Monday, September 1, 2014

Gone to DragonCon: will be back next week.

The title says it all.

I don't have a sign that says "Gone fishing."

Sadly, I don't have a sign called "Gone fission," because I may need that one.

Starting next week, we'll have videos and reports from DragonCon, including Peter David, David Weber, Jim Butcher, Gene Wolfe, and the ever-present John Ringo.

Also, with Ron Glass, Jeri Ryan, and Adam Baldwin.

It's been a LOOONNGGG weekend. See you all next week. Hope you had a good Labor day.a

Monday, August 18, 2014

PG-13 Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

There will be spoilers, but nothing that you couldn't have figured out from the trailers.

Since everyone in the universe has already seen Guardians of the Galaxy, I figure I would throw my two cents in. After all, I saw it over a week ago now, and I still haven't joined the masses on the subject. Besides, I had nothing else to blog about today.

My thoughts?

Is "Bat-shit insane" two words or three?

From an opening credit that has our lead dancing through an abandoned Temple of Doom set singing along to 80s music while kicking away vicious rats with an attitude problem, all the way to a climactic standoff with a bad guy that even had the bad guy going "What are you doing?" this was a roller coaster of demented from start to finish. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I hear Moulin Rouge won a few academy awards for their purely warped film.

Let's look at our roster of strangeness, even though that was one of the few things the credits conveyed in their The Usual Suspects-style commercials.

Peter "Starlord" Quill (Chris Pratt) was an alien abductee who was pretty much adopted by the abductors known as the Ravagers, almost immediately after his mother died of cancer ... well, that's timing. In the comics, the abductors murdered his mother during the course of his kidnapping, but they needed the Ravagers in the movie to be cavalry-ish, so they couldn't be too evil. In fact, considering that the Ravagers all have Southern accents, it almost felt like it was Duck Dynasty to the rescue. Sort of.  It's a long, strange story.

When the film opens, Quill has decided to betray the Ravagers by getting to the McGuffin device before the Ravagers can.

Anyway, we have Gamora, played by the wide-eyed Zoe Saldana. Yes, there's some chemistry, though she's not really the love interest in this one; but since they're getting a sequel, director James Gunn probably figured that they could stretch it out a bit, which I'm fine with. Gamora is the adoptive daughter of Thanos (big, stoney and purple from the end of The Avengers), modified to wreak havoc at his command. She's been loaned out to an alien terrorist called Ronan the Accuser, in exchange for the McGuffin.

Gamora sees the McGuffin device as her way far, far away from Thanos, who has earned his title of "The Mad Titan." So she's after Quill.

The .... let's call them Mercenaries ... Rocket Raccoon and Groot (walking tree) spot Quill when he goes to cash in on the McGuffin, and sees that the Ravagers have posted a bounty on his head.

When the four of them get together, the ensuing chase / fight is actually very well done. It goes back and forth like a tennis match gone awry. It's everybody versus everybody else, and it's like trying to get leverage on Gumbi.

Then the police arrive and throw everyone in the prison from Face / Off. No, I'm not kidding. It feels like they even took the set.

In jail, they run into Drax the Destroyer. Drax's entire family was murdered by Ronan, and Gamora was working for Ronan. This will not end well. Quill talks Drax down by suggesting that Gamora be used as bait.

If I say that there's a breakout, will anyone see that as a spoiler?

Anyway. Our five-some takes the McGuffin to Gamora's fence, known as the Collector (post-credits on Thor: The Dark World), who explains that the McGuffin is one of the Infinity Gems. Previous Infinity Gems include the Tesseract / Cosmic Cube from Captain America and The Avengers, the Aether from Thor 2, and probably the gem at the end of the spear of fate (The Avengers). This is #4. There are six of them scattered throughout the galaxy. Any one of them individually can wreak havoc.

But Ronan wants the gem, and our protagonists have it.   Hilarity ensues.

I must compliment James Gunn for introducing the insanity that is the Marvel cosmic universe to a mainstream audience. Let's face it, it's a big job. He has to set up five characters, set up the universe, all the while telling a story that will explain the endgame of the Marvel franchise.  Yes, endgame.  Trust me, Thanos is going to be the bad guy for The Avengers Three, probably subtitled The Infinity War. While strange, GotG is going to be necessary for the final product of the overall story arc.

