Friday, May 09, 2014

David J West

As promised, I am spotlighting a small press or indie writer each Friday. Occasionally, I'll even tip a hat to some of the folks picked up by the large press. Today, let's turn our attention to the dashing Mr. David West. 

This well-traveled author hails from Salt Lake City. He has demonstrated a passion for self-expression and professes a strong spiritual nature. With a playful good nature, and a wit which entertains but rarely skewers, Mr. West is the sort who through casual conversation, even online, makes one feel they've known him for some time.

This award winning author's best writing occurs when he gives rein to his love for sword and sorcery. He enjoys two-fisted pulp in the tradition of Robert E. Howard and his novel Heroes of the Fallen, influenced by both his Mormon upbringing and passion for fantasy, is a fast-moving adventure.

His newest work Bless The Child, ,another fantasy, is dedicated to children with Giant Axonal Neuropathy (GAN). All proceeds will go the Hannah's Hope Fund, a non-profit organization aimed at research and supporting families dealing with the disease.

Bless The Child is a novel whose central character is a Spartan seeking redemption for a life of violence. In his wanderings through the Holy Land he becomes embroiled in a war and emerges as something he never imagined for himself, an instrument of peace.

If you are interested in learning more about Mr. West or contacting him, check out his blog and Goodreads pages. He can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.


Friday, May 02, 2014

Sephera Giron

With eighty percent of all media under the control of six corporations, the world of fiction is reduced to the lowest common denominator, with the victim being originality and opportunity for writers. Publishers want the next big thing, and if they don't have the next big thing, they'll strive to manufacture it. Thank God for the internet, thank good for small press and self publishing.

This Friday I am beginning a new tradition. At the end of each week I will promote one author across all my social media. It might be someone from small press, or someone who is striking out on their own. Some of these authors may be well known, some may be brand new to the scene. Giving them the attention they deserve is part of my commitment to support the writing community and to encourage authors to network with one another.

Sephera Giron is a dark fiction writer whose work sometimes flirts with erotica and apparently sometimes runs screaming at it. Her appreciation for the dark and the dramatic probably comes from her background in performance arts, or perhaps from her embrace of the metaphysical. Want a tarot reading? She's happy to oblige. Paranormal investigation? She's immersed herself in the world of ghost hunting.

Her most recent book, Flesh Failure will be coming out courtesy of Samhain Publishing. More information about Ms. Giron can be found at the blog,  Musing of the Monster Librarian and on the blog of fellow author Joan De La Haye. If you want to show Ms. Giron some love, check out her patreon site. She is currently looking to the internet to fund current and future projects. You can also follow her blog, Sephera's World or check out some of her video activity on her Youtube Channel.

The newest book from Samhain Publishing available this July

Monday, April 28, 2014

Speed Reading or Flim Flam?

How fast do you read? Does it matter? Some would argue that faster reading can actually improve comprehension since reading faster means forced concentration. Others argue that reading faster takes away the flavor of the writing.

So, how fast do you read? You could go to Speed Reading Test Online or use the Staples E-Reader Interactive. Or you could do it manually, but since we're in the computer age, why not let a website handle it for you? Sheesh.

Me? I like reading fast. Most tests I've taken recently clock me around 700 wpm. I've never formally taken a speed reading class, but I picked up some basics:

1) Don't say the words in your brain. Hard as this may be for some people, encoding and decoding only slows you down. 2) Chunk when possible. Read groups of words at one time. 3) Use a guide. Your finger is your friend. I know that sounded bad, but you can use your finger to over come regression, the habit people have of skipping back to what they've read. 

Three simple changes to reading habits can make quite a difference. Or if you love apps, then consider letting one of those help you out. If you don't consider it unusual using a tablet or a phone as a primary e-reader, consider downloading one of these.  Spritz, Velocity, and Balto are all efficient and popular choices. There are others, and like most apps, it's a matter of installing and trying them out, finding what's best for you.

Still, not everyone is a fan of speed reading and speed reading apps. The greatest argument is that speed comes at sacrifice to comprehension. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science. April 18th, 2014, focuses on the importance of saccades, the rapid eye movement which speed reading seeks to control. This study and others demonstrates we're still learning about the mind and how it processes information. We'll probably see more research on reading apps and comprehension in the next couple years.

So how fast do you read? Isn't it more about adapting to source material and finding the speed and style which feels most comfortable and functional?


