Monday, December 29, 2014

Year in review -- 2014

This has been such an odd little year.

I got A Pius Legacy and A Pius Stand published, finishing out the trilogy I began with A Pius Man.

I joined in a few political fistfights, mostly having to do with women in books for some reason.

I've had fun with Marvel, both Captain American and Agents of SHIELD.

I reviewed books all over the place.  Like Amy Lynn, and Night Machines, and a bunch of others here and there.

I've been at the Catholic Writer's Guild, and had some odd times there.

And then there's my job at American Journal.... fun fun fun.

I've looked at tv and video games and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Thankfully, I haven't lost a whole collection of authors, like last year.

I want to thank all of you for making this such an interesting year.

And here's to 2015, and selling a ton more book.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review: Night Machines

Night MachinesNight Machines by Kia Heavey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, this was a fun little ride of weird.

Kia Heavey, the author
Kia Heavey, the author
This has three interesting character studies. Maggie is the bored housewife married to the "boring" cop, and her brand new boss is the nerdy kid from high school who grew up to be a billionaire with the looks of a guy on the cover of a romance novel. The new boss, Cambien, is a specialist in medication of dreams (which makes me wonder if his name is supposed to rhyme with Ambien).

It's also three stories of obsession. Maggie's husband is consumed by the case of a dead girl. Cambien has thought of Maggie since high school, and his thoughts start sweet and cute, and something darker starts to take shape. And then there's Maggie herself, who decides to have her "non-affair" with Cambien, and it starts to eat her up inside. I would tell you what it made me think of, but it turns out to be a spoiler.

I always thought the Rod Serling meets Robin Cook equaled F. Paul Wilson. Nope. This is chocked-full with more of the irony found in the Twilight Zone. Especially since it starts with Maggie dreaming, and dreaming about what her life could be or should have been ... and oh, boy, does it go the way of Nightmare on Elm Street. No, it's not terrifying, I'd even suggest it could be given to Young Adults, but beware the fact that there are sexual situations, but nothing graphic.

Along the way, Night Machines explores the concepts of family, of love versus lust, and what happens when you live too much in your head. Because there are some times things in the dark that will eat you.

By the start of "act three" of the book ... well, not to give too much away, but there was the scene with Maggie's priest, where I had fulled expected the line "What part of thou shalt not covet did you not understand?" I did not expect the sudden Catholic turn that the novel made, but it addressed every last point I had considered as I read through the book. That chapter alone made it more deeply philosophical and faithful than some books written by members of the Catholic Writer's Guild. And, as a member of said guild, I say that Madam Heavey needs to apply.

At the end of the day, it's a romance book that can even be read by people who hate romance novels.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Babylon 5 and Religion in Scifi

You know, with all the posts yesterday, I can't believe I forgot this one.

I did a guest post over at Steph Souders' page. It's all about Babylon 5.


Review of Amy Lynn

Amy LynnAmy Lynn by Jack July

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lot of Amy Lynn feels like a coming of age story, where we watch Amy Lynn go from 12 to 20 over the course of the novel. Along the way, almost every other character is fleshed out with their own backstories, usually with snippets and inserts that look like they were lifted out of newspaper clippings — though they don’t interrupt the narrative flow.

When the book opens, Amy is practically running the family farm single-handedly — running both the kitchen and chores on the farm. Yes, she’s very much 12 going on 40. Before the book even opens, she has already lost both her older bother and her mother. Usually, this would make set the tone for a depressing, maudlin journey that I’d rather have root canal than read. However, Amy Lynn manages to avoid ever falling into that trap, and dodges the usual cliches. That the book avoids a depression-inducing tone is a cute trick, considering that it covers rape, prostitution, sex slavery, drug use, and two counts of mass murder. Not bad for a coming of age novel, huh? It helps that a lot of this is off-screen, and never delved into with any of the gruesome details.

But, then again, anyone who can write a coming of age novel that I can read without making me desire to take a power tool to my brain already has my support.

In almost any other context, Amy might come off as a bit of a Mary Sue — almost totally perfect in every way. Thankfully, she’s not that perfect (after all, she is a teenager for most of the book). As for the rest of her skill sets, she has a perfectly good reason for it. For anyone who ever saw the original tv show The Avengers (with no relation to Marvel comics), imagine Amy Lynn as the creation of a Southern Emma Peel. Amy is essentially trained by Rambo, and the fight scenes are reminiscent of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels.

Amy Lynn has one problem. Well, it has two. The first problem is editing. I know that Jack July had Amy Lynn edited by professionals. I would ask for a partial refund, since there are a lot of strange punctuation errors and capitalization issues here and there. I’ll blame that on the professionals. The second problem? It’s too short.

