Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Old Warrior

I called him the Old Warrior.

He was this ragged tomcat that panhandled the neighborhood. He was an ugly gray and white patchwork that reminded me of black powder smoke drifting across a battlefield.

Sometime in his past he’d lost a fight with a car. His hips were a twisted mess of wreckage that left him arthritically slow and with a sideways gait that belonged to a dog and not an incredibly fast, inhumanly agile feline predator.

The rest of his body held scars and weals of past conflicts. His left ear was ragged and torn. And his eyes were pale gray, almost the color of your breath on a crisp autumn day. When he looked at you there was no softness in his gaze. He regarded you instantly as a threat, as an opponent he might have to overcome if you came close enough, and he weighed and measured you at a glance.

But there was no fear in those eyes either. Somewhere in there he’d made his peace with the world. You could see that. He expected no quarter, no gentleness, no kind word. All that had been taken from him.

I don’t know if anyone ever fed him.

Except my family.

This pale wreck of a cat started challenging our tom over his food dish one night. I went out to see what the problem was, intending on chasing off the offending cat. Instead, in the shadows and standing his ground defiantly, I saw the Old Warrior. I thought of calling him that instantly.

He looked at me, half the size of our cat but every inch of him steel-hard determination to eat. He backed away grudgingly because he acknowledged I was the superior predator in the vicinity. But he quit the battlefield with dignity. He didn’t run and he didn’t turn tail. He moved just quickly enough to stay out of my reach. And I saw how he’d been damaged.

I didn’t go after him, though. You see, I made the mistake of feeling sorry for him. After a few days of watching him, of trying to make friends with him – which he would have none of, I understood that he wasn’t looking for a friend. I don’t think he wanted a friend. Or maybe he just didn’t believe in them.

I also think that he knew what pity was and he wasn’t having any of that either.

For a while, he came over and fought our cat for his food. Our cat just hopped up on the window ledge out of harm’s way and yowled sadly. My wife started feeding our tom early, but we also left extra food out for the Old Warrior.

You see, I’m a romantic at heart. I can’t help myself. It’s what I am despite my attempts not to be. I’m as stuck in my ways as the Old Warrior was in his. I saw in him the things I wanted out of myself, and I respected his efforts.

As a romantic, I look for people, animals, events, and situations where I can excuse my desire to aspire for more from myself and life in general. I love heroes. I love people that beat the odds. I love the underdogs who lose that never fade an inch on what they believe in or what they stand for.

Being a writer, maybe I read too much into things. If so, I don’t care. I believe that nobility, grace, honor, and selflessness exist. Perhaps they don’t exist on a large scale, but even these wisps and occasions of those ideals sustain me and fill my heart.

I’m going to remember the Old Warrior forever. I saw him most days, slowly going through the neighborhood, crossing the street painfully, trying to get both ends of him headed in the same direction at the same time. There wasn’t an ounce of extra flesh on him. He was stripped bone and muscle, and his chest and shoulders were huge from all the extra work.

I’m a writer and I get attached to things. I find symbols and omens and quiet meanings in life, actions, and things that I think most other people don’t.

As a father I struggle to keep my family on an even keel. I’m their chief source of advice, counsel, support, financial means, and protection – sometimes physical and sometimes emotional – from the harsher aspects and jagged edges of the world. I’ve given up large chunks of my own life providing these things and knowing my kids don’t know what it costs me.

But I saw in the Old Warrior that same quiet drive to get things done. Every day he got up and completed his mission. That mission was simple, keep himself fed and alive, but that was the extent of his abilities. Asking anything more of him would have been impossible.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had several challenges arrive in my life. My nine-year-old has broken/torn an ankle up to the point that he may have to have surgery to correct it – we’re still waiting to find out. He fell on his crutches six days later and broke a front permanent tooth that we were able to have repaired.

My eighteen-year-old had another car wreck Thursday that will probably get him canceled off our insurance and we’ll have to find him another provider and pay more money.

For the last week I’ve been nearly wiped out by allergies and asthma. The medicines I’ve had to take to combat those things have robbed me of my sleep and energy.

And I’m late on a book. I hate being behind on books.

I took heart in the nobility of the Old Warrior’s quest. He was unflinching in his pursuit of survival. No matter what life had handed him, he’d meet it head-on.

I think we helped him over these past few weeks. He got to where he showed up at the same time every night at our house. Our cat became trained to hanging out on the window ledge. I watched him, but I never got to pet him. He didn’t want that.

Last night I finally got to touch him. I was taking my wife and son to dinner because it was almost nine o’clock and they’d just gotten in from football practice and a grocery run. I’d been grading papers at home all night.

I found the Old Warrior in the middle of the street. Someone had hit him and left him dead. He was still warm when I picked him up, still slack in death. He couldn’t have been dead over a few minutes.

As I’d thought, his body was lean and hard. I felt the musculature and the sheer heft of him that I wouldn’t have believed from looking at those skinny, arthritic hips.

And I felt that he was gone. That indomitable spirit that drove him had unlatched itself from that frail shell and went to meet whatever came next for him. I know in my heart that he went fearlessly, still expecting nothing good.

I feel that there is something good awaiting him, though. I want to believe that.

