Monday, December 24, 2007

Just Found This Series!

There must be something about brothers that really interest readers and television fans. Supernatural is big on television, and Rob Thurman’s new series about Caliban and Niko are becoming big hits in the paperback arena. The first two books, Nightlife and Moonshine are out now, and Madhouse is coming out in February of 2008.

On the surface, the series looks like one of the many entries into the urban fantasy arena, but the books come with a twist. Caliban, or Cal, as he prefers to be called, is half-Dark Elf (Auphe) and has some kind of dark destiny that the brothers are only now starting to get a handle on. Cal’s mother had an affair – for money – with his Auphe father and he was born, a hybrid unlike anything that had ever been birthed before. Suffice to say that Cal wasn’t born into a nurturing home.

However, what Cal did have was his older brother, Niko, who is a self-styled samurai warrior and Renaissance man. Since Day One, Niko has been Cal’s protector and mentor, a super-parent that has more or less given up his life in order to make sure Cal grew up. Cal feels tremendous amounts of guilt over this, but there’s nothing he can do about it. His life has been entirely too strange – and that’s before you take into account the two years the Grendels (Dark Elves) kidnapped him to their world and did unspeakable things to him that he still can’t remember.

The relationship between the brothers is the foundation that makes everything else work. I could constantly see them around each other and in each other’s lives. Even those times when Niko wasn’t on stage with Cal, I was constantly aware of him.

The first-person narrative Cal treats us to is often sarcastic, but also touching. He is mocking and self-deprecating, but at the same time accessibly human and easy to feel sympathy for. He’s a loner, and he’s so much an outcast that he’s dragged his brother off into the same kind of horrible existence.

The plot of the first novel is loose. All Cal and Niko are trying to do is survive one more day. We get to see them doing that, and the peek into their lives and their world is a lot of fun. Author Rob Thurman has a lot to work with, given the creations she’s thrown at her readers so far. There’s a lot of backstory that hasn’t yet been explored.

Nightlife is a whirlwind adventure that doesn’t focus on the fate of the world, just the fates of the two main characters, which should be enough for any novel, though too many authors these days forget that. I also liked the addition of Robin Goodfellow, and I hope he hangs around as a series regular.

This book is pure pulp of the best kind. It offers no apologies or excuses for what it is. I enjoyed it from the first page to the last, and had very few places where I could rest comfortably. The story and the questions it launched kept pulling me back in time and again. That’s what the best ones do. Now I’m going to read Moonshine and anxiously await Madhouse.

If you haven’t discovered this series yet, you should. There’s no overarching romance story that keeps hitting you between the eyes. This is adventure on the purest level, and adrenaline will keep you turning the pages.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wanna Get Lucky?

I write reviews for The last few days one of the reviewers has written to the main board because he felt he might be treading on thin ice ethically. He's received free tickets to a show he's going to review. Now the people want to throw in a free, fancy dinner before the show as well.

He's worried about being compromised, and about the expectations of the people providing everything.

I was quiet for a few days. I thought it would all work itself out. But he's been getting all kinds of advice from different people.

Myself, I prefer simple, easy-to-understand advice.

When I couldn't sit back quietly anymore, this is what I sent to him:

Okay, I've sat back and kept my mouth shut. Can't resist adding my two cents.

Think of the comped meal as a date. They're asking you out on a date. I've asked women out on dates, and had women ask me out on dates. My wife and I both have hectic schedules, so we still set up dates. It's the only way we can do a lot of things together.

But I digress.

Here's the bottom line: Just because you agree to go out on a "date" with someone, they should know better than to expect to get "lucky." Man, if taking someone out to eat was all it took to get "lucky," I'd have been handing out McDonalds gift cards to women who caught my eye a long time ago.

I apologize if I offended anyone, but this just seemed too humorous to pass up.

Don't stress. Go. Enjoy. The last thing they want is a bunch of empty seats at the dinner tables.


Friday, December 21, 2007

One of My Favorite Series Coming To DVD!

Since we're on the subject of spieces, I just found out THE EQUALIZER, starring Edward Woodward, is coming to DVD in February. I loved this show, but I was working nights when it was on and didn't get to watch all the episodes. In fact, I missed most of them. Didn't have a VCR at the time either.

It ran for four series and was some of the best entertainment on television at the time. Loved the music. Loved the acting. And I loved Mickey, who was every gun nut's favorite gun nut. Mickey never used a .22 when a bazooka would do the job even bigger.

If you haven't seen this show before, this would be a perfect time. If you love BURN NOTICE, you'll like THE EQUALIZER.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Looking for Reviewers!

A new spy series from Gold Eagle launches in January '08. I've offered to help promote the launch, and as a result I have several copies to give away.

We're needing people who review regularly on Amazon or on their own personal websites to read the books, then write up and post a review regarding the novel. Send me your name and address and I'll happily send one your way.