At the end of the day, Amy Lynn is as promised: thoroughly charming. It’s very much To Kill a Mockingbird for a modern audience.

It's definitely a book for anyone who enjoys characters with deep and abiding faith. It's a book recommended for adults ... and for adults to read before giving it to their kids. Like with much YA fiction, there is dark content and R-rated language. It's a great book, but it depends on the audience

View all my reviews

Monday, December 22, 2014

Deck the Maul, a Christmas story

When Sean AP Ryan is hired for Black Friday security, he figures it's an easy gig. He should have known better.

Sorry, but this is now released in Pius Holidays.

Or, in the complete Pius Tales.

Die Hard is perfect, part 2

This is a continuation of my post on why Die Hard is such a perfect movie. I suggest starting there.

Dialogue, Character, and Plot

Every line in the movie adds to the film.  Nothing is wasted. And if there is something, I can't see it.  Yes, there's a reason I'm not breaking this up, mainly the dialogue feeds into both the character and the plot ... and because character adds an extra dynamic to this plot.

The first scene alone does so much, it's stupid. Remember, the scene is John McClane talking to the passenger next to him on an airplane.  It gives him a reason to be shoeless during the movie, and establishes his profession, and is already adding to his character by both giving us his CV in a smooth, effortless way. It establishes his anxiety about flying, giving him a cute character trait.  Also, it already shows us just how much of a smartass he can be... McClane's shoeless wardrobe "choice" in the film leads into a brilliant, brilliant moment that deeply hurts him later on.

We've already covered how the Rolex adds to the plot, and that was all covered in three lines of dialogue -- it both underscores Ellis' pursuit of Holly, struts it before John McClane, and dangles this metaphorical gun in front of the audience's face without anyone realizing how integral ANY of it actually is. Ellis, who has few lines in the movie, serves many functions. One, his presence gives a counterpoint to McClane's actions throughout the film -- no matter how many gunman McClane takes out, he's still only one person. Ellis is one of the many realists in this film, but the only one who is among the hostages.

Ellis' strutting egomania, his coke problem, and his focus on Holly all culminates in the pinnacle of his arc. His egomania and his drug problem drive him to try and negotiate with Hans and company -- he thinks he can talk them down, give them what they want, and they can all go home. And while he gives them McClane's name and occupation, Ellis makes it a point to spin the story that he brought McClane to the party, and there is no mention of Holly. For such a minor character, Ellis provides a lot.... even though giving up John's name will eventually lead to Holly.  And his death is one of the few things that hurts McClane.

And that's a secondary character. Maybe even tertiary.

Dialogue establishes a lot in this movie. It establishes Mr. Takagi's character and backstory with Hans' first speech, and adds an emotional blow to Takagi's death.  The offhand lines about needing the FBI, and "it's all part of the plan" feed into the turning point of the film, and a mystery that is on par with any twist by Mission: ImpossibleLeverage, or Jeffery Deaver.  In fact, I would say that Deaver was warped by Die Hard.

A lot of things in the second half of this movie are almost perfect mirrors to stuff from the first half.  The conversation between John and Holly in (what I think is) her private bathroom leads directly to a conversation that is the turning point of the film... which is also in a bathroom.  McClane is at his lowest point. He's been wounded physically and emotionally. It's the flip side of the earlier conversation with Holly, and while it's depressing, it has a point, and also accomplishes much.  McClane's relationship with the LAPD Sgt. Powell, outside of the building comes to a head, and it leads directly to the punchline.

Dialogue, and the Little Touches

And there are aspects that are not major, massive plot points, but are little things. It was Michelangelo, I think, who said that trifles make perfection, and that perfection is no trifle.  In the case of Die Hard, it's the small things that add a surprising amount of character to people who serve some very basic functions.

Heck, just look at the character shown in Hans' merry band of killers, and the LAPD, who are most assuredly the most basic part of this endeavor.

For example, look at "Karl."  He's the Bond Villain sidekick of this film.  But the first time we see him is carrying a chain saw, about to cut the phone cables for the building...and he's competing against another gunman, who's trying to either bypass the alarm for the building, or cut the phone system via a more elegant, less brutal fashion, I could never tell.  But you could tell from that scene alone that the two gunman are brothers, and that the death of the younger brother by McClane (the first gunman he kills), drives Karl throughout the film, giving him solid reasons for actions that are detrimental to Hans and his plans.

Then there's the terrorist who sets up shop in a confection stand, bringing out piles upon piles of gun magazines .... and grabs a candy bar.