But I’ve lost one of those touchstones that tell me no matter what adversity I face in life, all I have to do is persevere. That isn’t enough, and it never will be enough. Sadly, it’s all we have in the long run. I look for those touchstones, and I find them in people, in an act of kindness I see, an exchange between a father and son that I want to emulate, a champion reaching her goals, an underdog getting to seize the brass ring every once in a while, and I treasure them for the priceless things they are.

Those things are what keep us human. And those things that we pack away inside ourselves – those role models we choose to aspire to – are what keep us from giving up.

And they’re usually simple things. Like a wreck of a cat that refuses to lie down and die because life’s too hard.

I didn’t get to know the Old Warrior on a more personal level. Maybe we wouldn’t have liked each other if we had. But I revere and respect the idea of him. His actions had given me strength over the last few weeks when it seemed the world had turned against me.

Now he’s gone and I’m going to miss him. But I’ll quietly look to find something else that will give me that quiet kind of strength we get through this life with. God always provides something.

Out of all the houses in the neighborhood, the Old Warrior chose mine to ransack and take what he needed. For the price of a few cans of cat food, he helped me believe again during difficult times and sustained my flagging spirit over these past few weeks.

My nine-year-old saw me pick up the Old Warrior’s body and move it out of the street. I put the body in the trash. I didn’t want it to lie out there and be totally destroyed. I couldn’t bear that.

When my son asked what I’d done, I told him. He was upset. He said I couldn’t just throw the Old Warrior in the trash, that we had to bury him. And he was right.

This morning, when my son gets up, when it’s bright and warm and the beginning of the day again makes everything seem possible, we’re going to bury the Old Warrior.

Because that’s what we Old Warriors do. We don’t congregate in life because we’ve got too many things to do, but – when we recognize an equal, someone who’s seen as much hardship as we have – we attend them when they fall in battle.

Then we go back to take up the battles in our own lives and look for others quietly toiling against the odds that we also face so that we can borrow their strength and courage just long enough to get through one more day.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I Am A Top 1000 Reviewer!

Thank you all for your votes! It's been five long years in the making, but I reached the goal. Now the pressure is off and I can just relax and review (almost) stress-free.

But feel free to keep throwing votes my way.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Childhood & Parenthood

There’s a big push on to get today’s kids to exercise. These days they seem to be content to lie around the house, watch television, play video games, and hang around on the Internet.

I have to admit, I don’t think that’s entirely their fault.

Times have changed since I was a kid 40 years ago. When I was growing up, going outside wasn’t a big deal. Now “outside” isn’t necessarily safe. More than that, there doesn’t appear to be much “outside” left to go to.

Parents have to be concerned in this day and age of what is going to happen to their kids while they’re outside. I don’t know if the world has necessarily gotten meaner, I think the problems with child abduction and child murder have always to some degree existed, but they weren’t as prevalent.

When I was growing up, people had more of a tendency to watch over each others' kids. When I was with my buddies and we got in trouble, someone’s mama – anyone’s mama – would get on to us. We would all get an earful and be sent home. By the time we got there, that mama that chewed us out – if it hadn’t been our mama – would have called our mama. The mama grapevine back in those days was a deadly thing. And you could bet they would punish by committee. Whatever one kid got, we all got.

Nowadays if you look at another person's kid wrong, you might get a lawsuit slapped on you.

I resented the mama grapevine back then. It kept me from doing a lot of cool stuff. Or at least it kept me from getting away with doing it.

On the other hand, nobody dared bother kids because they knew the mamas were watching us.

And when we finally got deep enough into the woods where the mamas couldn’t watch us, we were in our element. There isn’t a creature alive who is as much a part of its environment as a kid who’s been raised in the woods. We could vanish in an instant, faster than ninjas. We could run through the trees with the wind and never slow for a second because we had radar better than a bat's. And we knew the terrain, every tree, bush, hill, pond, and interesting hole that we found. No one could catch us except another kid.

But there aren’t really any woods around where kids are growing up these days. Not in the metropolitan areas and suburbs where most of us live. I doubt my guys would be able to tell the points of a compass by the shadows of trees on the ground. Nor would they know to chill out during the noon time till the shadows leaned to the east instead of leaning to the west as they had in the morning.

When I grew up in Seminole, Oklahoma and later in Francis, Oklahoma, there was always government land to explore. Acres and acres of untamed wilderness loaded with blackberries, green apples, occasional pears, and water that – while it wasn’t exactly healthy – was healthy enough for a kid. I don’t remember us getting sick as much back then, and I know we had plenty of reasons to. There was always poison ivy, poison oak, bee stings, wasp stings, cuts, scrapes, and bites from creatures that sometimes you couldn’t quite identify in the woods and in the water.

Come to think of it, if my kids were growing up in that type of environment right now, I’d have to admit that I would be more than a little freaked out.

So space is another issue. Kids have parks to go to, but they’re inconvenient to get to. They’re not like going out into your backyard, then vanishing into 80 acres of government land to trail deer, beaver, and wild turkey. Parents have to take kids most of the time these days.

And a new kind of predator that we never had to deal with prowls parks. So it’s hard for kids to go without parental supervision.

