced to and understand, the more you’ll be able to discover on return visits. Plan on buying this one and putting it in an easy to get to place.
I found out a lot about myself as I read the book. Men and women are different, but we want the same things. The journeys we take to get them can be quite different, though. Men, Love & Sex: The Complete User’s Guide For Women is the perfect field guide for the trip across the wide gulf that separates the sexes.
Unfortunately, not all of the writers are capable of backing up their painstaking historical research and deep thinking with the kind of action that thriller readers long for. It’s one thing to present a ton of background information, history, legend, and possibilities, but it’s quite another to do so in a manner that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time.
Eric Van Lustbader’s new novel, The Testament delivers the action in spades, and spins the twists and turns on a dime. I first encountered Lusbader when he was writing fantasy, a trilogy about the Sunset Warrior that had Asian flavors. From there he went on to write the wildly popular Nicholas Linnear books as well as other books with heavily researched Chinese and Japanese backgrounds. Lately he’s managed a return to the fantasy genre with his books about The Pearl and even penned a new Jason Bourne adventure.
The book opens with a provocative battle between a warrior of the Church and armed men who pursue him for the secret he carries. From just the first few pages, I knew I was in good hands. I wasn’t going to spend all of my time clambering around musty bookshelves looking for ancient secrets or ferreting out hidden puzzles and codes. All of that has its place, of course, but I do enjoy a white-knuckled plunge through two-fisted adventure.
That chance doesn’t come. Only a short time later, Dexter confronts one of his long-time enemies and barely escapes with his life. A few minutes later, he’s killed.
Bravo gets the news and can’t believe it. His father is dead and his sister has been blinded in what everyone is calling a tragic “accident”. Bravo knows what happened wasn’t an accident. In the hospital, his sister reveals his destiny to him, that he has to find and protect whatever his father left hidden out there for him to find and protect.
Backtracking his father’s movements and contacts quickly puts Bravo in touch with Jenny Logan, who has a multitude of secrets of her own. Even as they’re making introductions, mutually deciding not to trust the other for reasons of their own, they’re attacked by the Knights of St. Clement, who are the bad guys that killed Dexter.
The action is fast and furious. Lustbader is a seasoned pro at getting the most bang out of his buck when it comes to this kind of writing. His character-building is spare, done in the rush of events that move with the speed and urgency of whitewater rafting. I had a great time trying to keep up with the rollicking plot, back-and-forth dialogue, and all the back story that kept cropping up when it was necessary.
An interesting note is that not only do the good guys buy the farm in this book, but so do some of the villains. The hit team that first goes after Bravo and Jenny are extremely memorable, and their back story fits right into the tale, deepening the characters effortlessly and giving them more reasons to kill our hero and heroine than simply, “I’m the bad guy. It’s my job.” In fact, I was surprised when I felt sorry for them. That was totally unexpected.
The crux of the plot revolves around “The Quintessence,” a miraculous element that brought Jesus Christ back to life – unknown to anyone else. Although there is a testament (which gives the book its name) written by Jesus that outlines the rest of his life. The Order of the Gnostic Observatines chooses one person for life to be the keeper of this most fabulous of secrets that promises immortality. Dexter Shaw was the last keeper of the testament, and he’s left that dangerous job to Bravo.
The Testament is a great thriller read. It’s a little light on history and legends compared to The Da Vinci Code (but even that book got some things wrong, as evidenced by the writing that swiftly followed publication), and other practitioners like Steve Berry, but what Lustbader offers is what he’s been selling all along: fantastic action that zips along at a breakneck pace. Will it change your life or give you more research at your fingertips than any of the other Da Vinci-style thrillers out there? No. But what the book will give you is hours of reading pleasure and vicarious thrills. And just enough of a puzzle to keep you turning the pages late into the night.
When it first came out, Project Snowblind didn’t really hit my radar. I saw it on the shelves, but I hadn’t heard much about it. The game was written up in the magazines, but no one I knew was talking about it. Before I shell out $40 to $50 bucks for a game, I want to hear it’s great from someone I know. But somehow the buzz about the game never picked up.
The box art looks good, but at the time the shelves were filling up with first-person shooters wrapped in special forces lore. I figured it was just one more and took a pass. I think a lot of people did, which is a shame because it is really a great little game.
Project Snowblind was developed by Crystal Dynamics, the same nice folks who gave us the Legacy of Kain games, the Gex games, and the latest Lara Croft game, Tomb Raider Legends. It was published by Eidos, and Eidos has now taken Crystal Dynamics in a partnership.