Then there's Theo, the Hacker. Who gambles, likes sports and sports analogies, and takes his computer job seriously, yet treats everything else with a sense of levity.  He's dour and serious about breaking into the computer and the building's vault, but cracks jokes as he coordinates the gunmen to shoot and blow up a bunch of cops.

And then there's the chauffeur, Argyle, whose presence in the film is almost comic relief -- whether we're laughing at his obliviousness to the situation, or his line to the stuffed animal to "shut up," and even his little victory over Hans' hacker.


Obviously, I can go on forever about this movie (as though I haven't already), but let's face it, it's a good film with lots of little things thrown in that make it a great movie. Notice, there are a whole bunch of things I didn't mention that are also writing moments.

Such as?

Hans and McClane, face to face, giving the audience a much-needed confrontation between hero and enemy... 

Enough C4 to Orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger..."Heinrich had the detonators"... all feed into the finale...

Why Hans is possibly the most quotable movie villain ever. He's cultured, he's educated, he's well dressed, he reads all the "right" magazines, and he's such a cold-blooded, callous murderer...

How Die Hard also has elements of parody, going after both the media and the FBI.

There's a lot here, but this article is almost two thousand words long already. Though I think there's no denying that Die Hard could be used to teach writing classes.

Why Die Hard is the most perfect movie ever: A Writing Blog

I've been meaning to do this for a while now, but Die Hard is a perfect movie.

Seriously, perfect. From almost every angle.  Writing-wise, it's a textbook marvel of how to write. Cinematically, it's perfectly shot. Acting wise, it's pitch perfect.

Let me show you what I mean.  At least writing-wise.  I'm not sure I'm good enough to do this for cinematography, but I may give it a shot later on.  I started writing this expecting to go over everything I mentioned, but I may not be able to.  There's a LOT to cover in one topic alone.  In fact, I'm going to break up this blog into two parts. Maybe three.  Also, there will be a Christmas short story launching today: Deck the Maul.

And obviously, spoiler alert.

Quotable Quotes

We all know that the dialogue is brilliant. If Die Hard is not the most quoted and quotable film out there, it's probably in the top ten list.  Tell me you can't see the exact moment, or fill in the blanks of all of the following...

In German: "Karl, schieƟ dem Fenster."
".... and father of five."
"Happy Trails _____"
"Boom! Two points!"
"I'm going to count to three. ________ there will not be a four."
"Rumor is that Arafat buys his there."
"What kind of _____ are you?"    "Who said we were ______?"
"No Relation."
"We're going to need some more FBI guys."
"I don't want ______ I want dead."
"That man looks ________."  "He's alive. Only John _________"
And, of course, "Yippie Kay Yay, _________"

We all know that.  However, what I mean is how well the Gun in Act One is utilized.  Don't know what I mean? Also called Chekov's Gun.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Pius Trilogy is over

It's been ten years, two agents, three friends, and dozens of rewrites. There's nothing more to say.

So, yeah, this won't be a long one.

As of right this minute, A Pius Stand, A Global Thriller, is published, marking the end of The Pius Trilogy.

What's the premise? you ask?

Well, how does this look to you?

A Pius Legacy asked the question: What happens when someone kidnaps the Pope? When you're Sean A.P. Ryan, security consultant, the answer is easy: get him back. And that rescue pissed off...everyone...and the entire United Nations declared war on the hundred-acre Vatican city.
When the Pope is threatened by the international community, with no help in sight, what's a Pontiff to do? Run and hide? With offers coming from all over the world, it seems like the best course of action. With fifteen-thousand men from armies all over the world coming to end the Catholic Church, it's a threat not even the Pope's bodyguards could handle.
But it's not just about Vatican City. With the Church all over the world in peril, things are not as clear cut for Pope Pius XIII as one might think.
With the forces of darkness closing in, Pius, Sean, and the people they love must make a decision that will affect the lives of billions, and threaten all they hold dear. Do they leave the Vatican to their enemies, or stay, and face certain death?
Once more, this epic conclusion to The Pius Trilogy continues to mix real history with wholehearted adventure. With everything on the line, and no good outcome, the Pope and his champions must decide to either cut and run, or to make a final stand.
Just so we're perfectly clear, in case you've been waiting for the whole thing to come out before you read it, the trilogy goes like this

A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller
A Pius Legacy: A Political Thriller
A Pius Stand: A Global Thriller  (links above)

Codename: Winterborn is not part of this set, though. :)

If you're waiting for your copy to arrive, put on your headphones, turn up the volume, and enjoy the trailer below.

Why?  Because this is war.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christian Lit and Writing.