More than that, kids that go out into the wilderness these days don’t seem to have quite the knowledge that we had when we went. The floods that we’ve had in Oklahoma this year have claimed the lives of children and teenagers who wandered out into unsafe waters.

When I was a kid, we got used to the water gradually. We wandered through streams and creeks, fished for minnows and crawdads, and learned a healthy respect for water. We were around it enough that we knew and recognized our limitations. Maybe we built rafts, but we knew better than to get into fast water with them.

Fast water meant canoes, and none of us back then could afford canoes, nor were we talented enough to build one. That could actually float, I mean. We did dig out logs Indian-fashion, but both times we put them into the water they sank like rocks. That wasn’t overly impressive, but we had a good time hollowing out the logs.

Kids and parents today depend on structured activities like baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and other sports and activities. However, those get to be a pain because you have to have your kid at a certain place at a certain time, and the coaches or activity directors frown on the fact that you’re late. Not exactly a friendly environment for the time-challenged. Can I have just a little more stress?

And no one had to mention exercise to us when we were kids. We had chores. Daddy raised pigs, which meant I had to feed and water every day. Watering involved carrying five-gallon buckets of water to troughs, then wrestling the pigs out of the way while I poured the water into the trough. If the water spilled, I had to make extra trips. I learned a whole new enthusiasm for bacon -- it was like I was getting revenge (one bite at a time!) for all the aggravation and extra work those pigs caused me.

Daddy never did put in a water hose, but least I didn’t have to pump well water.

Other times I had to go out with a knife and chop Johnson grass to feed the horses and cows. Daddy would never buy hay as long as Johnson grass was growing. I had to carry armfuls of the stuff a long way because the animals ate everything that was near their pens.

When Daddy bought five acres down in Francis, he had me and my younger brother start clearing it with an ax. I was fifteen. After we chopped the trees down, we took the limbs off and used the logs for fence posts to build hog pens. We didn’t use a hammer and nails because Daddy didn't want to buy them. We put two fence posts close together, then dropped more poles sideways between them to create the fence wall. For a while there, I felt like I’d been born with posthole diggers and an ax in my hand.

Exercise, sunshine, and fresh air (well, maybe the fresh air was a problem after the pigs arrived) were part of my everyday life growing up.

Our world has changed, and it’s fascinating to see the things we now have to worry about. When I was growing up, you didn’t have to worry about what a kid was eating. We ate everything and still couldn’t keep the weight on because we worked and ran and played till sleep claimed us at night.

I don’t know if our lives are in the better now than they were, or if those times were the best times. I do know that kids have more opportunities to learn these days than we ever thought about, and they’ve got much cooler toys, but I suspect there’s been something of a tradeoff.

As parents, we have to know so much more than our parents did. I don’t think my mom worried about nutrition much beyond making sure I got my Flintstones vitamin on a fairly regular basis. Now it seems I’m reading boxes and food reviews all the time.

But it’s all worth it. I wouldn’t trade my childhood nor the parenthood I’m going through now for anything. It’s just interesting to see the differences between then and now.

New SPIDERWICK Book Coming September 18!

Taking a page from J. K. Rowling, who aged her hero and the scope of her books as the Harry Potter series progressed, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi seem intent on keeping their original audience with the September 18, 2007 release of their new series, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles.

The first book is called The Nixie’s Song. Judging from the promotional information, the new book will introduce new characters and a new locale, shifting to Florida from New England. I can’t help imagining what DiTerlizzi’s illustrations are going to look like with a host of fantasy ocean creatures to draw.

The book has also gotten longer. Where most of the Spiderwick books were around 100 pages, with the last one hitting the scales at 160, this new series starts out at 192 pages. It’s also listed for the 9 to 12 crowd instead of the 7 to 11.

I have to admit, my curiosity is whetted and it’s going to be a long month before the new book hits the shelves. But it promises nixies, faeries, and fire-breathing giants. Oh my!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The LAST APPRENTICE #3 Coming Out August 28, 2007!

If you're not reading this series, you need to be. Joseph Delaney writes about the adventures of young Tom Ward and the Spook, the old man who's life's work is to fight ghosts, witches, boggarts, and other monsters. Tom is a seventh son of a seventh son and has been apprenticed to the Spook.

The books are marketed for the 9-12 year old crowd, but I sit down and read them as soon as they come out. This is the third in the series.

They're actually released in England months ahead of the US release, and I've been buying them from Amazon.UK. However, I enjoy the size and the covers of the US releases enough that I've been buying both. I gotta quit that. I'm running out of shelf space.

But you need to be reading these books. More than that, your school libraries, your kids, and everyone else who enjoys a good YA read with a hint of creepy horror and rollicking adventure needs to be putting them on their shelves and reading them too!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All About Goals!

I’m a goal-driven person. I love the idea of goals. It’s deadlines that can be so troublesome.

Tonight I’m going to be speaking at the Bartlesville Public Library about my life as a writer. Sounds weird looking at that. Like my life is over or something. But I know that’s not the case.

I spent the morning at the University of Oklahoma’s orientation session for new adjuncts (I taught there last spring but kind of took it on at the last minute and didn’t get oriented). This semester I’m teaching two classes and even have an office to share. Cool beans. I’ll get to work on campus and be away from the usual distractions. Can’t wait to see how that works out.