Ronan, in the comics
Are there problems? Yes. Sure. Our adversary, Ronan the Accuser, isn't very colorful. Loki has some depth of character. Ronan is "a terrorist." He's too "traditional," without explaining what the traditions are. Is he someone who wants the return of the Persian Empire, or just wear funny hats? And he's described as a Kree, and at war with the Nova Corps and the people of Xandar ... but the Kree in the comics were at war with the Skrulls. In fact, the Accusers were essentially Judges from the Judge Dredd universe, and he was The Accuser because he was their Police Commissioner.  So, yes, I'd nitpick that Ronan in the comics had become more of a good guy, and had been part of a major war against something called "The Cancerverse," but I don't think anyone cares. He could have used a bit more fleshing out.

Anyway, what else? I suspect there are deleted scenes from the film. Mainly because they hired Karen Gillan of Doctor Who, and barely used her. Gillan plays Nebula, another daughter of Thanos. I expected a knockdown dragout with Gamora, but their battle felt truncated, and I suspect that there's stuff that ended on the cutting room floor.In fact, Nebula seems to only be there so she shows up in Avengers 3 (see above). Also, I wanted some more explanation here and there. For example .... who hired the Ravagers in the first place to find the McGuffin? There's a fence who hired them, yes, but who was it going to? We never knew.

But, overall, James Gunn had to put together the Avengers in space, with none of the backstory, previous movies, or large established fan base, and he did a fantastic job of it in less time than the Avengers did. I've only seen it once, so I may have to watch it a few more times before I decide whether or not there's anything beneath the strange.

But it's a summer movie. Yes, it's not as intellectually deep as Captain America, but there are more moving parts, and probably more going on in the background. Also, it's very meta.  It makes fun of itself, using standard movie tropes, then poking fun at it.  For example, that scene when they decide that yes, we're going to make a stand against the bad guys! Yes, we're going to go out fighting! I'm going to stand with you! (Then literally stand). Then they poke fun at that as they're doing it.

Also -- George Lucas, your special effects suck. You writing sucks. Your directing sucks. Why? BECAUSE YOU GOT OWNED BY A RACCOON. THAT'S WHY.

Yes, time for the acting critique.

The acting was quite good. It was the best acting gig Vin Diesel ever had (insert "he's very wooden" joke here); and they did a good job with someone who had only four words in the entire movie. Yes. Four. Bradley Cooper as Rocket was surprisingly touching at times, which means he's been allowed more acting range in this film than in every other movie combined.

Peter Quill was ... well, if Mal Reynolds had a personality, he'd probably be Peter Quill. Or Nathan Fillion.

Zoe Saldana didn't have a great acting range in this film, but then again, she doesn't need it on her resume, she held Columbiana together with both hands.

However, her stunt fighting was fun. Don't mess with Uhura in the next Star Trek film.

The surprise performance in this one was actually from Dave Bautista as Drax. Drax had emotional depth, the best one-liners in the film, and was a deeply, deeply damaged fellow.

This is more acting in one film than Mr. Bautista was allowed in all his years in wrestling.  (Yes, I sort of follow wrestling. And it's only "fake" if you plan to hit someone with a metal chair "just so," in such a way as you're not making them a rutabaga.)

In short, I liked it.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gun shop visit

Margot St. Aubin.
While I was in Chicago, I was offered a visit to a gun range by fellow Catholic blogger, Margot St. Aubin.  She had read the Pius trilogy thus far and could see that I wasn't exactly up on guns.

And by that I means I've never seen one off of a cop, and never held one. Welcome to New York City. Screw you, Bloomberg.

Anyway....

So, she offered me a range visit while I was in the area.

I walked in to the gun range, and explained the situation. When I said I was I New Yorker, I used the cop line from above.

Off of that visit .... well, one suggestion for writers: First of all, assume that there are no clips. They are magazines. Period. Few guns actually use clips.

Second, I didn't take any pictures because, really, I'm an idiot. Actually, I'm still not used to the concept of my phone as a tool to document every last event in my life.

Springfield, XD, 9mm. The model I used at the range
Upon my arrival, the store owner was pleasant. He went over the rules of gun safety, most of which I knew. He then went over the gun's operation, some of which I knew. I never really knew what to do with my thumbs when firing, now I know that they go over one side.

I knew about avoiding slide bite (when gripping the gun, make sure the slide doesn't take off skin between your thumb and forefinger).

