2016 Troxellian Literature Awards

•December 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It’s year number four for the world famous Troxellian Literature Awards, the mandatory end-of-year awards where I rate all the books I read over the past year and give them fake awards based on their goodness or badness (yup, those are the words I chose to use).

This was a down year for me reading-wise since I did a lot of writing this year. I finished another novel earlier in the year (an epic fantasy comedy) and I’m eight chapters into my latest novel (where a recent high school grad spends 30 days riding a roller coaster as part of a radio contest). As part of my revision process for my epic fantasy comedy I reread the entire Lord of the Rings saga so that took up a large part of the year. I also read a large number of graphic novels because…I like them and pictures are easier to look at than large blocks of text. In fact, a third of the books I read were graphic novels this year. Wow.

Regardless, there’s some interesting stuff on the list this year…and some utter crap. Here are the nominees in the order that I read them. I’ll post the winners some time before the end of the year:

1. Batman: Secret City by Scott Snyder (GN)

2. Batman: Dark City by Scott Snyder (GN)

3. Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

4. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

6. Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon (GN)

7. The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien

8. The Two Towers by Tolkien

9. Return of the King by Tolkien

10. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? by Peter Hedges

11. Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen

12. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden

13. After the Snow by S.D. Crockett

14. Under the Dome by Stephen King

15. Malice by Chris Wooding

16. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

17. The Walking Dead Compendium 3 by Robert Kirkman (GN)

18. Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin

19. Old Man Logan by Mark Miller (GN)

20. X-Men Apocalypse Compendium (GN)

21. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

22. Watchmen by Alan Moore (GN)

 

America Undressed

•November 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

We’ve seen America undressed over the past year…and it was not pretty.

The ugliest, nastiest, most sensationalized presidential election in the history of American politics finally comes to a close tonight. As I speak, final tallies are coming in from across the nation. I rarely write politic posts on this blog, but I wanted to write about the Hillary/Trump election before the results were official, mainly because I want it to be clear that the winner is irrelevant. I know most people won’t agree with that sentiment, but it’s true. The winner will be a different shade of bad than the other. Nothing more.

Even more important than the eventual winner is what we, as a nation, have lost over the past few months and I fear we’ve surrendered ideals that can never be reclaimed. It’s not all that different from 9/11. We were never the same after that day in 2001. We won’t be the same when the dust settles and all the stupid signs are pulled up out of people’s front lawns and the ads with the terrifying music finally fade into the abyss.

Here’s what we’ve learned from this election:

  • America’s celebrity worship is out of control. We can no longer tell the difference between entertainment and serious matters. They are one in the same. Celebrities are the new American gods.
  • The two major political parties openly manipulate the primary system and silence the voice of American voters…and absolutely nothing is done about it. We truly are powerless to stop The Machine when their treachery is laid out before us and they suffer zero consequences.
  • American morality is dead. The things that Clinton and Trump did and said should have disqualified them from living in any civilized community, not to mention run for President of the United States. In particular, the things Trump said during the election should have prevented any decent human being from supporting him, but his hate-filled rhetoric only seemed to empower his voting base. I can’t think of a more flagrant dismissal of morals since President Bill Clinton lied under oath, sexually assaulted women, and not only suffered zero real consequences but actually increased his popularity  throughout the country.
  • The Media’s bias is no longer conjecture. They actively engage in misinformation and misdirection to manipulate the public. They no longer report the news, they decide what the news is going to be. Truly terrifying…
  • Our choice is illusion. When you’re given a choice between a bullet or a blade, there is no choice.

Maybe this is too pessimistic, but I think it’s justified. The majority of people I speak to about politics feel an overwhelming sense of despair about the whole thing. When this election is over, Talking Heads will try to put a positive spin on things and talk about Americans coming together to blah blah blah (as they always do), but things will be different this time. I’m not sure you can piece America back together after it’s been drawn-and-quartered.

There are some things that can’t be unseen.

There are some things that can’t be unheard.

Some scars never heal.

If anything, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on, Democrats, Republicans, and everything in between: Things need to change.