But teaching at OU was one of my goals I made years ago after I first started writing. I seasoned myself by teaching at Moore/Norman Techology Center for the last eighteen years to gain experience. Along the way I fell in love with the idea of teaching.

Last spring, my goal of becoming an adjunct professor at OU was met. Gotta wait to see if I get the chance to go any higher, then figure out it that’s for me. And there are other colleges too.

One of my other goals is to teach summer classes at different universities so I can live in those areas for a month or two. I want to bring my wife (an elementary school teacher) and whatever children who live at home. That way I can learn more about those cities, get to know more people, and hopefully introduce myself to more readers.

But I’m about to meet another goal.

In 2002, I started writing reviews at Primarily I did that so I would know what I read, and to better get an idea of how to break down book plots and figure out what I liked and why.

I’ve almost hit 300 reviews, which will be a record number I share with Tom Glavine. But as of this morning, I was ranked at 1012 for reviews. I’m a thousand and twelfth reviewer. At 1000, I get a button on my name at that says I’m a Top 1000 reviewer.

I’m almost there. I don’t know if I’ll set my sights any higher, but I love doing reviews.

So this is a thank you from me to all of those people who voted for my reviews and made this possible. Make goals and meet them. It’s a big part of life, and very satisfying.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


People ask me where I get my ideas from all the time. The easiest way to get ideas is to simply have kids. Of course, having the kids is the simplest part of having kids. Affording kids, not having nervous breakdowns, learning all the latest slang, keeping up with all the technology, and so forth is the hard part.

Every now and then, though, your kid treats you to a laugh that comes out of left field.

My nine year old has been chomping at the bit to go to a skateboard park, and we have one here in Moore. So today, while I’m working, my wife takes him to the skateboard park. He skates for a little while, then promptly crashes and burns and ends up in the emergency room on a Sunday afternoon. He gets his motor skills from his mom. (Hey, it's my blog, so I can blame whomever I want.)

We still don’t know if Chandler has a hairline fracture. We have to wait five days to find out. They'll x-ray again after the swelling goes down. Did I mention anything at all about the patience that’s required to be a parent?

At any rate, when Chandler was getting checked out of the ER, the male nurse gave him instruction how to use his crutches. He told Chandler to balance on the crutches as he put his good foot forward, then use the crutches with his injured foot to move forward. Balance, the nurse insisted, was the key.

Chandler’s response was (and you have to know that he's very methodical and loves big words -- I'll claim that one), “I don't have very good balance. That’s why we’re having this discussion.”

I’m still waiting to find out how much the doctor’s bills will be, and the emergency room, to find out what this anecdote is going to cost me. But since I’m using it on my blog, doesn’t that make the expense tax deductible?

Robert B. Parker's New Book In October Has Elegant Cover!

This is absolutely one of the best covers I've seen on a book lately. I really miss the days when artists drew covers. Way too many of them these days are churned out of PhotoShop (although there are some good ones), but it seems some of the eloquence of the past has gone by the wayside.

Without reading the blurb at Amazon, you can tell something has gone seriously wrong in a marriage and someone is celebrating it. This image has been in my mind since I saw it yesterday. I know. I probably obsess too much. But I liked this one a lot for its simplicity and -- yet -- dasdardliness and wanted to share.

Readers Write!

Getting email from a reader can be pleasant or painful. When you open an email, you never know what you're going to get.

Case in point is this letter I got today. But let the writer speak for himself.

im writeing to ask if you look at what you are typing as from the amount of mistakes in the hellgate london book "exodus" most of which are simple things like "lie" insted of "he" beg to differ and the mistakes are VERY comon though out the book

I wanted to let him know that I took his comments to heart, and that I am out to make this world a better place for English. So herewith is my response.

You do realize that what you wrote is one long run-on sentence that is garbled, right?

I assume you mean, do I check my work? Yes, I do. I assume you mean there are mistakes. If so, I’m only partly to blame. The book went through the hands of two editors (editorial and line editors) as well as reference staff from the game company, all of whom had the ability to change things at any point AFTER I was done with the manuscript.

And then there are errors committed by the printer.

Also, to show you I can read and edit, here you go:

im should be I’m

writeing should be writing

hellgate london should be capitalized and appropriately punctuated to fall in line with the game Hellgate: London

insted should be instead

comon should be common

through out is a compound word and should be spelled throughout


1980s Retro Horror/Comedy Back From The Dead!

Although they’re about a generation out of step with the rest of the world now, the Universal Monsters remain some of the most recognizable creations in the world. There’s just something eternally cool about Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Werewolf, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Even if a kid doesn’t immediately recognize these monsters, he wants to know who they are.