Squeeze, don't pull.  I always knew this rule, just didn't really know how to apply it. Even after firing off some rounds, I'm still not 100% I do.

Don't point at anything you don't intend to shoot at / act like it's loaded all the time... again, I picked that up from many, many thrillers where guns come into play.

What I didn't know were the rules of the individual range. I knew that the slide locked back when the gun was empty, though I didn't know there was a little switch? Button? on the side that slid it back into position after it was reloaded, and automatically filling the chamber.

My stance was a simple weaver stance. Feet are diagonal, gun is cupped in both hands, elbows are not locked out ...

Basically, I learned the stance by watching Jack Bauer on 24.

I started out relatively close, only a quarter of the range, then I moved it halfway down range.  I fired 21 rounds, all but 3 landing within the 10 ring (well, I think). When one of the employees saw it, I think the word he used was "fantastic."  Or was that the hotel employee who saw me bringing it inside the hotel?  I'm not sure. There were a few compliments from complete and total strangers.

Either way, we've got photos.

Some observations.

Brass goes EVERYWHERE.  And I mean EVERYWHERE. The casing ejected over my shoulder, around my body, directly onto the floor, bouncing off the stall I was in, rolling as far as 8 feet away, easily.  I understand why not every killer polices their brass. It's hard work. And I was standing still. Imagine if it were a running shootout. Oy.

Firing a gun is a lot easier than I thought. Then again, the Springfield that I was using was very easy to operate.  It's not quite point and click, but it's close.  The grip safety is nothing. It's a button at the back of the pistol grip, just under where it meets the rest of the gun, where the webbing between thumb and index finger wrap around the gun.  From what I can tell, the hardest part was putting the bullets into the magazine. Step one, they broad flat part of the bullet goes into the narrow part of the magazine. The pointy-er bit goes towards the open end.  And after the first ten bullets, the spring inside the magazine starts to fight back.

Damn, that thing's light. As in toy gun light. The gun owner stripped the barrel off for me and let me hold the frame. The frame is comparable with a squirt gun.  The bullets will double the weight. Just over a dozen pill-sized pellets of doom will double the weight. Imagine it. It's strange.

Come to think of it, I think a super soaker, empty, is heavier than an actual gun.  Okay, it's been years since I've even seen a super soaker, but you get the idea.

I always heard that the magazine ejection button was behind the trigger, but it's actually on the side of the gun behind the trigger guard.

After firing, there was no smell that I really picked up on.  None. Seriously, none. There were three other people firing guns in that range at the same time, and I didn't really pick up on any major scent. I expected a smell akin to a fireworks display.  But, apparently, expanded cordite doesn't exist anymore. At all. So, just pretend it doesn't exist. I made reference to it in A Pius Man, but thankfully, I didn't say where the explosive came from, just that it smelled like a fireworks display.  Granted, I said it smelled like Cordite, but I might be able to bluff through if I'm called on it.

There are pink AR-15s. Really. It was strange, because I could ID it by sight, despite the pink. I may have been looking at guns too long.

It's official. Guns are not that scary. Also, I may need to rewrite some scenes in future novels.

Thanks once more to Margot for bringing me along. It was awesome.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I'm back! Action / Adventure panel at CWCL

The Catholic Writer's Conference, Live! action-adventure panel.

This will be an incomplete transcript of the entire panel, starring Declan Finn (me), Gene Wolfe, and John Desjarlais (French-Canadian pronunciation. Good luck) and Anthony Kolenc.

Now, there will be gaps here. I've forgotten most of what I've said, to heck with what anyone else said.  I'm going to ask anyone who was there to comment, and fill in the blanks. Anyone who posted to YouTube, please let me know, I'll post some here.

The moderator was the awesome and wonderful Ann Margaret Lewis.

Here we go.....

Q: Has a Saint's non-violence inspired you?

Declan Finn: Well, the closest I've ever come to that was with Thomas Aquinas. Like me, Aquinas was a nerd. He had only two real outbursts in his life.  One was when his family had hired a hooker -- a second one, because he converted the first -- only this one was more persistent in her job. Aquinas finally grabbed a burning log from the fireplace and chased her out, drawing a cross of fire into the door on her way out. I always liked that one if only for the comedy value. The second story was Aquinas at a party being held by King St. Louis. It was one of those "You've been invited. Go to the party, you'll have fun." During the party, he had a philosophical thought, rear up, and slammed the table, declaring "and that will settle the Manichees!" I've got a few characters who are also just as flakey.