This week we got snowbound in Oklahoma. Ice storm swept in and locked the city down cold. Two days without school, without the daily rat race of taking the kids somewhere they had to be. So my wife and I laid in enough groceries to get us through. She’s a school teacher so she was off work, and I work at home. On Thursday morning, being the beautiful and sweet woman that she is, she made a mercy run. Bought junk food, soft drinks, and Project Snowblind, which is appropriately named for the situation we were in (these are merely two of the several reasons I married her! The fact that she feeds us video games and has a wicked sense of humor!).
She and my nine-year-old promptly sat down and started wiping out the bad guys. I had a deadline so I couldn’t play, which was a real bummer. But I took the occasional peek at the game as they played. It looked good. It looked intriguing. They died in places I really didn’t think I would have.
Thankfully, I have strong willpower. I didn’t ask for a controller. I walked away until I got my work done. Then I sat down to take up the good fight, to save the world one more time.
In Project Snowblind I started out as Nathan Frost, a true warrior’s name. I was in command of a special forces unit responsible for helping restore the peace in Hong Kong after a band of terrorists calling themselves the Republic started causing problems. That was cool. I love hitting the ground running in these games.
The problem was, I kept hitting the ground. Dying. Again and again. Then I remembered that I had a team and quit trying to Rambo my way through the game. Maybe my reflexes aren’t what I remember them being. It had been a while since I’d played a game this demanding. So I started slowly taking the battlefield, inch by inch, and relying more on my team. After all, they were all around me and turned out to be pretty good shots.
So I was feeling pretty good about taking out all the bad guys in less time than it had taken my wife (she’s no slouch when it comes to gaming, but I have an edge on her because I don’t get vertigo from the spinning camera action from these types of games that she does; so I beat her time because my stamina is better; yay me). About that time, the game shifts to a cut-scene. Nathan Frost tries to save a fellow soldier who’s been wounded. Before Frost can get them clear, they get blown up.
I get blown up. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d done something wrong. But the military quickly scraped all my pieces together and rebuilt me into a super-soldier. (If I’d read the back of the box, I’d have known that. But I didn’t read the back of the box, and I never read the instruction manual. If a game is good, it’s got an interface that trains you on the job.)
I got cool vision powers and a type of super-speed to start with. But more powers kept showing up as I powered through the game. In short order, I could power up and become nearly invulnerable, see in the dark, revive myself after a death experience, and turn invisible. I was king of the battlefield. As long as I didn’t get too cocky. Because then I would get dead. Just to remind me that super doesn’t mean I can’t be killed.
The graphics in the game are really good. I play on a 42-inch screen and there was no graininess, only smooth color and movement. The camera angles overlap nicely, providing fluid movement and the best seat in the house for any engagement. The sound is also good, providing a lot of the immersive feel of the game.
The action is piled on, constantly throwing me into the path of danger. But that’s the only way I could play the hero to my troops!
Project Snowblind is a fantastic game for enthusiasts of first-person shooters. The game has a plot, and the characterization is deep enough to pull you in, and the overall storytelling compels you to finish the game – or die trying! I really liked the super abilities, but the game was designed well enough that those abilities didn’t make the game too easy once you employed them. In addition, you can drive vehicles, making for some hairy action that is a total blast. It’s not Halo, people, but then nothing is. But for a change of pace and some sheer fun, pick up Project Snowblind. I see it everywhere from $10 to $20, and at either price you get great value.
Just remember: shoot first, ask questions later, and keep your head down!
You are The Wheel of Fortune
Good fortune and happiness but sometimes a species of
intoxication with success
The Wheel of Fortune is all about big things, luck, change, fortune. Almost always good fortune. You are lucky in all things that you do and happy with the things that come to you. Be careful that success does not go to your head however. Sometimes luck can change.
What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.
I consider myself to be fairly well-informed when it comes to news matters. I keep up with breaking news on MSN.com, and I supplement that with occasional magazines in the store that catch my eye. Usually I pick up magazines that offer additional coverage of a news story or someone who wants to offer a different take on what is actually going on.
After all, I am a writer. I need to know more about what’s going on – or at least think I do – than most people. To me, the world is an immensely interesting place. I rely on books, movies, and fact-based DVDs like this one to keep me on top of my game.