The Book of the Macabre

•November 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment
My latest short story, Epidemic, appears in the newly released collection of unsettling stories, The Book of the Macabre. Check out the cover:
book_of_macabre
I always enjoy seeing my work in print. Most of my stories have appeared in e-zines, which is cool to be able to access the story whenever I feel the need, but there is something about pulling a magazine off a shelf and seeing your story among the pages. Opportunities to appear in print magazines are dwindling by the day so I try to appreciate it when I sneak a story into a honest-to-goodness paper magazine.
I wish I was prouder of Epidemic, but it’s a depressing piece (which is kind of the theme for the magazine, focusing on the macabre and all). It’s about a mother coming home during an epidemic and finding that her husband has taken their children into hiding out of fear she’s infected. She must wait the three-day incubation period until her family returns…if they return at all. It’s a literary piece that’s heavy on mood and tension.
My inspiration for this story came about while my wife and I were playing through worst-case scenarios. Cindy is a night nurse so we were discussing what I would do if there was an epidemic at the hospital where she works. I thought about it and the answer was tough but pretty simple: I would take the kids and leave if I thought that was the best way to keep them safe. That’s easy to say from the perspective of the parent taking the kids, but it would be much more difficult being on the other end of that scenario. So that’s the position I put myself in for the story. There’s nothing more terrifying for a parent than to be powerless to help your children or keep them safe. That’s where the horror element comes into play in my story.
If you’re interested in reading the story, check out the ordering information here.

New Online Story, “The Suit”

•September 10, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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There’s a new online story posted on my website. This one’s called “The Suit.” It’s about a man named Jon Zanetti who loses his job at his advertising firm and ends up working at the local supermarket. With his dignity all but tapped out, he decides to hijack the store…armed with nothing more than a really nice suit.

Here’s a taste:

     Jon wanted to apologize for not being able to support the family, but he had already apologized so many times, the idea of apologizing again just seemed hollow. He turned and watched his wife iron in nothing more than her socks and underwear. He followed her long, muscular legs all the way up to her white cotton panties. Sheila had been a runner in college, and she still had those thick yet feminine legs only female runners seem to have. He realized this was the most he had seen of his wife since losing his job.

     Sheila finished ironing her scrubs, and Jon quickly turned back to the closet so she wouldn’t catch him staring. She dressed and left without saying good-bye, leaving Jon with nothing to do but get his clothes ready for his shift at the store the next day.

     He pulled out an anonymous pair of khakis and a tan polo, but he couldn’t stand the sight of them. He threw them back into the closet and slammed the door. He leaned his back against it, knowing that his smock was waiting for him, clawing at the door. Gathering his resolve, he opened the door, but it wasn’t the smock that drew his attention. No, it was the Valentino suit, hanging there amidst his pauper clothes, reminding him of what he once was, looking regal and reeking of all his past success. He smiled at it like an old friend coming to visit and he felt like his old friend smiled back.

If you want to read the rest of the story, check it out here: The Suit

Summer Reading

•August 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Is summer reading still a thing that people do?

 It’s tough to judge people’s relationships with literature sometimes when you’re an English teacher. I just assume people read because I often see people reading, but those people I usually see reading are reading because I forced them to do so. Usually if people are waiting for something or just hanging out they’re trolling on their phone so passive reading is nearly extinct.

 I was pleasantly surprised how many people I saw reading on the beach this summer. There was a smattering of people sitting under umbrellas reading books while their children were pulled away by the undertow and that made my heart feel good as a writer…not that their children were drifting away on the ocean currents but that people were reading who weren’t forced to do so. I tried to peek at what people were reading and it was the usual stuff (Patterson, Clancy, King, Cornwell, etc.), but I was just glad to see people with their noses in a book.

 I usually grab a couple books from our school’s MEDIA CENTER (We’re not allowed to call it a library or else the library police will come and force us to hire a licensed librarian…) that look interesting so I can make recommendations for my students in the fall. For that reason I end up reading a lot of YA during the summer and I usually try to read something fun or something that’s been waiting on a shelf for a long time.