Gene Wolfe: But the important part of that fight scene with the hooker -- and it was a fight scene, even if she just ran away -- was what was being defended!

JD: One of my earlier books was about a war that happened over a book. It was written back when I was still a Protestant. Who knew I was writing a Catholic novel?

Worst fight scene ever?
Declan Finn: Jack Higgins wrote a scene to the end of a family of villains who had been plaguing his heroes for books. It was a dark and stormy night, fighting on the roof.  The entire fight consisted of "They went at each other. They fought. They grappled, they rolled to the edge of the roof, and Rashid fell off."  He's been the bad guy for repeated books! I know fights are quick, but can I have a little more detail?

JD: The worst fight scene I've ever read was when a pivotal fight happened off screen, with no emotional payoff.

Q: Who can you give as an example of writing good fight scenes.
Lee Child's Jack Reacher.  Before every fight, there's a little dissertation on violence. It explains why he's targeting who he's targeting, and why he's hitting with what he's hitting.  And since Jack Reacher was 6'5" -- not Tom Cruise -- he was always being confronted by 5-7 people, and discussed group dynamics.

Ann: Do you think they stole that for the Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock Holmes films?

Well, for that, I can at least see Holmes doing it, because he's Holmes. He can play three-dimensional chess in his head.  As for stealing .... does Guy Ritchie even read? I know he was with Madonna for a while, so I wouldn't place money on it.

I also suggest James Rollins.  And for large scale battles, read Bernard Cornwell -- not John, Bernard -- who wrote the Richard Sharpe series. It was about the Napoleonic wars, and one of the few roles where Sean Bean did not die a horrible, horrible death.

[I got a few laughs there]

Q: Why do you write in your genre?
Declan Finn: Because thrillers are what people read. And I'm not going to write a romance novel.

What is your pet peeve about action scenes?

Gene Wolfe: When two guys are exchanging one-liners between punches. All of the one-liners in real life come before the punching starts. One of these days, I want someone to start a one-liner and get punched in the mouth.

[No, I don't remember what I said to that one. It's been a hard week]

Q: For science fiction and fantasy, it's easy to ignore tech or magic in order to have an exciting fight scene. (Remember how Indy shot the swordsman instead of the big scene they had planned.) How do you work around advanced tech that might make a dull fight?

Declan Finn: "I make it simple. I give all the advanced weaponry to the bad guys.  As for working around it -- the tech can be magical, but it's still run by people. People can be tricked. Confused. Or just plain stupid."

Gene mostly answered this question.  I don't remember his answer, though I want to have recalled it.  He also loved the Raiders swordfight cited above because that's very much how real fights go.


Q (from the audience): What makes a Catholic adventure?
JD: As Bilbo said in The Hobbit, "I'm going on an adventure!"  The first part of having an adventure is that you go out."
Me: I'm the simple one here. Catholic adventure? The priests aren't all Nazis. The Pope isn't evil.  There is good. There is evil. And evil must lose.

[I swear I had an "amen" at that point.]


Q (From the audience): "Have you ever had prayer, or angels, or a miracle to solve a problem? Something supernatural for a solution?"
Gene: "Yes, I did. I had one story where every time my main character would start praying, he would start to win."
Declan Finn: "Since I don't want it to be a deus ex machina, I do have a bit of a miracle in book three of my Pius trilogy, when the fecal matter hits the air impeller" [laugh].  "But it's like the old joke: A cop car goes up to a guy's house.  There's a flood coming. Get in the car. Guy says that God'll save me, God'll save my house. The next people to come by are in a boat, and they're talking to the homeowner in the second story window because that's where the water is.  Get in the boat, they say. Guy says that God'll save me, God'll save my house.  The next people to come by are in a helicopter, and the homeowner's on the roof. Guy says No, God'll save me, God'll save my house. Homeowner drowns.  When the homeowner asks, Why didn't you save me? God says 'I sent the cop, I sent the boat, I sent the helicopter, what more do you want?'  It's like that."

Then there were several great lines that I can't remember the context for......

JD: "The scene between Bilbo and Gollum in the cave is a buildup to Bilbo and Smaug later on, playing for much larger stakes. Setup, payoff."

JD: A fight has to either advance the story or the character.  You can't just have it to be there. It has to accomplish something.