Unlike Jason, Freddy Krueger, or Michael Meyers, the Universal Monsters stand out at first glance. They just look different. Where Freddy, Jason, and Michael Meyers tend to look like ordinary people gone really wrong, the Universal Monsters somehow look regal and more otherworldly. Dracula looks like a lord in his suit and cape. Frankenstein’s monster looks totally rad with the bolts and the scars all over his face. The Mummy looks decrepit, but Brendan Fraser’s franchise (which is getting a new edition and 2008) taught the movie-going audience to fear the Mummy in a whole new way. The Werewolf, especially with his human side not totally evoking sympathy, looks kind of corny but is a definite archetype of the lycanthrope. And the Creature from the Black Lagoon – no one has ever looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

To make those monsters even more different, all of them had some hint of tragedy clinging to them. Dracula could’ve been a good guy if he hadn’t gotten bitten by vampire. Frankenstein’s monster was actually childlike at the beginning until he was mistreated and finally hunted to turn him into a vengeful creature. The Werewolf suffered a gypsy’s curse. The Mummy just wanted to rest undisturbed until grave robbers made off with his goods. And the Creature from the Black Lagoon just wanted his fish bowl left alone – and maybe a little love.

Beginning in the 1930s, the Universal Monsters ruled the silver screen. Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, and the Mummy all put in their original appearances and lurched, flew, and howled their way to fame. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was a latecomer, not putting in an appearance until 1954. But even after only one movie, the creature immediately became a staple in the league of monsters.

Steven Spielberg’s sponsored movie, The Goonies, was largely responsible for The Monster Squad coming to the big screen. Scriptwriters Fred Dekker and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) entered into the deal to bring the Universal Monsters into the 1980s. They decided to do it in a campy style for kids, and use a larger-than-life backdrop for the story: kids who save the world from monsters.

However, Universal Studios wasn’t happy – or compliant – about the use of the characters. That’s why in the movie the monsters look somewhat different than they did in the original films. At one point Universal Studios threatened to sue. Plus the special effects and makeup were better in 1987.

As the story goes, our young heroes, Sean and Patrick, are outcasts from school. They’re not cool. They’re not jocks. They don’t fit in. In fact, when they’re introduced, they’re in trouble with the principal for drawing monsters in class. We get to see just for a moment that the principal was probably once just like them. He knows all about monsters too, but he tells them they need to learn more than monsters.

They have a tree house getaway, a sign that says “No Girls” that doesn’t work on Sean’s little sister Phoebe, comic books, and monster magazines galore. Oh, and crosses. Lots and lots of crosses. They are the ultimate nerds waiting for adventure. Especially after they recruit cool bad boy Rudy, who wants to join up with them because their tree house overlooks the bedroom of a stunning girl.

Unfortunately, they’re about to get their fondest wish: to meet monsters.

In the prologue to the movie, we see Dracula devising a desperate plan that involves a mysterious gem. Abraham Van Helsing is on hand to combat Dracula and the other monsters. At the end of this, we find out that Van Helsing screwed up.

In the present day a hundred years later, Dracula comes to town looking for the mysterious gem. The boys discover that the gem is the balance between good and evil and only appears in the world every 100 years. As long as the gem exists, good will exist in the world and evil cannot triumph over good. But once the gem is destroyed, evil will flourish. He gathers the other monsters to him and they begin searching an old mansion.

Sean gets Van Helsing’s diary from a garage sale because his mother knows he likes old books. Of course this is a convenient conceit of the largest kind, but it’s okay because we’re just here to have fun.

After a decent buildup that’s not quite too long, the story spins into full action mode. Given that the film was made twenty years ago, the pacing isn’t too bad. I was greatly aware that it moved more slowly than most of today’s movies. Still, I watched it with my nine year old and he didn’t complain too much or get antsy waiting for something to happen. The action was more low-key than I remembered, but it still got the job done. I just remembered that there was a lot more action and that it was bigger.

Another thing that made me a little uncomfortable was that in spite of the PG-13 rating, the movie contained more swearing and adult situations then I remembered. Maybe I was more jaded in those days. I honestly can’t remember. But I know that today’s movies don’t seem to contain as much of either.

I had a good time cruising down nostalgia lane watching The Monster Squad with my son. For a while there, we were both nine years old. Back when monsters were really cool and you didn’t have to worry about dying because you knew you were going to beat them at the end.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Great New Graphic Novel Coming In November!

I love comic books. Every time I open one, it’s almost like holding a movie screen in my hands and watching the progression of action taking shape. However, lately I’ve found it hard to keep up with monthly titles. Too many of them are continued from one month to the next, stretching out least six months or more, and I only get a sense of completion twice a year. This is so the comic book companies can put out what they call “graphic novels.”

In the old days, graphic novels were illustrated stories that couldn’t be told in 22 pages (or 24 pages as when I was growing up). At that time, graphic novels were stand-alone stories that might or might not feature recurring characters.

Somewhere in there, graphic novels simply became a format for comic book companies to re-merchandise product. That form is one of the most successful in publishing these days. When comic book monthly sales were down, the sales of graphic novels were growing. Libraries picked them up. Collectors picked them up. Bookstores put them on the shelves and sold them.

And America, young and old, discovered a brand new love for the format. Graphic novels are published in all sizes these days. My nine-year-old reads pocket-sized versions of Teen Titans while I usually pick up the regular-sized editions of my favorites. If a story captures my interest and I know I will read it over and over again, and if it’s available, I buy it in hardcover.

While I was at Comic-Con in San Diego this year, I got the chance to preview a brand-new graphic novel that is a genuine exercise of the form. The actual book won’t be out until November 19, 2007.

Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman is absolutely amazing. Lappe is a Guerrilla News Network reporter that has provided extensive coverage of the Iraq war. He’s the author of a previous nonfiction book, True Lies, that was unflinching in its view of the existing war. Lappe isn’t a fan of how things are being handled in that part of the world, nor does he appreciate the slanted news coverage and lack of information that’s been given to the American people.

Dan Goldman co-authored Everyman: Be The People, an illustrated satire of George W. Bush’s presidency and the theft of the American dream. Goldman isn’t noted for pulling punches either.

Together, Lappe and Goldman have created a brand new graphic novel called Shooting War. The book is about a young, independent newsblogger (someone who has independent access to the Internet and specializes in covering breaking stories – which isn’t too far removed from what’s actually taking place on the Internet these days).

Set in 2011, Jimmy Burns is a sympathetic character still wrapped in innocence when he first appears on the pages. The opening scene reveals him on the front line in the Iraq warzone. We don’t yet know why he’s there.
The story cuts immediately to a time two months ago when Jimmy has his brand-new satellite-feed camera that allows him to upload to the Internet in real-time (which is a really scary thought if you think about it, and that technology is not that far off when everyone is going to Wi-Fi. This look at emerging technology is one of the things I liked about the book, and that wasn’t even a primary focus.)

Almost immediately, the action breaks loose as the Starbucks coffee shop beneath Jimmy’s apartment blows up. The art is amazing. It’s a blend of traditional comic art as well as mixed media involving photographs with computer-generated images cast over them. The visualization of the scenes lends itself to screenplay style format. (And I’ll be really surprised if someone in Hollywood doesn’t snap up the rights to this story really quickly.)

The carnage that occurs during the explosion is visceral. The way that the reaction to Jimmy’s broadcast spreads around the world is awesome. This is the way real-time video blogging would work – but only if the blogger had an audience. In the story, Jimmy’s broadcast is seized by a news conglomerate and broadcast everywhere. The whole world sees the newest terrorist attack on American soil.

The conceit used in the story is one that would happen, and has happened, in today’s world already. When something big happens, people are usually there with video recorders, digital cameras, and cell phones with image-capturing functions (the recent Barry Bonds homerun and all the amateur photographers in the stand comes immediately to mind). The American people know they can usually sell these images or digital footage to media corporations. In fact, there have been shows on television that specialized in live footage shot by amateur photographers.

Overnight, Jimmy becomes a media superstar. The news corporation, Global News, pushes Jimmy into the limelight. And that’s exactly where Jimmy wants to go. However, Jimmy isn’t prepared for what the news corporation is going to do to him. He – and we – find out that they’re not that interested in what he has to say. He’s just part of the show.

But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to control him. And I know that’s going to cause all sorts of problems.

The preview ends there. But this backstory is intercut with scenes from the Iraq front line where Jimmy looks haggard and desperate. I know that the authors have a political agenda with their story, and I’m fine with that. But they’re also going to be telling a coming-of-age tale that looks to be filled with adventure and heart. That’s plenty to keep me turning pages.

Although this preview is only sixteen pages long, it’s whet my appetite for the rest of the story. November can’t get here soon enough.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


The Bourne Ultimatum is the final film in what has been an amazing and action-packed trilogy of thrillers based on the late Robert Ludlum’s novels featuring the same characters and plot. Matt Damon has turned in some of the best work in his career in these movies. He appears at once as invincible and unstoppable as Jason Bourne, yet is also vulnerable and lost.

In the first movie, fans learned that Jason Bourne was just a pseudonym and not the character’s true name. In this movie, we finally find out what the character’s name really was. Of course, those people who have already read the books knew that.

The first two movies, to a degree, paced the action and played to the tension in scenes. The Bourne Ultimatum goes for the throat on action sequences from the very beginning. But there are still some brilliant twists and turns to the plot that will catch the audience off balance.

Julia Stiles reprises her role as Nicky Parsons, a CIA agent who believes Bourne and sympathizes with him.

Joan Allen plays Pamela Landy, a CIA supervisor clever enough to catch Bourne – or to help him find out what exactly was done to him. Both of these women are strong and individual in their roles even though they aren’t allowed much screen time.

David Strathaim is absolutely marvelous as Noah Vosen, the evil CIA mastermind fans of the series have come to enjoy hating. His acting is spot on and his deviousness is purely Machiavellian.

But the thing that really drives this movie is the pedal-to-the-metal action. Once the movie rips into motion, it simply does not slow down. Although two hours in length, the movie breezes by and is gone before you’re ready. Although it is intensely satisfying. Bourne’s opponents aren't the only ones capable of devious and twisted action.

Even though he’s been hunted, Jason Bourne is a relentless predator. He asks no quarter and gives none, totally merciless when dealing with those who would do harm to him. He’s the kind of hero every guy wants to be and every woman wants to fall in love with. The fight scenes, the chase scenes in cars and on motorcycles, the marathon races across rooftops and through apartment buildings are physically demanding and look great on screen. Evidently Damon did a lot of his own stunt work when he could.

The film was also shot on numerous locations, giving it a spectacular visual appeal. Scenes were shot in New York City, England, France, Germany, Morocco, Spain, and India. The story’s pacing burns through the terrain, though, but you can immediately tell he was shot on location.

The stunt crew must have had a field day with this one. All the dazzling escapes, explosions, and chase sequences are extremely well choreographed and look great on the screen.