Here's the info about the book: As revealed at San Diego's Comic-Con, ROOM 59 is Gold Eagle's brand-new thriller/adventure series launching in January 2008.

The Players: ROOM 59 is a multinational policing agency sanctioned to terminate global threats that governments can’t touch. Its high-level operatives are seasoned in the dangerous game of espionage and counterterrorism. A Room 59 mission puts everything on the line; emotions run high, and so does the body count.

Written by Cliff Ryder, each ROOM 59 novel is a stand-alone story featuring intricate plots, thrilling action, nail-biting suspense and the timeless battle of good and evil.

The first book of the series is The Powers That Be: When a double agent in Cuba suddenly disappears, there’s concern that he might have gone rogue, working against ROOM 59 and the world at large. But one of the agency’s top spymasters has a blood tie to the operative in question, which leaves him with an agonizing choice: allow the mission to be scrubbed, and leave thousands to die in the resulting bloodbath—or risk everything he knows, including his career, to keep his secret deeply buried.

ROOM 59: The Powers That Be will be in stores January 2008.

And you can go here for a preview:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mel of Yesteryear

I turned 50 Sunday. It was tough. I'd been dreading it for months, and with other things that were out of control in my life, I really struggled through it. Today, it's not so bad. I know I won't have to do that again!

When I was at my mom's on Thanksgiving, I raided her photo stash. There weren't as many as I remembered. I've got four brothers and they beat me to a lot of stuff. But I made copies and I'm taking the originals back to Mom on Christmas.

But going through these pictures made me realize how far I've come. What you're looking at here is an eight-year-old boy who spent his summers on a horse, crawdad fishing, chasing snakes, and investigating every interesting hole that was open in the five acres of oil company land next to where Daddy had his service station in Oklahoma City.

The service station was a Fina unit on NE 23rd and Bartell Road. We lived there from 1965 to 1969, and moved to Seminole right before the lunar landing. Things have changed over there as well.

Daddy had been gone from the family for a few months and we hadn't gotten to see him. When we arrived, he had a trailer house out in back of the station for us to live in, and a couple of Shetland ponies that weren't quite broke. I ended up breaking them. I broke horses from the age of seven till I was a freshman in college. (Now I worry when my kids play organized sports! I didn't think anything about getting hurt when I was that age, and I guess most adults didn't either. Also, the horse in this picture is a Shetland, not one of the full-sized horses -- paints, appaloosas, and quarterhorse mix -- that we broke for other people.)

People talk about guys being cowboys these days because they like to ride horses, be around livestock, and drive old pickup trucks. I wasn't. Daddy had horses because he wanted them, and we rode them for something to do -- he often made us quit riding them long before we'd had enough, but we found out you could ride a horse into the ground. We ate the livestock. And all there was to drive was old pickup trucks.

I never saw myself as a cowboy. I was just a kid who liked to ride horses and was willing to crawl up on anything anybody could put a bridle on. I've got the injuries to prove it, though we didn't discover most of them till I was older. I got thrown off, bit, stomped, kicked, and generally abused by everything I managed to throw a leg over. I thought it was great fun. Then again, I didn't get killed so that was a plus. Growing up like that probably made me the adrenaline junkie I am now.

I look back on those days and can't believe that was me. But it was. I've got the memories to prove it. The horse's name was Cocoa and the birddog's name was Noble. He was the first birddog I'd ever seen at that time, and he was a constant companion for me all over that eighty acres.

That saddle I'm sitting on was mostly new and cost a whopping $50, which Daddy had to pay out. For a year I rode horses without one. You don't break horses with saddles on them because you don't want the saddles torn up. Riders, Daddy always thought, were expendable. I figured I was always smart enough and skilled enough to stay on top of a horse that was trying to throw me off, knock me off under a tree limb, or shed me through strands of barbed wire. Mostly I was right -- eventually. I never found an unbroken horse I could sit the first time, and some times not even the first day. It took a lot of bruises to break a horse with spirit.

Of course, back then we didn't have video games and our only action figures were stick people with capes. Horses didn't stand a chance against a bored kid in need of an action fix. Horses got tired. Back then, I was ready to go all day.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Spinning Fire!

Every year I teach college, I end up learning as much as the students, it seems. I didn't even know anyone did this.

My student in these pictures showed me these and you could see the pride in her eyes and hear it in her voice. I love being around someone who loves what they're doing.

She's part of a group of street performers. I can't imagine setting yourself on fire every night. Or at least coming close to doing that. But she obviously loves it. I hope to catch the next show they do.

These images were taken by a photography student friend who was experimenting with the light exposures. They look totally cool!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

My Pick For Best Kids' Chapter Book of 2007
(but adults are encouraged to read it too!)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid just made my list of Top 10 Books of 2007. After listening to my fourth grader rave about the book, which he found on the internet of all places because it’s been published there, I ordered a hardcover edition of the book. I know that kids who find a book they love will read it over and over again, and the choice as a parent is whether to buy it in hardcover or buy it in paperback over and over. Since paperbacks don’t always stay in print and hardcovers sometimes appreciate dramatically in price, I opted for the hardcover copy.

