On creating…

Over at Slate Magazine you can find a series of articles by Mason Currey focusing on creative individuals (from architects to musicians to artists to writers) and the habits they had with regard to their creative endeavors.

In the latest entry (number 11), Currey focuses on procrastination:


While there have been entries related to alcohol/drug use, time of day when creators create, etc. etc., I found this one of the more fascinating entries, if only because procrastination is one of those love/hate elements that I’m all too familiar with.

Due to my schedule, I have to work hard to find the time to actually sit in front of the computer and actually type.  Usually -and I really hate to admit this- that time is quite limited, often to no more than two or so hours a day.

Having said that, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a “procrastinator”.  If I had more time available to me each day (and this looks to be a possibility in the next couple of years) then I would gladly spend more time before the computer.

On the other hand, my stories tend to be complex works with many moving parts that have to, in the end, all work together (or resolve themselves in the end) in a logical manner.  Writing something like Nox, my most recent novel, required so much thought that there were times I wondered if I would ever get it finished.  Basically, with that novel I had a clear beginning and a very clear ending, but getting the two main characters together and explaining their relationship in the broad context of the series had me running ragged.  For every hour I spent on the computer, I would spend many more hours each day think-think-thinking about where it is I needed to take the book, and how this element might work and this one might not.

When the first draft was done, this middle segment of the book required considerable work before it felt complete.  I wound up spending many hours reading and re-reading what I put down and reworking it into something that was at once exciting, fulfilling, and -most importantly- made sense.  And, yes, that meant even less time before the computer typing.

There were times I dreaded approaching the computer, but once I’m committed and sitting before it, I tend to make the minutes and hours (few though they may be) count.  The simple act of writing something -anything!- down always moved me that much closer to a final product.

So while I may spend precious little time each day actually in front of the computer writing, I wonder if the manner in which I write might be considered “procrastinating”.  In my mind, it is, yet in my defense, I do work an awful lot on getting the books done.

Regardless, the results have been pleasing.  I can honestly say that all the books I’ve written so far have been the best works I could create at the particular time of their creation and at my level of competence.

Right now I’m in the thick of things again with my latest work, the fifth book in the Corrosive Knights series.  The book is, like all the ones before it, driving me crazy.  But I do like what I’m seeing so far.  And when I’m done with it and release it, I get to go back to that blank computer screen and start up the process all over again.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The American (2010) a (mildly) belated review

Perhaps the most fascinating things about 2010’s The American is how skewed audience reaction was.  If you head over to Rotten Tomatoes’ summary of the film, you’ll find that critics, for the most part, liked it (66% approval) while regular audiences pretty much hated it (only 37% approval).

I found these statistics after seeing and digesting the film for myself.  My conclusion?  The results don’t surprise me.  I suspect The American is simply one of those divisive films that one is either going to love (or at the least like) or hate.

For The American is something of a throwback of a film, a 2010 film that nonetheless feels as if it is trying to evoke the moody character studies present in films of the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s.  For my money, there’s nothing wrong with that.  For others, the idea of following a dark, emotionally distant hitman over the course of nearly two hours with very little actual “action” may be simply too dull a trip to take.

Count me in the former category…though with one very big caveat.

The American begins with our main character, the mysterious hitman (George Clooney) in a small wooden cabin out in the middle of a serene snowy tableau.  He has company, a beautiful woman whom he is clearly intimate with.  They go out for a walk and, suddenly, the hitman realizes someone is targeting him.

Without giving too much away, our hitman is separated from the woman and is forced to leave this seemingly idyllic home.  He contacts his superior who sends him to a small Italian villa to cool off while he “looks into” the people who are after the hitman.  He also offers him a job.

The bulk of the film follows our hitman as he navigates two small Italian villas while working on the creation/modification of a silenced weapon.  Three times he meets his actual (Thekla Reuten), who, we know, will use this weapon for an assassination.  During this time we become close enough to our hitman to get a taste of his growing sense of paranoia.  Are the killers who nearly got to him at the start of the film still on his trail?  Is his client and/or his boss out to get him?  And, when he starts seeing a prostitute named Clara (the absolutely stunning Violante Placido), is she more than she seems…?

By the time the film reaches its climax, most of my guesses as to what was going on turned out to be true and, therefore, I have to say the plot of The American is -to me anyway- rather predictable.  It is this very predictability (the caveat I mentioned above) that keeps me from giving The American a hearty endorsement.  The movie is, nonetheless, a good slow burn thriller which features some incredible cinematography and acting (and, as mentioned before, the stunning Ms. Placido).  While it may not be as successful -at least from a story standpoint- as I hoped it would be, you can do far worse than spend your time with The American.  On the other hand, don’t expect a truly stunningly original and/or unpredictable story.