I even check out the BBC websites and other internationals news sites to see what’s going on in other parts of the world. Still, no matter how hard you try, there’s simply too much going on to keep abreast of it all.
It doesn’t help when a story is casually brushed under the rug and kept out of the news.
That’s what’s been going on down in Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican town that has grown large enough to straddle the border between Texas and Mexico. “This city kills people,” says Charles Bowden, author Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future.
The figures vary, but most experts and political activists agree that over 400 young Mexican women have been kidnapped, raped, murdered, and tossed out into the desert in the last 13 years. In addition to that, over 4000 more people have gone missing in that same time period, and most – if not all – of those are presumed murdered as well.
Steev Hise (www.detritus.net) describes himself as a cultural artist. He claims to focus on the “appropriation and recontextualization of pre-existing cultural artifacts in other words, making new art from the old.”
After watching his work in On The Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez, I think he’s more of a journalist than he might perhaps realize or want to own up to. His portrayal of the problem in that city is at once matter-of-fact and moving. His investigation into the causes is extremely well thought out and presented in a manner that is easy to understand. Even if the subject matter is so hard to take.
I live in Oklahoma, which practically puts this problem in my backyard, yet I hadn’t heard about it other than an episode of “Criminal Minds” last year that didn’t lay out as many facts as Hise’s DVD does. Expect to hear more as Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas star in Bordertown when it releases at the theaters.
Hise interviews several people during the 58-minute documentary, and all of them are a combination of passionate and jaded. They know this story intimately, and it still moves them, but you can tell they’re just tired of telling it and watching as it falls on deaf ears. They know, but they wish everyone else knew too.
The first problem in Ciudad Juarez is the abject poverty. Many United States manufacturing corporations have built plants there, but most employees make less than $4 a day. But that’s more than the $1.90 a day earned by most employees. When you see the footage of the streets, you can tell poverty has a stranglehold on the city and is grinding it back down into the dust.
That problem is immediately coupled with neglect. Too many people don’t want to get involved. No true investigation has been done because too many of those in official positions don’t want to know what’s really going on. Mexican police don’t start acting until 72 hours have passed after paperwork has been filed about a missing person. In 2004, Special Prosecutor Maria Lopez Urbina filed charges against 81 policemen for being negligent or incompetent.
As a result, when pressured, Mexican police have started prosecuting the first man they can find who was associated with the murdered woman. Usually it’s the husband or a family member. Many of these men are innocent of the charges, but they’re tortured into a confession. Fearful for their own freedom, many choose not to get involved.
Corruption has always been a problem in Mexico, just as it’s been a problem in all countries where organized crime exists. Criminal enterprises are profitable, and there’s usually enough to pay off several people. Policemen don’t make enough money as policemen to support their families, so everyone knows they’ll be taking bribes somewhere down the road.
Migration is still another problem. With its proximity to the United States, many people flood into Ciudad Juarez with the hopes of working at US plants or crossing the border illegally and finding work there. Many of those interviewed bring out the fact that women get hired for those jobs more than men do (because they come from a culture where women are trained from birth to be docile), creating a disparity between the sexes that causes any number of problems in the home. This increases the incidence of domestic violence.
The DVD brings out the fact that Free Trade (North American Free Trade Agreement) causes friction and Mexico is totally unprotected. Globalization has hurt many smaller nations, and I can see where that’s starting to hit home in the United States now as jobs are outsourced and benefits fade away. Mexico, once a country that was known for corn harvests, now imports, a move that put over a million independent farmers out of business.
In addition to putting together a presentation about an important problem that simply isn’t getting enough attention, Hise has produced a moving body of work. His camera becomes our eyes, and he triggers the questions we have as we learn more about the murders and the conditions that exist in Ciudad Juarez.
I certainly got more than I’d intended when I asked to review this DVD. It’s something that’s going to stay with me for a long time, and probably something I’m going to write about again.
In the meantime, read up on the problem. You’ll find that women’s rights are largely ignored in many African countries, too, which is why the United Nations is putting embargoes against them. But the scary part is that eventually this kind of treatment isn’t going to be localized in certain parts of the world, but be a global phenomenon. And one that isn’t limited to region, race, or religion.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Iron Man Animated Movie Coming January 23, 2007!
I saw part of the trailer for this one on the Ultimate Avengers 2 DVD and got excited. Now that I've seen the latest trailer
I have to admit that I can't wait. It really looks like they've done this one right. I love being able to watch these DVDs with Chandler!