It came in today. My son sat down with it immediately. Even though he’d read the whole book on the internet, he loved the idea of being able to hold it in his hands. He flipped through the pages and made certain all his favorite jokes were still in place, which was amusing to watch because I’ve done the same thing.

One of the amazing things I’ve learned since is that the whole book is available on the internet. You can find it at Feel free to preview the whole book if you like, the author has generously placed it there, but it’s gone on to be a #1 seller in hardcover and paperback all the same. Free on the internet is one thing, but books and portability are best.

Since most of the television shows my wife and I watch on Friday nights were suspended or repeats and I needed a mental vacation after the stress of pounding the keyboard all day, I picked up Diary of a Wimpy Kid and started turning pages. I didn’t stop till I’d devoured the last page.

The book is a flat-out laugh riot from page one to page 217. With pencil drawings that look like they were made by an early elementary school student, it was also an incredibly fast read.

The story is about Greg Heffley, which is kind of like Jeff Kinney if you look at it right. Greg’s in sixth grade and isn’t exactly a social butterfly or even much accepted by the other kids. In fact, he’s lucky if they notice he’s alive.

Greg’s got a regular mom and dad, but Jeff Kinney paints them so vividly with just little details that you can’t help feeling you know these people. His dad has a violent streak when it comes to punishing Greg on the spot. Greg even points out when there are good times to screw up and bad times to screw up. Hint: a good time is when his dad is reading the paper; a bad time is when his dad is building a brick wall. Line drawings accompany this. Greg’s also got an older and younger brother that helps drive him crazy at home. The younger brother, Manny, doesn’t really speak, but he’s into everything.

Greg’s older brother, Rodrick, has his own band and generally stays out of Greg’s life. However, the relationship between the two comes to the forefront every now and again. Rodrick doesn’t mind putting something over on Greg or making him look bad.

The things that make this book work the most, and kept me turning pages, are Greg’s insights on life. He’s not a good kid. He’s not a bad kid either. He’s just a kid. One part scared, one part “that’s not fair”, and one part selfish. It’s the selfish part of Greg that brings about observations about popularity, such as his acknowledgement that he’s number fifty-something popular among the boys, but he’s due to move up a spot because one of the other boys is about to get braces.

His efforts to get out of trouble without having to actually take responsibility for his actions are amazingly dead-on for the age group Kinney is writing about. The fact that Greg’s unwilling to give up trick or treating is good. The touchstones of elementary school life, like the Cheese that’s haunted the outdoor basketball court for a year and gave birth to the Cheese Touch myth that actually ended up making one kid movie way, are here as well.

There are literally hundreds of reasons to buy this book. Number one is that it is the perfect gift for kids who are reluctant readers. Christmas is upon us. Kids are going to be thrown in cars for trips to see relatives, and this book will guarantee some quiet time – except for snickers and outright belly laughs.

I had an absolute blast with it. Before I knew it, I was committing the unpardonable sin of reading sections aloud to my wife while she was watching television. Normally I enforce that one to keep my own television watching manageable. However, I was soon that guy. The book is just too good not to share, so here I am sharing it with you.

Do your kid a favor and go buy the book. But make time to read it yourself. This is one that I think a lot of people will read and tell friends about. Then mark February 2008 down as the release month of the second book, Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. I’ve already got mine on order.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Favorite Western Hero!

When I was a child back in the early 1960s, I wanted to grow up to be a hero. I tied a towel around my neck and was sometimes Superman or Batman. I ululated in the back yard like Tarzan and shamed the cats in the neighborhood. I ran as fast as Jonny Quest in my PF Flyers.

But the one I loved most of all at that time was the Lone Ranger. His adventures came on every afternoon, and I’d get home from school in time to watch him shoot the guns out of the bad men’s hands, give lectures on the evils of, well…evil, and leave that cool silver bullet behind so people could ask, “Who was that masked man?”

The Lone Ranger was the brainchild of George W. Trendle, a radio producer, but he was given life by Fran Striker in radio script and novel form, and brought to iconic life on television by Clayton Moore.

But in the beginning, he was a young Texas Ranger named John Reid who was with his father and brother the day they were gunned down by Butch Cavendish’s men. Reid clawed his way out of the grave, donned his signature mask, and started cleaning up the West.

The last couple of years, Dynamite Entertainment Comics brought the Lone Ranger back to comics, which had to have been one of the coolest and riskiest things ever done. I mean, in an age of FaceBook and MySpace, who’d buy a cowboy hero?