Personally, I felt this movie was a little less plot-dense then the other two. There was more of a linear progression in this one, without all the side stories. We knew Bourne was being hunted, and we knew that Vosen was the bad guy. But everything tied together and made sense.

At the same time, some of the scenes strain credulity. Not the action sequences, because I was willing to go along with those. But in one instance, Bourne was able to break into Vosen’s office without being caught. We never got to see that happen, and I can’t believe it would be so easy that he would do it in a matter of minutes while hey were hunting him. The security in that place, even before the threat of Jason Bourne being in the city, had to have been extremely high. Not just mechanical security devices, but also human guards. It was a great plot twist to have Bourne invade Vosen’s office, but I really had to stretch to believe it could happen.

The world seems to have rediscovered Robert Ludlum through these movies. Several of the late author’s novels have been recently reprinted, and there’s even a new film adaptation of The Chancellor Manuscript underway starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It seems as though Hollywood has finally figured out how to make realistic spy thrillers and is doing a bang-up job of choosing source material the same way Quentin Tarantino did when reinventing the crime thriller using Elmore Leonard’s books.

I’m waiting to buy the Bourne movies when they come out on HD DVD. The first two have already been released in that format. But I’m holding out for a collector’s set of all three. I’ll probably have those, though, when Matt Damon decides to do a fourth movie in the series. Two new Jason Bourne novels have already been written by best-selling author Eric Van Lustbader. A fourth movie would disrupt my collected set, but I would be happy to see another one.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gold Eagle/Silhouette/Harlequin Represents At Comic-Con 2007!

When I was at San Diego Con, I met an amazing group of people who worked the Gold Eagle/Harlequin/Silhouette booth. I was there to do an autograph session for them and ended up having so much fun that we blew past the first hour and continued into the second .

I'd gone to lunch with another editor from another book company . When I got back there was a line waiting at the booth. The editor I was with suggested that the people were waiting on me. I didn't believe that for a minute. But when I got up to the table, I saw that they were waiting on me. It was intimidating and exciting at the same time.

I flagged down Tony , the guy who was answering people's questions and told him who I was. He quickly put me to work behind the table. I signed over 200 books in those two hours . When the Harlequin people go to San Diego Con, they give away books like crazy. During that four-day convention, they gave away a thousand copies of Rogue Angel Forbidden City.

The new Rogue Angel book, God of Thunder is out now.

I don't know how many other books they gave away, but it had to be in the thousands. The Mack Bolan Executioner line was represented, as well as Silhouette's new Nocturne line. They were also giving away posters of the various products.

I got to meet Tim Bradstreet, the artist who does the Rogue Angel covers. Of course, a lot of people may recognize his work from the covers he does on The Punisher.

I even got to take a picture with Tim. And I got a signed Rogue Angel poster.

Another poster they were giving away showed the cover to the first book in the new run of Athena Force books. I got to help out with the design of the overall 12-book arc.

Rachel Caine (of the Weather Warden series) wrote the first novel, Line of Sight, that is out on shelves everywhere.

Her new Weather Warden book is out now.

Afterwards, the team took me to dinner at an Italian restaurant whose name I still can't pronounce or even come close to spelling. We had a blast.

Tony is an art director at Harlequin. We talked a lot about what goes into book cover composition and how models show up for shoots. I was promised that when I go to Toronto I could sit in on a session and watch a cover come to life.

Farah is in marketing and was my contact person during the whole convention.

Lindsey is Tony's wife and an educator (which is how she keeps Tony in line and trains him -- though when we were together we were waaaaayyyyy too much to handle and lingered most of the time somewhere around 12 years old. With inappropriate humor.).

Gold Eagle Books editor Feroze Mohammed bought my first novel. I've sold 50 or so to that company, and have always enjoyed doing business with them. They have some of the best people you could ever find working with them.

Thanks again, guys! You really made the convention a great experience!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gallery of Buff History Rogues
(so much better than Gallery of History Rogues in the Buff!)

One of things I most enjoy about attending comic book or science fiction conventions is getting to meet other professionals in the writing field. As a writer, I spend a lot of time inside my own head. I’m oftentimes my own worst enemy. I either keep my creative side imprisoned or torture it with thoughts of failure.

However, getting to meet other working professionals quickly reminds me that I’m not alone in this job and that it’s never easy. We’ve all developed our ways of getting around that little critical voice tucked away in the back of our heads. I get new ideas of how to defeat that stumbling block, and I get reminded that this job isn’t as hard as I sometimes believe it is.

Don’t get me wrong, writing is hard work. It’s difficult to sit in one spot for hours, days, weeks, and months and dream up scenarios and characters...then completely dash them into pieces because you get scared or nervous. Generally no one else around you understands what you’re going through. Your family and friends get sick of hearing you whine.

In San Diego this year, I was on the history panel with an esteemed collection of authors. Everyone who reads fantasy knows their names.

Peter David, scriptwriter supreme of The Incredible Hulk, Supergirl, and Fallen Angel to name a few, as well as several novels involving Star Trek, Babylon 5, and other television properties, was their lending wit and wisdom and repping his new book, The Darkness of the Light: Book 1 of the Hidden Earth.