(Maybe one of the other reasons audiences were turned off by the film is that the trailers, like the one below, made the film look like more of an action/adventure/thriller than it was.  There are action sequences, but for the most part the film is a character study.  You have been warned!)

The Naked City (1948) a (ridiculously) belated review

“There are eight million stories in the naked city…this has been one of them.”

So concludes the narrator/producer Mark Hellinger at the end of 1948’s The Naked City, the justifiably famous film noir/police melodrama that features a fascinating -and prolonged- glimpse at the New York City of the then present but for us distant past.

I’ve seen the film before and was riveted by the sights and sounds and people presented in the movie, many of them little more than faces in the crowds.  The movie’s look at New York City circa the late 1940’s should appeal to all history buffs, but the story is equally interesting.

We begin with the city itself, late at night, and we are presented with various places that are, for the most part, deserted at this late hour.  Then, the meat of the story:  Two thugs in a blonde woman’s apartment have subdued their victim using chloroform.  Their reason for being in the apartment is not immediately clear, but their intentions with the beautiful woman are:  They decided to place her in the bathtub, to “make sure” she doesn’t live the night.

The next day, her body is discovered and the investigation begins.  We follow the police, principally Detective Lieutenant Dan Muldoon (a typically delightful Barry Fitzgerald) who sifts through the evidence and interrogates suspects and Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) who does most of the case’s foot work.

Without giving too much away, the case has its ups and downs and the protagonists have to deal with witnesses both good and bad and, in an especially poignant scene, the parents of the victim.  All the detective work leads to a fantastic climax that in many ways is reminiscent of the climax of King Kong (!!!!).

So, if you’re a fan of mystery films and/or are curious to get an extended, loving look at a New York City that for the most part no longer exists, I highly, HIGHLY recommend checking out The Naked City.

A couple of bits of Interesting trivia:

The movie eventually led to Naked City, the popular television show that ran from 1958 to 1963 and featured an amazing array of them up and coming actors.

Don Taylor, one of the two main protagonists in the film, went on to have a fascinating career as a director.  He was responsible for several interesting 1970’s to 1980 era sci-fi films, including (but not limited to!) Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Damien: Omen II, and The Final Countdown.

Near instantly charging micro-battery?

I’ve longed for the day when we moved past combustion engine vehicles (a standard used for nearly 100 years now) to a more environmentally friendly electric powered vehicle.  The main stumbling block, as it always has been, is the battery technology needed to create a truly “good” electronic vehicle.

This fascinating article, by Alexis Kleinman for The Huffington Post, reports on the creation of a powerful new micro-battery that not only is capable of jump starting a vehicle, but it can be re-charged in 1 second (!):


It seems the lucrative cellphone industry and the demand to create batteries that last longer and longer has ironically (but not surprisingly) propelled researchers into finally looking for ways to make a truly good next generation battery.  As the saying goes,  “building a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door“.  However, to truly invest in a new industry, one has to reap rewards.

Did I mention the cellphone industry is a lucrative one?

The good thing about all this -especially to someone like me who longs for a move away from the old combustion engine- is that the better the battery technology, the more likely we are to finally see that technology appear in other products.  Including autos.

Perhaps that day is coming sooner than we think…

On critics…

Thanks to the internet, nowadays the old expression “everyone’s a critic” is more apt than it has ever been.  Take me as an example.  You don’t have to go terribly far in my previous entries to find my opinions of movies, television shows, music, etc. etc.

When I was younger, I would relish “taking down” works I considered deeply flawed.  Looking back at my attitudes, I can’t help but wonder why I found such relish in doing so.  I don’t think I was being a contrarian…I found enjoyment in many popular -and not so popular- films.  On the other hand, there were beloved blockbusters that I couldn’t believe or understand were popular (one big example is the original Star Wars) while there were plenty of more obscure films that didn’t pass my taste test.

The other day, I received my first truly “negative” review of one of my books.  The review was posted on Amazon.uk and the poster, D. J. Ketchin, was reviewing my short story collection Shadows at Dawn.  The book has received only two reviews so far, the first by Puna J. on the regular (U.S.) Amazon.com (4 out of 5 stars) and Ketchin’s (2 out of 5 stars).

The two critics offer clearly different, yet at times, interestingly similar opinions of my work.  On the similar side, they both feel the short story collection was too short.  I can completely agree with that.  Shadows at Dawn is a slight book, even if it does feature 14 complete stories (15 on the Kindle version).  Then again, of the books I have available via Kindle, it is priced at a very low .99 cents (this comes to a little over 6 cents a story).

Their second point of agreement they appear to share is that both were more interested in reading the science fictional stories than the mystery ones.  D. J. Ketchin states it bluntly: “too much of a crime emphasis for me.”  Puna offers a somewhat similar take, stating “only about half a dozen of these stories qualify as science fiction”.  Puna is indeed quite right, of the 15 stories presented, 7 were “mystery” stories, only very slightly less than half.