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Writing To Be Read

Several authors I know would look at me with disdain if I started preaching the value of speed-reading to them. "Every word I write is sacred. I want a reader to savor each paragraph, each sentence."

Well, good luck with that. People skim. Like it or not. People tend to gloss over parts they find boring and pay attention to things which ignite their imaginations or affirm their beliefs. I know, I know, you're not writing for those folk. They're beneath you. Yeah.

Newspapers have gotten it right for decades. They put the important information up front and work down in what is called a "pyramid formation." In journalism you should be able to cut off the lower paragraphs and not necessarily damage the intent of the writing. Some newspapers are thrilled just to have headlines read, and maybe a sentence or two of a story. Then again, considering the misinformation presented by some news sources, maybe that's the idea.

Fiction writers sense they only have a small window through which to grab a reader by the throat. We talk about a "hook." Those first paragraphs and pages make a difference whether or not a reader continues. Even the most high fallutin' literary writer would agree the opening is important. Too bad we can't make demands on our reader for more self-discipline and attention when they make the same demands on us. And how has web reading affected readers?

I remember a panel with young adult author Tanya Huff in which she argued that while statistics showed young girls read more than boys, she believed (without support) that boys read as much, only their reading occurred online.

Michael S. Rosenwald, writing for the Washington Post, gave it a bit more deliberate consideration. According to the article, "To cognitive neuroscientists, Handscombe’s experience is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia."

A study by the Nielson Norman Group showed that "on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely."

As an educator watching more and more students sucked into the world of online learning, this figure gives me the shivers.  My friend Jon Zech would have said: "I knew those darned computers would ruin us eventually."

So what's a writer to do? Start developing a form of short hand? Skip everything but the good parts? And who determines those good parts? Readability software? Perhaps an idiot savant who lives in his mother's basements and subsists on pre-chewed pizza? (Okay, I don't know where the heck that one came from.) 

The Chronicle on Higher Education addresses how the new reader approaches academic writing. Author William Germano argues the writer dare not give in. Good luck with that and being published and read.

However, Germano states: " The scholarly book that keeps you awake at night thinking through ideas and possibilities unarticulated in the text is the book worth reading. It may be that the best form a book can take--even an academic book--is as a never-ending story, a kind of radically unfinished scholarly inquiry for which the reader's own intelligence can alone provide the unwritten chapters."

So, are we saying writing matters, or connecting with the reader? "I write for the prettiness of the phrase," Jon Zech would waft. I would scoff. "It's like painting a page with a brush and the prose is magic."

"I write to be read and to hell with it," I would respond. "I just want to tell a story." We were both right, I suppose.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Freemiums Are For Suckers...Which Unfortunately Includes Me

It's time to rebel against "freemium" games. I say this while mired in one of the most seductive titles, Clash of Clans.  

For the blissfully ignorant, here is how a "freemium" game works. The gamer downloads a free game and gets suckered in. The further they play, the more difficult it becomes to progress. The more difficult to progress, the more likely a person to invest a few bucks in a "helper" or "bonus."

Need a way to polish off a level in Candy Crush? Ninety nine cents might work. Maybe spend three to five dollars and buy enough helpers "just to be safe." Want to upgrade the town hall in Clash of Clans? Pay five bucks for three hundred green gems, or maybe a hundred dollars for fourteen thousand imaginary stones.

Oh sure, one doesn't have to spend the money. In Clash of Clans you can make a few clicks to start building and upgrading, and then wait two or three days until the upgrade is complete. But where's the fun in clicking a button and waiting days to click more buttons to wait more days?

This is a walk down a carnival midway, playing games which you know are fixed. And yet, you can't help throwing another ball at the stacked milk bottles, or shooting another basketball at an undersized hoop.

However, the carnival game is frowned on, mostly because it's penny ante.

The "freemium" game, on the other hand, is big bucks and big bucks buys respectability. The makers of Clash of Clans sold fifty-one percent of its stake to a Japanese company for 1.5 billion dollars. King, the creator of Candy Crush, filed an IPO on the NYSE for $22 a share. Yowsa, yowsa, yowsa!

And yet, perhaps the "freemium" field isn't as green as one might think. Perhaps there's hope for humanity after all. According to www.digitaltrends.com sixty six percent of the people who download these games delete them within a day. And Candy Crush's King? While it may have opened at $22.50 a share, according to Wall Street Journal's "Market Watch," it had the worst trading debut this year, dropping 19% in a day. Another game company, Zynga, is down fifty percent from its opening IPO.