 I was still completing my Lord of the Rings marathon at the end of June so once I finally finished rereading Return of the King I started on my summer reading. I read…

 1) After the Snow (a teen boy tries to find his family in a future world where a new Ice Age has descended)

2) Tomorrow, When the War Began (A group of Australian teens fight against invaders during World War III…it was terrible and I never even finished it)

3) Brian’s Winter (Sequel to Hatchet…read it in a single day)

4) Malice (a cool mix of a novel intertwined with a graphic novel…awesome idea)

5) Under the Dome (still reading it so the jury’s still out)

 I’m not sure where this idea that there’s more time in the summer for reading came from (It’s a flat-out lie), but I encourage year-round reading, especially when one of my novels is finally published. It’ll be the perfect read for all seasons. Just read dammit!

Snow Day in Flash Fiction Magazine

•July 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

My flash piece, Snow Day, was the featured story today on Flash Fiction Magazine’s website. You can read it Here.

Probably the most frequent question non-writers ask me about my work is “How do you come up with your ideas?” It’s probably the least interesting question someone can ask a writer. Usually my answer is, My brain came up with it and then I wrote it down. I get that some people don’t have very vivid imaginations (I blame television and video games and stupid toys that make sound and move and do everything for you), but I think of weird stuff pretty often and if I think it’ll make a good story I write the story down. That’s pretty much it.

This story was different, though. This story premise came to me, and I knew immediately it would make a great story. I think a good writer has to have that sixth sense that sends up alarms when he/she hears a news story or an anecdote that would make a great story. The premise came to me during an English department meeting last school year. Another instructor had just finished working on personal narratives with her students and she came in with a story about one of her students writing about dragging snow inside the house so he could sled down the stairs.

The adult in me was horrified. I thought about the soggy carpets and muddy boots and the mess. Then the child in me shouted about how great an idea it was because then you could sled without having to be out in the cold. Boom! The contrast between how a child views a snow day vs. how an adult views one. Perfect story premise.

And that’s how Snow Day was born.

I guess the irony is that since I’m a teacher I still look forward to snow days as much as any kid. Almost as much as I look forward to SUMMER VACAAAAAAAATIOOOOOOOOON!

It’s important to hang on to some of that kid stuff. Try not to grow up too fast out there, people. Oh, and read Snow Day and comment about how awesome it is. That is all.

Literary Badge of Honor: Lord of the Rings

•July 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

LotR1

I’ve completed one of the great literary journeys in nerd literature. I just finished reading The Hobbit and the entire Lord of the Rings (LotR) epic back-to-back-to-back.

 It was pretty serious.

 I’m currently writing a “quest” novel that’s a mix of Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride so reading LotR was absolutely necessary. I first read the entire epic in the summer of 2003 (between the release of the second and third Peter Jackson films). I worked at the Dollar General at the time and I would hide in the storage room between stacks of boxes and read for a few minutes until I felt guilty and went off somewhere to pretend to work. I love the films (greatest film trilogy of all-time) and I always intended to reread the entire Middle Earth collection and now seemed like the right time.

 Let me tell you, it was exhausting.

 Without including The Hobbit, my copy of LotR weighs in at a hefty 1,112 pages. That’s serious reading. I was physically exhausted by the end of it. I was taking notes throughout most of the first two books, but by Return of the King I was just plowing through trying to get to the top of Mount Doom. As much as I love Tolkien and the entire world of Middle Earth, the series is just too damn long! The descriptions of the locales drag on for dozens of pages, we learn the family tree and lineage of every single character, and Frodo and Sam’s sections stretch out for eternity describing the types of rocks they’re walking over. Oh, and then there’s, like, seven different endings until the last boat finally sets off for the Undying Lands (which I assume is basically Middle Earth’s version of Doggy Heaven).

 Seriously, reading the books again has made me appreciate the film trilogy that much more. To whittle that mass of words into 557 minutes of coherent film is amazingly impressive. Still, no one can claim to be a TRUE nerd without going on the entire journey with Gandalf, Gollum, and the super whine machine, Frodo. If you want to know how to write a quest novel, Tolkien is your guy.

 Next Literary Badge of Honor: Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses and pretending to understand 12% of it.