More people should, because the graphic story rendered by Brent Matthews (a Hollywood scriptwriter) and Sergio Cariello (an award-winning graphic artist) is one of the best stories that came out in novel form this summer. The story is familiar to everyone, but Matthews’s way of telling it in cinematic presentation, and Cariello’s beautiful drawings, give the tale a life that hasn’t been seen before.

There’s enough new twists and turns, between the principal characters as well as the legend itself, that even old-time fans like me will find something to celebrate and enjoy.

I loved the pacing of the book. The story came to life and moved toward an emotional peak that will leave you breathless at the end. I enjoyed the way the friendship that developed between the Lone Ranger and Tonto was the same, yet different, from everything I’d known. That relationship was re-imagined in a way that works perfectly.

Matthews stays off the page as an author. Some comics authors give in to the temptation to clutter the pages up with narrative boxes and dialogue. Matthews is only there when he needs to be. He stays out of the way and lets Cariello work his magic.

The art is astounding. Vivid and raw, I could taste the dust and feel the heat of the day as I zipped through the panels. At first glance, Cariello’s art looks a lot like Joe Kubert’s pencils. Kubert was another favorite of mine for his tenure on Sgt. Rock and The Haunted Tank as well as several other war strips.

The graphic novel has drawn some flak from Lone Ranger purists, but I believe it’s one of the best stories that’s ever been done that brings in all the elements of the character. I loved the story enough that, after finishing it the first time, I opened the cover again and read it once more.

If you like the Lone Ranger, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Unless you’re one of those purists. If you want a good read or a fine example of everything the graphic novel can be, you’ll want this book. So saddle up, pardner, because it’s time to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Book Reviews Are Up At Bookhound!

Go to (in the links on the right side of this page) to see the latest book reviews I've posted.

I'm listed with some heavy-hitters in the pulp field!

The Avenger Chronicles - Coming in March/April!Written by: Max McCoy, Robert Randisi, Ron Goulart, Tom DeFalco, Joe Gentile, Robert Greenberger, Clay and Susan Griffiths, CJ Henderson, Howard Hopkins, Paul Kupperberg, Chris Mills, Will Murray, Mel Odom, Gary Phillips, Martin Powell, James Reasoner, Richard Dean Starr, and Dan Wickline.Interior Art: Andy Bennett & Dave AikinsCover Art: Peter Caras, Dave Dorman, Doug KlaubaEdited by: Joe Gentile336 pages, b/w, Squarebound, 6”x9”, $17.95.

Moonstone Books
The Avenger…All-New Stories for the Next Generation!Moonstone Books is proud to present this original anthology featuring eighteen never before seen tales of The Avenger, the first new Justice, Inc. fiction in more than thirty years! The Avenger Chronicles includes incredible, action-packed stories by some of today’s best writers in comics and fiction including:In addition to this impressive lineup, The Avenger Chronicles includes stunning cover artwork by one of the original Avenger paperback cover artists, Peter Caras (creator of more than 1,700 cover paintings, & a student of Norman Rockwell), and original interior illustrations by Andy Bennett (Vampire: The Masquerade) and Dave Aikins (Zombie, the Board Game).

Out of Tragedy, a Hero Is Reborn…In the roaring heart of the crucible, steel is made. In the raging flame of personal tragedy, men are sometimes forged into something more than human. Wealthy and successful at an early age, Richard Benson was preparing to enjoy a long and happy life with his family when crime took away his wife and young daughter. Once he was just a man, but now he is a machine of vengeance dedicated to the extermination of all crime. A figure of ice and steel, but more pitiless than both, Benson has become a symbol to crooks and killers--a terrible, almost impersonal force, masking cold genius and a nearly supernatural power behind a face as white and still as a dead man’s mask. Only pale eyes, like ice in a polar dawn, hint at what awaits criminals when they invoke the rage of millionaire adventurer Richard Benson -- The Avenger!

Now, for the first time in over 30 years, the fearless/expressionless crime fighter; the man with the moldable face, the man with the shock white hair and the pale grey eyes, is back in action in a stunning collection of stories featuring all the action, adventure, and revenge Avenger fans have come to expect! From noir adventure and two-fisted action, to emotional tales of inner demons, join The Avenger for an E-ticket thrill ride! Book Trade version/Cover A: by Peter CarasDirect Market Version/Cover B: by Dave DormanLimited Edition Hardcover: (limit of 300) original cover art of the entire Justice Inc crew by Doug Klauba AND ALSO includes an exclusive to this hardcover special Avenger story by Chinese/Indonesian Martial Arts (KunTao Silat) master Joe Judt. SRP: $44.00 You can pre-order the Limited Edition online now.

Cover by Dave Dorman
Cover by Peter Caras
The Avenger: Justice, Inc. Lithograph - Coming in March/April!One of the forgotten heroes of the adventure pulps, The Avenger, did not achieve the level of fame as such contemporaries as The Shadow or Doc Savage. His self-titled magazine lasted a mere 24 issues, with the writing credited to “Kenneth Robeson, the creator of Doc Savage.” Robeson was actually a “house name” owned by publisher Street & Smith, with staff writers doing the actual writing.