Though the two share essentially the same opinions of Shadows at Dawn, their conclusions wind up diverging considerably.  While Ketchin felt that there was “too little sci-fi” and therefore the book was “too dull”, Puna felt that the stories, despite not being as science fictional as she wanted, were “all good. I am glad I gave this book a chance and read it, it was worth my time.”

Two readers that I assume are on either side of the Atlantic offering two similar -yet ultimately very different- opinions of my short story collection.  I’ve noted before of my suspicions upon seeing certain books filled with hundreds of (mostly) glowing reviews.  I know there are those who can be paid to “bump up” the number of positive reviews on a work.

Myself?  I enjoy reading well thought out reviews of my works.  Clearly I would love for whatever I write to be universally adored and net me millions upon millions of fans…but realistically, I know that whatever I do, however much work I may put into it, there will be those who like it and those who read the exact same thing and it just isn’t their cup of tea.

So thank you, Ketchin and Puna for your opinions of Shadows at Dawn.  Even if one of you didn’t like it as much as the other, I’m nonetheless pleased to have “real people” out there reading my works.

And, Ketchin?  I’ll try better next time… 😉

Shadows at Dawn Cover

A blast from the past…

Fascinating footage of the introduction, in 1964, of the then brand new Ford Mustang:

Absolutely love the car and was floored when Ford decided to make their new Mustang models “retro” in design, modern yet featuring elements of the original 1960’s vehicles.

One of these days, when I have the cash and no longer need the bigger vehicle to haul stuff around, I might just buy myself one! 😉

The Day (2011) a (mildly) belated review

I first heard about 2011’s The Day from an interview of Dominic Monaghan, arguably the most recognizable star of the film and one of its producers.  Unfortunately, Mr. Monaghan gave away a rather large spoiler regarding the film which ruined what was surely one of the bigger surprises the filmmakers wanted to unload on audiences.

Afterwards, I heard almost nothing of the movie.

The Day received a limited U.S. release and, for all intents and purposes, became another in the endless string of (in this case almost) direct to video releases.  Then, a couple of “Movies you should see but didn’t” type reviews re-ignited my interest in seeing it.  So I did.

The Day is, essentially, a zombie flavored siege type story, only without zombies.  We have a group of five people, three men and two women, who are cautiously hiking through what we quickly learn is very dangerous territory.  The weather is cold and rainy and one of them is very sick.  When the group finds an abandoned home, they decide to camp out there until the rain lets up, unaware that the building is more than it seems.

As mentioned, this is a siege type story, with the villains turning out to be cannibals.  In this post-apocalyptic future, “regular” humans are few, animals are for the most part extinct and farming is a thing of the past.  Thus, there is no food source other than scavenging for scraps from the past (in the form of canned edibles) or joining cannibal clans on the hunt for other humans to feed on.

This is a low budget film, but the movie does manage to build up a nice head of steam and provides audiences with several interesting characters.  Of particular note is Ashley Bell’s portrayal of Mary, one of the group of five who, we find, has some very dark secrets of her own.  She is effectively the movie’s protagonist, and shines the brightest among the other characters as the stoic, tight lipped ass-kicking protagonist.

Having said that, the film is not without its problems.  Unfortunately, the makers relied on some very substandard computer generated effects for some of the more grisly scenes.  While I think computer generated effects can be used well in movies, when they are used to portray blood or injuries to the body they can be unrealistic to the point of being distracting.  In the case of The Day, the filmmakers probably would have been better served trying to use practical effects rather than the computer generated ones.

The movie also spends a little too much time, in my opinion, with the villains of the piece.  The movie might have worked a little better if those villains had been kept a little more obscure, a la John Carpenter’s 1976 Assault on Precinct 13, my all time favorite siege film.

Still, for a low budget and for all intents and purposes direct to video film, The Day delivers a decent amount of thrills and chills and a fascinating protagonist.  It may not be one of the best siege type films ever made, but it is far, far from the worst.  Recommended for those who like this type of movie.


It’s been a few days and the extent of the damage and loss is clearer.  It is very frustrating to realize, once again, that we live in a world where such things can -and do- happen.  One also feels incredible sympathy to those who are suffering and for the family and friends of those who were tragically lost.

My hope is that the person or persons behind this vicious and unconscionable crime are captured very soon.

My heart goes out to all those who were victimized by this deplorable event.

Why are PC sales declining?

Its a hot topic:  PC sales have fallen 14 percent worldwide in the last quarter.  Is the PC computer dead?  And if so, why?