Some days, I get really tired of Christian writers who set out to write a story about a faith-related issue, and the results are so heavy-handed, I feel like I've been back-handed. You know what I mean, a story that's so entirely centered on the Christian message, and yet doesn't have any breathing room for the story and the characters to develop beyond that.

The problems a lot of these types of books have is that, well, these things are only preachy if they're not relevant to the plot. For The Pius Trilogy, I made sure that the motives of the bad guys were based around the faith, because their beliefs were antagonistic to "ours" (ours in this case is defined as the entire Judeo-Christian world) What we believe was and is a direct threat to their existence. From there, the books expanded around what we believed, explaining the enemy as "not-us."

For example? Imagine if someone decided to declare war on Hobby Lobby instead of launching a lawsuit? Imagine if the L.G.B.T.Q.M.O.U.S.E. crowd gets smacked down for every legal action taken against a Christian minister who didn't want to perform a gay marriage, and in turn, they decide a wave of assassinations and church bombings.

If you find that unbelievable, make the enemy China over the abortion issue, if someone tried to change them.

You can preach, sure, but the characters will be spending most of their time trying to survive. Get the reader invested in the characters FIRST AND FOREMOST, and then you can do some preaching. Because if we care about the characters, we care about what they believe.

It's almost as bad as those people who says that s/he is just a vehicle for the Holy Spirit, who is writing through him/her. Really? You're taking dictation now, people? Who are you? John Smith? Matt, Mark, Luke and John weren't even taking dictation! There's giving the glory to God, and then there's "my work is perfect with a divine stamp of approval."

Indeed.  Does God make the punctuation mistakes, too?

Frankly, I think it's presumption to assume that everything coming out of one's word processor is "I'm writing for God!!!!"  At best, I write from my gut, or my heart, and maybe my soul if I'm really on fire. But "God did it all!" removes: 1) God-given Free Will, 2) Any ability handed to them BY GOD.  And 3) I think it denies God an ability to create a rational creature that can both act for itself while also seriving God.

I believe it was Dorthy Lee Sayers who wrote the book "The Mind of the Maker."  As she pointed out, the people we write are so alive, they can almost make their own choices, can you imagine what it's like for God?

Now, I can see laying all the responsibility for the greatest of a book at God's feet by saying that He gave one talent and creativity and writing skills, and the friends and family who made the book possible, but saying that one just took dictation makes God look incapable of making a person who can take all of God's gifts and utilize them properly.

In short -- if you want to be a good Christian / religious person, do us a favor, and write your damn story. Save the preaching for later. Preferably, let the actions of the story do the message for you.  If you don't have a good story, you're screwed

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gamergate and Guest Posts

If you've never heard of Anita Sarkeesian, well, your luck has run out.  I've done a guest post discussing the little cuss over at a friend's blog, but I've been working on my own for a bit now.

I'll keep it short.

Anita has been very big on how video games and video gamers are misogynistic. I'm amused by how her arguments go.

  • If you don't include female characters in your game you're sexist for excluding women.
  • If you include female characters and they are designed as unattractive you're sexist for "denigrating women."
  • If you include female characters and they are designed as attractive you're sexist for "sexualizing women".
See how easy that is?

I'm generally wary of folk, like Sarkeesian, who have a vested interest in conflict. If complete gender/sexual equality were to be realized tomorrow, she'd have no purpose. I think she knows this, so making an honest effort to settle the issue doesn't do her any favors. Really, it seems like she's doing her best to play both sides off one another and keep it going, otherwise the interviews dry up. It's the behavior of a total putz, and I hope she stubs her toe at least once a day.

Sadly, this is just another facet of that total Cluster Foxtrot over GamerGate.  It's a political movement and a journalist corruption scandal rolled into one. Overall, it's totally stupid, and boils down to sneering at Gamers in order to defend against accusations of bias and fraud.

Most of you might remember that I write over at The American Journal. A lot of what I do is political commentary.  And I'm getting sick of it.  Not the writing part, I can do that for days without sleep.  But I'm tired of the politics.  I want every politician to just drop dead and leave the rest of us alone....

Yeah, I know. Merry Christmas, right?

I love Christmas. And I hate political hacks and biased schmucks from sucking the joy out of everything. I don't care if it's Anita Sakessian, Zoe Quinn or Al Sharpton.  It's Christmas time, damnit. Can we stop putting up with these people for a few weeks? Please?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Music: Silent night

In case you're wondering "Why are you doing yet ANOTHER music blog?"  It's because I've been whacked by Jury Duty.  Yay.

Hopefully, updates are to follow.

Be well all.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Music Blog: Oh, Holy Night

It's that time of year again.

That's right. It's CHRISTMAS TIME.

Or at least it will be when Cyber Monday is over.