I think I'm going to forsake "freemiums" and just play chess.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Running With Scissors..Don't Say I'm Not Bad

Publisher Weekly put out a list of evil characters in literature, perhaps to prove that the PW doesn't know the definition of evil. At the top of their list, Mr. Hyde. Really? And Dracula? Cruela De Vil??? Okay, maybe Cruella DeVil. I mean, if you want to make a puppy coat, you must be pretty disgusting.

Don't get me wrong, these are good baddies, but the author creating this list, however she created it, could have done much better. Much, much better.

So, with that in mind, let me give you my own top ten, in no particular order and after giving it a look see, I'm curious if your favorite monsters are on this list..


  • Joffrey and Cersei from "A Song of Fire and Ice" R.R Martin [I had to include them together. And if you go past the third book of the series, you'll know why Ceirse rises to the list]
  • Professor James Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes series by A.C. Doyle. How Moriarty didn't make the list from PW befuddles me.
  • Mrs. Havisham from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.  Okay, she made the above list, and rightly so. What this woman does to Pip is stomach turning. And if you don't know Havisham, grab the book.
  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the James Bond series by Ian Fleming. Son of a bitch. Now this is a vile character. Not only does he create a poisonous garden to entice innocents to commit suicide, but he kills Tracy Bond on her honeymoon.
  • Hannibal Lecter from The Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. A glaring omission from PW's list.
  • Cameron Lowry from The Ravening by Stewart Sternberg. This son of a bitch is the leader of a cult that uses zombies to keep the post-apocalyptic population in line. And if you think he was bad in The Ravening, wait until the sequel (yes, it's still coming).
  • Randall Flagg, who makes appearances in The Stand and The Dark Tower series.
  • Norman Bates from Psycho by Robert Bloch.


Friday, July 19, 2013

How To Watch A Scary Movie

I went to see "The Conjuring." It is a worthwhile film with an expert setup for sustained scares, and it will probably be the best horror film of the year. Not a great film, but one that milks each moment. You know the scare is coming, but the delight is the anticipation and then the sledge hammer delivery.

That being said, about ten minutes into the film, I had my Stewart Sternberg Moment. Friends who watch horror films with me know exactly what I am referring to-- it is the point where, if I was in that situation, I would shake my head and go home. Or to someplace brightly lit surrounded by lots of people. someplace with people fatter than myself so if I had to run, I could out distance them. Just saying.

You can tell it's a Stewart Sternberg Moment because it is punctuated by me turning to someone in the room and saying "And what would I be doing right now?" The correct answer is "getting the hell out."

At "The Conjuring" I sat next to two Middle Aged women. When the moment came, and it was a simple moment where a dog wouldn't enter the new house, I said, "a dog don't enter, I don't enter." "Sweet Jesus no!" One woman replied.

And as simple as that, the communal experience of a horror film had been enjoined. A few scenes later, the other woman talked to the screen, "No...don't you open that. No." The other woman joined in with "Sweet Jesus no!"

"And what would Stewart do?" I asked these strangers.

"He wouldn't open that door," one said.

"No he wouldn't."

When someone behind us screamed at a demonic appearance jumping out of the darkness, I leaned back and asked, "Are you still in that house?"

"Hell no!" A teen answered.

And then something else happened on screen that had people murmuring and then shrieking.

"Where's Stewart?" An older man on my other side said with a nervous laugh.

"He ain't going outside," one woman answered.

"No he ain't." I said.

And you all wonder why I love horror films and why you should try and enjoy them in a movie theatre and not just in your living room.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Butch Effect

Tommy Bond, the child actor who portrayed the feared "Butch"
How many times have you heard a fan of Game of Thrones throw a fist to the sky and shout, "Kill Joffrey!"

He is the quintessential spoiled brat---a teenager able to wave a hand and have someone executed. However, what about the actor? How does it feel to play someone so hated, and to have to deal with it in public?

Worse, what if you're young? What if you're a child? Thankfully, Jack Gleeson, the actor who plays Joffrey Baratheon is twenty one, which is young enough, but imagine what poor Tom Felton had to go through when he played Malfoy Draco in the Harry Potter series.How about William Zabka, the bad boy from The Karate Kid? Or Alison Armgrim who was Nellie from Little House on the Prairie.