The adventures of The Avenger were brought to a new audience when they were reprinted in paperback form in 1973-1974, followed up by 12 new stories written by author Ron Goulart under the Robeson pseudonym. The Avenger also appeared in a 4-issue DC Comics series in 1975, and in a 2-issue mini-series in the early 1980s.

The Avenger lithograph from Moonstone Books is painted by Peter Caras, a student of the legendary illustrator Norman Rockwell, and the original cover artist of the ‘70s paperback reprints. It will be available in March 2008 in a limited edition of 200, signed and numbered by the artist, with a remarked edition also available at extra cost Moonstone Books

Sunday, November 18, 2007

One of My Favorite Movies

Julia Roberts gave an Academy Award winning performance in this movie, and it's one of my favorite movies. Maybe that's because I was a single parent with four kids for two and half years and those were hard years. The story, and Roberts, are so genuine and real and innocent, that I can't help cheering every time I see it.

People who know me also know that generally I go for the cop/action shows. I love choreographed fight scenes, lots of big guns, and car chases. Live Free or Die Hard comes out Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to getting my John McLane mac on again next week.

But Erin's story, and it was real because I've read about that too, is all about making a difference, rising above your station in life to assume a responsibility no one in their right might would shoulder, learning more about yourself than you ever thought you could, and sticking it to the powers-that-be and breaking it off.

Now that's the stuff dreams are made of! I don't know how many times I've seen this movie, but it's out on HD DVD now as well as DVD. This movie belongs on the home entertainment shelves. And if you haven't seen it -- do so.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Getting REALLY Excited About The New Iron Man Movie!

Go look at the trailer released at and see if you don't feel the same way. Can't wait to see the Golden Avenger in action.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Got Interviewed In This Book

I just received an email from a young woman named Kaitlyn who informed me she'd just read this book. I was interviewed a couple of years ago by the author (which kind of goes to show you how long it sometimes takes to get a book into print).

I'd forgotten all about it, though Nicholas Guyatt was (and probably still is) a very nice guy. I was practically on the phone with him when he found out he and his wife were expecting their first child. So I'm looking forward to the book.

But, again, this shows how safe it is to tell me your deepest, darkest secrets. If I can't remember everything that goes on in my life, how can I possibly remember anything you tell me?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Arrrrg, Matey!

After karate practice, I took Chandler to go get the rest of the Deltora Quest series. He just started reading them and really likes them. I have a kid that reads!

Anyway, while browsing the new arrivals section, I chanced across this gem. Gene Wolfe is an elegant writer whom I've had the opportunity to twice meet. He's a great guy and tells wonderful stories.

I'm really looking forward to this one and will report as soon as I've read it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Am I The Only Person In The World Not Playing This Game?

Everywhere I go, people are talking about this game. I haven't played Guitar Hero 1 or 2 yet. Am I missing something?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

ARG, Matey! That's Alternate Reality Gaming!

Last night's episode of Numb3rs was awesome as usual. I love the interplay of the charactes as the relationships have to be sorted through on a regular basis.

However, the episode also mentioned ARGs, alternate reality games. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, they're games that involve computer gaming combined with the real world. GPS handhelds and WiFi figure into real-time geographic locations.

For instance, you can beat a section of an on-line game and get the coordinates to a physical location that involves a physical prize. Perplex City, ( as shown above, offered card sets to players at different times.

Geo-caching was one of the earliest real-time, real place games that allowed real players to interact with each other. I think more of this will go on as computer equipment gets smaller and WiFi is more prevalent.

Those of you who are interested can check it out at (

Friday, November 09, 2007

Coming in January '08!

Isn't that a great cover?

Batman Marked For Death By DC Comics!

There's a valid rumor going around that Bruce Wayne's tenure as the cowled crusader may be over. According to the story I read at, Bruce Wayne will soon be dead and Dick Grayson or Jason Todd will be in the cowl.

I can't see this happening with the cartoon currently on television and with a new franchise of movies just getting underway.

However, Marvel Comics has -- at least for the foreseeable future -- killed off iconic hero Captain America. Steve Rogers is currently dead, and people are vying to step into his boots. They're interesting stories, but I really don't want to have to pay for them by losing my heroes.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Organ Donor Driver's License

Today was interesting. I'd had plans to hook up with a friend of mine, Josh Pace, a reporter I got to know while he was covering the Moore beat for The Moore American. We've become friends over the last few years and go out to eat. We even went to The Transformers with my little guy, Chandler.

Well, this morning Chandler was kind of down. I've been working all day on Mondays and Wednesdays, and he's not used to not getting to see me on those days. Plus, he's been to the ER twice in the last week for his asthma.