R. A. Salvatore, whom I had met before, was his usual jovial and generous self. He’s the author of several books starring the Drow Ranger, Drzzt Do’Urden as well as several other novels in the Forgotten Realms world. In addition to that, he’s invented several nifty worlds of his own and filled them with terrific heroes and monsters. He wasn’t, however, generous enough to give away any hints about his upcoming Drizzt book, The Orc King.

David Keck is a relatively new writer, but he’s one you’re going to be hearing a lot about. He absolutely blew away not only the audience, but also the other panelists with his stories about a floating molar in his brain and observations on the realms of fantasies. His latest book is In the Eye of Heaven.

To anyone who reads science fiction, and very probably anyone who reads history seriously, Professor Harry Turtledove needs no introduction. But I’ll provide one. He is an acclaimed and accomplished writer of alternate histories, probably the very best in that field and certainly working at the top of his game. His latest book is In At The Death, the fourth book in the Settling Accounts series.

David Durhan is another name that you’ll soon see more of. He also came to the panel legitimately because he is a professor of history, and I was impressed by his knowledge as well as his personality. His first three books are fiction wrapped tightly in the threads of time, place, and real people. His latest book, however, is fantasy but you can see how he melded his two loves or factual and fictional events. Acacia has been announced as the first of a trilogy that is known as The War with the Mein.

I had a really good time on the panel and was much impressed with how much everyone knew. Later, I had a lot of people come up to me a different signings and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed the panel, the topic, the discussion, and the humor. Believe me, we’re writers. We know our humor isn’t always appreciated and we make the most of a captive audience. It’s better to ask forgiveness…

Comic-Con is way too busy to actually get the chance to meet people unless you’re on a panel. Even then you’re limited to just a few minutes. Thankfully I got the opportunity to see more of these guys at the signing immediately following the panel.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Summer Replacement Series "Saving Grace" Is New #1 Show

Award-Winning Actress Holly Hunter stars as Grace Hanadarko on TNT’s summer replacement television series Saving Grace. Grace is a police detective who works violent crimes and struggles with inner demons. Ten years ago, she lost her sister in the Oklahoma City bombing. She feels guilt over her sister’s death because she was supposed to care for her nephew the day before but ended up sick. Grace believes she is the reason that her sister is dead.

The series is near and dear to my heart for a couple of reasons. Number one is that it shows the struggle that sometimes has to be fought to achieve faith. Many movies and books simply show that once a person accepts God his or her life is immediately and forever changed. Like hitting the religious lottery or something. But for a lot of people faith is an ongoing struggle between wanting to believe and wanting to understand.

The core of Saving Grace is that monumental struggle within a person. Yet it is intelligently portrayed against the backstop of police investigations, friendships, temptation and betrayal, and miracles. Grace isn’t a good person. She drinks too much, swears too much, doesn’t honor her mother and father, and is having an affair with a married man. And that’s just to name a few of her faults. She’s violent, quick to anger, and shortsighted regarding personal agendas. However, she is a good police detective.

The second reason I like the show so much is because it’s supposed to take place in Oklahoma City. I live in a suburb of Oklahoma City, and I’m very familiar with the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. As I understand it, the show is actually shot in Vancouver, British Columbia. However, there is footage shot in the Oklahoma City area. The memorial downtown is featured in the first episode. Holly Hunter evidently never made it into Oklahoma City because the scene is shot from a distance and delivered with voiceovers. The scene is the memorial, but I feel confident that the actors aren’t Holly Hunter and the boy who’s playing her nephew. Still, some of the feel is right. But for those of us who are use of the vegetation and trees in the area, the outdoors shots aren’t anything we’ve seen here.

Leon Rippy plays Grace’s personal angel, Earl. He appears as an old-fashion good old boy who dips tobacco, talks rough, and wears concert tee shirts under a jean jacket. He’s absolutely amazing in the role.

The primary struggle between Grace and Earl is something I look for in the episodes. In the second episode, “Bring It On, Earl”, Grace actually gets into a wrestling match with Earl. He transports them to a Greek stadium and they have at each other without restraint. The fight comes to a draw, but only because Earl literally takes away one of Grace’s arms. The scene is hilarious but still conveys a lot of deeper emotion.

Both mysteries featured so far have been interesting, but not all-consuming. They work to get the story moving along. There’s also been a duality about the case each week. The struggle that Grace faces that week also resonates in the case that she’s working on, and often the insight she’s supposed to receive is the key to unlocking the investigation. That crossover between the investigation and the personal growth is really well done.

Holly Hunter is tremendous as Grace Hanadarko. She plays the character right on the edge with a lot of energy. She’s believable as a woman in trouble, but police detective, and a doting aunt all at one time.

Saving Grace debuted as the number one most viewed new series so far this summer. In overall numbers, it debuted only slightly behind The Closer and The 4400. Seated comfortably behind Kyra Sedgwick’s series now in its third year on Mondays, Saving Grace enjoys a great lead-in. The show also seems to be hanging onto the audience.

Given the religious makeup of this series, viewers are going to be talking about it. They should be. It’s a good series with a great premise, and a fantastic actress in the lead role. More than that, it’s about the struggle for faith in a world that’s gone dark and dangerous of late.