Will Oremus at Slate.com thinks the reason sales of PCs are tanking may be because…they’ve gotten too good.  I tend to agree:


Back when PCs first appeared, there was a very noticeable difference between each new generation.  My first IBM PC, the 8088, was (I felt) a good computer.  Until the newfangled 286 model appeared and absolutely blew it away.  The next year or so appeared a 386 model and that blew the 286 completely out of the water.  Ditto for the 486 and, subsequently, the Pentium.

And then, things simply slowed down.  PCs had incredible speed and it was peripherals which were now improving.  More hard drive memory, better video/sound cards, CD/DVD drives, etc.  But the computers themselves reached a level of, if not “perfection”, a level where they were good enough that you didn’t feel you needed to get the latest model.

I picked up new computers every year or two yet the computer I’m writing on now is over five years old…and I haven’t even considered buying a new one.  Instead, I’ve changed the hard drive (the original one crapped out), put in a better video card, and bought a large flatscreen monitor (my original monitor, which came with the computer, was the old heavy glass monitor, a relic today).

So PC sales are falling…so what?  As much as I like my smartphone and my tablet, neither of them can take the place of my PC.  I use it for my writing and for my art.  I keep my music on it and all my photographs and files.

The PC, I suspect, will always exist in some form.  Perhaps its rebirth (sales-wise) lies in a technology that is just about to be released.

We’ll see.

Corrosive Knights and writing thoughts…

Corrosive MACN

There’s an old saying that everyone dreams of showing off a book they wrote but no one likes to actually sit down and write it.  The act of writing, especially for something like a novel, involves considerable work and effort on the author(s) part and, without sounding too judgmental, not everyone has either the desire and patience to go through with this.

Yet using the above statement, it is my belief that many people out there nonetheless have an impression that writing books is not “hard work”.

An entertaining, at least to me, as the TV show Castle is, it is guilty of showing this attitude.  The show, for those unfamiliar with it, involves Richard Castle, a popular mystery writer, who tags along with the New York Police Department (specifically the very beautiful detective Kate Beckett) and helps her solve crimes.  One of the more vulgar (though I believe on target) jibes against the show and its portrayal of what an author does is that in Castle we have someone who seemingly “shits out books” in his spare time, whenever the mood hits him, and spends the bulk of his day in the detective field.

But let’s not blame the entire attitude on shows like Castle.  I believe part of this feeling that authors don’t do “a lot” of hard work may be due to the time it takes audiences to experience it.  As an audience you “experience” a work in its final, completed stage and it often doesn’t take all that much time to do so.  For music, you experience songs in the few minutes it takes to play them.  With a painting or any illustration, you can take in the final work in a matter of seconds and longer if you want to scrutinize parts of it.  With a novel and depending on your motivation, you could read it in one sitting or perhaps over the course of a week or two, and often in your free time.  But just because you can experience an artistic work relatively quickly doesn’t mean that the author(s) of said works took a similar amount of time to create it.  There are authors whose works have taken decades to complete, including some of my own.

For me writing a book not only involves many, many hours of physical work typing in front of a computer, but also heavy thoughts about what it is I’m trying to put forward during almost every waking hour of the day.  Believe it or not, the later statement is absolutely true:  When I’m deeply involved in my latest novel (and for the past five or six years I’ve been on one after the other) thoughts regarding scenes I’m working on constantly bubble in my mind.  It is rare that a moment during the day passes without at least one or two stray thoughts about some bit of dialogue or how to improve on a scenario or whether something I wrote needs to be revisited.

In a way, its like suffering from an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, only its me trying as hard as I can to make my current work as good as it can possibly be.

Which, in my very long winded way, brings me to the fifth Corrosive Knights novel.  I’m currently on the second full draft and roughly 1/4th of the way through the actual re-write.  I believe I mentioned it before that the first and second drafts of my novels tend to be the toughest to do.  The first draft because I’m laying out entirely new material one page at a time and building it up as I go along and trying my best to make every new scenario as fresh as possible

The second draft involves carefully going over everything I did before, first by reading the novel carefully all the way through and putting a considerable amount of notations on each page about what’s missing or what can be improved.  After that’s done, I spend many hours before the computer doing all those fix ups.  During this phase I’m trying to make sure there are no extraneous scenes within my book and that the characters and situations presented flow in a logical way.  I’m also determined to make sure all action, suspense, mystery, romantic, or humorous elements “work” as well as I can possibly make them.

So far, so good, though there are still a couple of weeks (at least) before this draft is done and effectively start up all over again with the third draft.  Then the fourth.  Usually, by the time I get to this stage I’m dealing less with story issues and much more with grammatical/spelling problems.  These later drafts tend to be the easiest to correct both on paper and in the computer.

So I’m headed back to the novel now.  I’ll keep you informed as each stage of the re-write moves along.