We went the first time on Halloween night, which was when I discovered that the hospital staff dresses up. I'm still kind of undecided how I feel about that. It was weird being attended by witchy nurse. I mean, I'm there for Western drugs and I'm figuring she's got a bagful of home remedies. I'm wondering how I'm going to get Chandler to swallow an eye of newt or a salamander's tongue. Maybe I could pass it off as a glass-eyed Cheerio and a red licorice twist, you know?

And I had to wonder about the guys in the doctor outfits. Suppose one of them took us behind a curtained area and said, "Hey, look. The x-ray machine is broken, but I've got this nifty little camera. Why don't you hop up on that table and get undressed for me?"

I could see a problem.

Anyway, he was stuck with taking his lunch or eating spaghetti at school. I could see there was no love in his eyes. He'd obviously been attacked by a funsucker and left drained dry. So I invited him to lunch with us.

We were also joined by my 18-year-old who's in full-stride in his "I'm a poor college student," lunch mooching mode.

During lunch, we talked. Well, mostly we listened to Chandler. He trotted out an encyclopedic knowledge of strange animals he gleaned from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Guinness Book of World Records 2008.

I initially bought him Guinness at Wal-Mart one night while he still had his foot in a cast. I always put him in the buggy at that time so he wouldn't have to use crutches or risk getting stepped on or knocked down by adults. We were there for 45 minutes. He read to me from Guinness during the whole foray. It was pretty interesting stuff. I noticed a few adults who kind of hung with us an aisle or two while he finished off an article that caught their attention. Chandler even dealt with a couple of rebuttals regarding facts. But he's stubborn and stuck to his guns.

So anyway, we had the buffet while Chandler dealt out the facts about such animal wildlife as the masked booby (which, the first time he told me about it, led to all kinds of concerns on my part as to what he was looking at on the internet)

the world's largest rodent, the capybara

the world's smallest monkey, the pygmy marmoset

bearded ladies

and the world's tallest man.

Then we took him back to school.

It was at that point that Shiloh, my college student, told me he'd lost his driver's license and needed to get a duplicate. So we went to the tag agency.

And, since the computer system was down, we spent over an hour waiting for a duplicate license to be made.

While we were there, we ended up talking with a young stripper equipped with one of the most intriguing tramp stamps I've ever seen. And it was in full view of everyone at the tag agency.

At this time, Shiloh also elected to become an organ donor. I was of mixed feelings about that and I hadn't expected to get into that whole issue and have to think about my son in that context.

Before I could get too deeply into that, Josh said that he'd thought about donating his body to science. I told him he really didn't want to do that. He asked me why. I told him that the last thing you want to do is give a dead body to college-aged medical students. He was under the impression they just hollowed the body out and let them play with the organs.

I explained that no, the colleges got the whole body. And I've talked to guys who've been to medical school. They even showed me the pictures of their corpses they worked on all year. It was kind of harsh anyway, but some of the pictures they had showed the gags they did with the bodies. Makeup, disguises, poses, etc.

All while you're lying there dead and nude, revealed for all the world to see and recorded for, well, not for posterity, I can tell you.

I told Josh he'd be the center of attention in his own Weekend At Bernie's --only he'd be the unrated version. Not me. I know somebody's gotta do it. But I don't take pictures well as it is. I can only imagine how bad they would be if I were dead and nude.

Gentle But Chilling Horror With Heart

I grew up in Southern Oklahoma. We know from ghost stories there. They’re stories that scare us more than any serial killer/slasher/evil poltergeist/vampire/werewolf/zombie movie in the world. Because we know most of us will never meet a serial killer or slasher, and we’re fairly confident that evil poltergeists, vampires, werewolves, and zombies don’t exist. When we’re young and go for a walk across a graveyard at night, we don’t worry about those things.

We worry about ghosts. Because in Southern Oklahoma, we’re up to our ears in Gothic ghost stories that have been handed down through families for generations. Not everyone will claim to believe in them, though. In fact, a lot of people will say they don’t believe in ghosts, but get them alone in a house at night with a few unexplained noises in the background and they’ll have no trouble remembering when they did believe in them.

John Wooley grew up in Oklahoma too. He’s told some of the best stories about vampires and monsters out there. Not only that, but he’s an acknowledged authority on movies, pulps, and music. He worked as a journalist for years and, with Michael H. Price, does a recurring column on old horror movies for Fangoria magazine. Now he still writes and does a Western swing radio show, Swing On This.

I saw John this weekend at the Red Dirt Festival, an Oklahoma Library event that’s held every two years. We sat around and told stories, a few new ones, but also some of the old ones we pulled out and dusted off to tell again. While we were talking, he told me about his latest novel, Ghost Band. I hadn’t heard about it. We stink at staying in touch it seems, but we’re both busy guys.

The first thing I wanted to know was what a ghost band was. John told me that it was a band put together behind a dead man or dead band’s name. A tribute of sorts to those who had gone on before, but also something to give to the fans. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s present reincarnation.