According to Alison Armgrim, she had to deal with being hated in real life by people who confused her with the character. Imagine being 12 years old and dealing with this, and the assault on the ego.

Celebrity messes with young actors. Just take a look at Justin Beiber and the other examples of those who may have had too much, too soon. Look at Britney Spears, Todd Bridges, Corey Haim, Lindsay Lohan, and Amanda Bynes. And those are the kids loved by kids.

What about the actors who are reviled?

How we treat celebrity says much about us as a culture.
 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Give Them Back Their Masks

Why can't Hollywood handle a superhero's secret identity?

As a dedicated comic book reader for these many years, I've come to respect the man and woman hiding behind the mask, or even the pair of glasses. Yet, Hollywood can't handle it. Maybe it's a corporate thing. Perhaps it concerns the bankers and bill collectors that someone can slip on and off the radar with a swish of a cape.

Consider Spider-Man. Since he showed up onscreen it seemed everyone knew who he was without the mask, and that includes both Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy. The only one who seemed clueless was Aunt May, but that didn't surprise anyone.

Batman? Christopher Nolan sort of kept him secret, but somehow Bruce Wayne felt compelled to drop hints to those around him. "Hey, Commissioner, remember that kid you comforted years ago? The one with the coat? The one from the alley. You know, the kid who lost his parents? Come on. The kid with the initials B.W.? Last name rhymes with 'pain?'"

In the recent Man of Steel, one gets the feeling everyone knows who Clark Kent is. Lois managed to track him down with little trouble. And Kal-El, like Bruce Wayne, feels compelled to give hints, this time to the military. "Hey, you can trust me, I grew up in Kansas."

The worst offenders of the code of secret identity are the recent incarnations of Marvel superheroes forming the Avengers. In the comic books, Tony Stark plays his identity close to the vest, passing off his alter-ego as a hired bodyguard. In the movie? He announces who he is at a press conference. "I'm Iron Man!"

And what about Thor? The filmmakers didn't even let him have his mortal personae of Donald Blake, physician. Hulk? Well, the world knows who Hulk is in both the comic book and the film world, but let's face it, no one wants to pull the mask of the old Lone Ranger, and no one wants to mess around with Hulk, whether he's Lou Ferrigno in bad wig and bad makeup, or a CGI version of Eric Bana, or even Mark Ruffalo.




Sunday, June 16, 2013

Memories of Dad

What would Father's Day be without spending a minute to remember my Dad.

He gestured me over. Henry wore the white shirt and gray pants he always wore to work at the factory. When he wore the same thing on his off day, it meant he had something serious to do. Today it was fixing some power tool. My father didn't often ask for my help, and when forced to do so, he always seemed to develop indigestion.

"Goddammit, come over here and help me," he grumbled.

Goddammit was his nickname for me. I approached warily.


"I have to solder these two wires together. I need you to hold. Can you do that? Can you hold them? Can you? Can you hold these wires?"

I showed him I could.

He pulled the trigger on the soldering gun and when it warmed sufficiently, he melted a bit of solder. The burning liquid metal plopped onto my fingertips and I did what should have been expected, I cried out in pain and spun away. 

"Goddammit, just hold it!" he shouted.

"You hold it!You burned me."

"It's just solder. Get over here and quit fooling around."

I gathered my dignity and returned to the task. He hadn't meant to drop a bit of super-heated solder on my tender flesh. I steeled myself and looked away as he once more warmed the soldering gun. And once again molten solder splattered me.

"What the hell?" I asked. I jerked my hand away and stuck the burned spot into my mouth. It tasted metallic.

"Why do you have to be a baby?" Dad demanded.

"I don't know," I said. "Hey, you want to work on the car later? I can lay in the driveway while you run over me a few times."

"Get over here and hold this."

"You hold it and I'll work the gun," I said.

"This isn't a toy," Dad countered. He brandished the soldering gun so I could see its power. "You could hurt yourself."

And being the youngest child, which meant the brains had been used up on my older siblings, I gritted my teeth and once more gripped the wires. I wasn't going to flinch this time. No show of emotion. Nothing. Let him splatter away,  I would stoically bear the pain.

"Jesus!"

"Goddammit!"

"Are you freaking kidding me?"

"Goddammit. Okay go get the first aid kit."