So I picked up his book and brought it home. I read it while I should have been working. If I have to defend myself, I’ll swear that I was possessed. Tomorrow I’ll be haunted by deadlines, but today I was gripped by his seductive tale of a ghost woman that haunts a ghost band.

Miles West plays trumpet for the Sammy Patrick Orchestra, a big-band venue that tours Oklahoma and a few states over. Miles started playing in the band right out of college and hasn’t been able to break the habit even though playing with them has cost him a major chunk of his marriage. He’s middle-aged now and the miles on the bus don’t get any easier.

Told in first-person by Miles, Ghost Band proceeds the best way ghost stories can. I was gently brought along into the tale, eased in like I was shoehorned into a favorite pair of loafers. The chapters are short and the writing is compact, and just when I was about to close the book and get back to work, Wooley expertly lured me into reading just one more chapter.

While Miles is playing one night, he sees the ghost of a woman. She appears during one of Sammy Patrick’s signature songs, “Sweethearts Forever.” Then she gestures at one of the band members. Miles freaks out and blows the trumpet solo duet he’s supposed to perform. But that night, the band member the ghost pointed at dies.

At first Miles doesn’t want to tell anyone. Not the Duke, the band leader. And not Blair, the female vocalist touring with them, who’s half Miles’s age and who’s developing a mutual crush. But when the ghost reappears and a second band member nearly dies, Miles knows he can’t keep the secret to himself.

The band is haunted. And he has to find out why.

Wooley’s prose moves smoothly and the tale hooked me deeper and deeper, till I just couldn’t give up on the book. I needed to know what was going on, and why. And there was just enough of a gentle mystery to keep me flipping pages till I reached the end. Along the way, Wooley gets a chance to talk about old movies, more music, and other loves that he has in real life.

Although I’ve been gone from that small town I grew up in for almost thirty years, Ghost Band took me back to that small house where the wind blew and whistled, where the rafters creaked, and where momma left the oven on at night to warm the house in the winter and that caused the tick-tick-ticking of cooling metal that sounded just like footsteps. For a while there, even though I know there’s no such things as ghosts (right?), I was a believer again.

Christmas Shopping List Suggestion

My ten-year-old found this book at My wife is a fourth grade teacher and she has a link to the site on her webpage. Since I'm teaching at the university on Mondays and Wednesdays, Chandler stays late with her. He found this book (the entire book!) on the webpage and read it all. So you can take it for a test drive.

My wife said he was rolling with laughter every day and couldn't wait to get his homework done so he could continue reading. Now this is a book, folks, if it can nail a kid to the story so well.

I checked and found that the book is offered at and I ordered it for my guy, and I'm going to read it and review it.

So...if you love books and have a reluctant reader in your house or have a niece of nephew you need to get something for at Christmas, I'd recommend this book base on Chandler's willingness to sit me down and tell me about it.

It's also the first of a series. The second book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, comes out in February '08.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Great Graphic Novel With Heart and Vision -- Just Released!

Although the author and illustrator say their graphic novel is a political satire that extrapolates current events regarding the Iraqi War, the Mexican immigration issue, and emerging technology as well as a healthy dose of politics, Shooting War is also a wonderfully compelling read. I was blown away by the storyline, the art, and the voice that comes from the material. I was also completely surprised by the appearance of news anchor Dan Rather and his hefty part in the graphic novel’s plot and action.

Lappe and Goldman obviously know their material and believe in their message. They don’t hold back and reach out viciously to grab the reader by the hair of the head and drag them through the harsh world they’ve created. I’d read a preview of the graphic novel almost three months ago, but even that failed to prepare me for the emotional and thought-provoking odyssey I was embarking on when I first began to turn pages.

The book actually started out as an on-line comic. Lappe had written a nonfiction book, True Lies, with Stephen Marshall that focused on the disservice they believe the media is doing to the American people. Lappe is also the executive editor of GNN (Guerilla News Network), has written for a number of magazines and other media, and was the producer of the Showtime documentary about Iraq: Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire’s Edge.

Goldman writes and draws the strip, Kelly, for and co-authored the graphic novel, Everyman: Be the People. His art is the result of a mixed media effort.

I liked the character of Jimmy Burns from the opening pages. He’s just a big kid with a new toy, a wireless camera that allows him to video-blog from anywhere there’s an internet connection. I liked his innocence, but I knew it was going to be blown out like a candle flame before the story ran its course.

In just the first few pages, Jimmy happens to be on-hand in front of a Starbucks (and you have to love the way iconic features of today’s popular culture are used and destroyed in the book) where a terrorist bomb explodes. The building, including Jimmy’s apartment, is destroyed and several people are killed. Almost overcome by the horror around him, Jimmy keeps talking into the video camera. But I got the impression that it was because he was freaked and wanted to share what was going on with someone else more than just to present a breaking news story.

Jimmy’s transmission gets seized by a local network and pumped into an international grid where the world watches. In just a couple of pages, Jimmy gets hired by Global News, the television station that hijacked his video upload, as a troubleshooter, a reporter who’s going to be in the middle of all the world’s hotspots.

Before Jimmy knows it, he’s launched into the middle of the Iraqi War. Since, in the book, it’s the year 2011, there are a lot of changes. Sadly, which is one of the messages of the book, many things remain the same.

Goldman’s art is beautiful. He overlays comics-style drawing over real photographs of places and events. The explosions are frozen, destructive poetry that draw the eye. The faces, though loosely drawn, convey strong emotions. He uses color like a weapon, subtle when he wants to stay out of the way of the reader and a barrage of attacks when he moves into a full assault on the reader’s senses.

In addition to writing a terrific plot that’s ripped from today’s headlines and giving us characters we all know and understand, Lappe also designs link titles for Jimmy’s webpage and magazine covers that are hilarious! Check out: Tom Cruise and Mary-Kate Olsen Call It Quits and let your imagination run wild.

Even though the grim material is salted with humor, Lappe and Goldman never step completely out of the darkness. The execution of a “traitor” at the hands of Abu Adallah and the Sword of Mohammed is horribly bloody business, callous and cruel.

Another aspect I truly enjoyed about the book was the use of technology. It’s not going to go away and it will continue to change our lives on a daily basis in small and large ways. Shooting War uses the emerging tech constantly, whether it’s on the handheld camera Jimmy uses or the PDAs or wallscreens on the sides of buildings. The military hardware also gets a lot of play, the older stuff as well as the newer defensive and offensive hardware.

One of the best examples of the emerging technology is the image of the recon and search and rescue teams. The blue faceplate glows and looks like a cross, making them look like instruments of some divine justice.

The authors are merciless in their views on the war. They bring in a lot of information about other freedom leaders, and point out when the United States aligned themselves with those leaders and when they didn’t. Again, all of this information came from today’s and recent headlines.

The scene where the United States soldiers get attacked and inadvertently shoot and kill a small boy is heart-wrenching to read. You can’t read stuff like this and not think of what’s going on over in the war. Innocents (and innocence) are being lost on both sides, and you can understand why people who would normally not take issue with occupying forces or domestic rebels, but how they are sometimes forced to.

I loved Dan Rather’s presence in the book, and I have to wonder how the authors and publisher got him to agree to be presented with such a strong opinion on the war and the presidency. The line between fiction and non-fiction, reality and possibility, is definitely blurred at this point, and during several others.

Shooting War has a definite slant on the war and the American presidency, as well as politics. A lot of people aren’t going to agree with everything in this book. That’s all right. I feel the authors were really provoking their readers into at least thinking something, and feeling it as well.

And if you decide to leave politics out of the entertainment, I feel you’ll be thrilled with the story that’s drawn, rendered, and written so eloquently between the pages. Shooting War is a terrific read with enough tension to keep you nailed to the pages till you finish. Even without the political statements, readers are going to feel the rush of fear, the despair of failure, and the allure of triumph.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Didn't Scare the Saucy Pirate Away!

Last Halloween in one of my college classes, I brought candy and we read horror/ghost stories. We also analyzed the plots and characters, so it wasn't all play.

However, during the selection I picked (which was read aloud in turns by the students), three of the students got nauseated and had to take a break. However, I didn't scare away Janica, the saucy pirate who dressed up for Halloween!

It's funny how our society has gotten about horror. A story generally splits an audience between being grossed out/scared or tickling their funny bones. I had students howling with laughter at the same scenes that made other students cringe.

Also, as Hilary noted, she's able to watch horror movies steeped in blood, but there was something about the story being read aloud that just totally freaked her. The power of words is immense, especially when the reader is highly imaginative. You just don't get that kind of interplay with an audience anywhere else.

I now hold the record for the most grossed-out students in class.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

So Beautiful, So Deadly

A friend of mine sent me a bunch of pictures from the recent California fires. Although devastating, the images are beautiful. The colors, the light and the dark warring, pop right out.

My heart goes out to the people there, though. Sometimes we see these images and we forget all those self-contained portraits of loss and despair. Find a place to donate and give what you can to help those who lost everything at least find some peace and independence in their lives again.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Green Lantern Coming To The Big Screen!

And I can't wait!

With all the computer graphics available now, this superhero can finally hit theaters in fantastic style. I hope they show it all: the hero stuff on earth,

the outer space adventures,

and the fantastic journeys to alien worlds.

This movie is going to focus on Hal Jordan. The Justice League live action movie that's supposed to be coming to the big screen in 2009 (and is supposed to go into production in 2008) will feature John Stewart, the black Green Lantern who was in the comics as Hal's second. Most of the younger audience are more familiar with him from the Justice League cartoons.