[.... I hate him for that. He stole my line before I could say it. :)  Yes, I'm kidding. I love his novels Bleeder and Viper.  I should probably review then ... anyway....]

Declan Finn: "As was said by John, if it's going to bore the writer, it's going to bore the audience. I cut a scene from my novel Codename: Winterborn because there were too many fight scenes already.  But since the scene was something that had to happen for the story to move forward, and it was a navy SEAL versus some guys in the street, I boiled it down to a sentence of the aftermath, and moved on."

Gene Wolfe: "I'm glad to see that fighting men are wearing armor again. I had one of the first pieces of armor issued to the army. It was this big heavy nylon thing with lead squares, and it might as well have been made of solid metal. Anyway, during one time, this Lieutenant had come up on stage before the men, and he wore this bright green shining piece of armor with a string of grenades across the chest. It made him look like Flash Gordon. He had a truck of his new armor and he said "Is there anyone here who doesn't have armor?" I disconnected my straps, holding my armor up, and I shot up to the stage, saying "Me. I don't have armor."  And I got myself some shiny new armor, the first time it was given out to the enlisted men and not just officers.  Anyway, we made an about face, and marched out of the room, and there was my old armor, just lying there. The Lieutenant just laughed, picked up the armor, and threw it on the truck."


As I said, these are pieces and parts I recall from less than a week ago. Any help on filling in the blanks would be helpful

Monday, July 21, 2014

Simply Inspirational

Apparently, I'm inspirational.... No, seriously. I've been nominated for one of the most inspirational blogs on the net.

Normally, I'd say "Wow, that's awesome," but I'm still at the point in my life where I find it strange when people actually read anything I have to say.

Anyway, it's time for an announcement.... okay, technically, I've already announced it, so it's more of a reminder... I'm going to be in Chicago next week, for the Catholic Writer's Guild conference.

Yes, I know that Chicago is a haven for lawless violence and mass murder, and 20 people murdered each day, but I won't be in that part of the city. I have no intention of being near a gun....

Okay, I will be visiting a shooting range on the way back. I've been told that my gun fu can be better.

Enjoy the next two weeks. I'll see you all in August, when I return.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ten Rules I want Writers to follow

I was recently asked what rules, as I reader, I wish writers would follow. I came up with a few.

Rule #1: Don't preach at me. Tell the damn story... I think this is self explanatory.

Rule #2: Don't make up your own history, claim that you've done your research, and then NOT share your research. You are not Dan Brown, I don't tolerate it FROM Dan Brown, and I will waterboard the next schmuck who does that. Anyone want to test that threat? I'm a freaking historian. I know when you're lying you morons!!!!!

Rule #3: If you have an action sequence, HAVE an action sequence. I don't need blow-by-blow, but if your concept of a "fight" is "they fell to the roof and struggled with each other until they fell off," I will hurt you. Jack Higgins did that, and after that, I knew Sean Dillion series was doomed. I was writing like that when I was 16.

Rule #4: If you have a chapter, it has to be more than a paragraph long. If you only have snippets from a mad serial killer, we might forgive you if it's a handful of chapters. If it's your entire novel, you should be beaten to death with the hard copy.... I'm looking at you, James Patterson.

Rule #5: Vampires only sparkle IF THEY'RE ON FIRE.

Rule #6: Fantasy authors, please, for the love of God, if you're going to have a system of magic set in a modern environment, please explain where magic comes from. [Ahem: Dear Madam Rowling, where do wizards get their powers FROM? Why do they actually need wands? Why can some spells not require any wands?  A paragraph over your 7 novels would have been fine to explain any of this]

Rule #7: Stop giving me stupid villains. Just stop. Please.
Rule #7b: Stop giving me insipid heroes. Just ... don't.
Rule #7c: In fact, Stephen King, just stop writing entirely.

Rule #8: While we're at it, SOMEONE HAVE AN ORIGINAL IDEA. I don't care if you've been a bestseller for 20 years, stop pumping out books like they're an obligation. I'm looking at you King ... Higgins ... Patterson ... Pat Cornwell ... Nora Roberts does consistently better and original ideas than you twits, and she's a ROMANCE NOVELIST.  Gah.

Rule #9: Stop with the utterly dark nonsense. I'm tired of the same dystopian universes, the same miserable outlooks on humanity, and the same anti-heroes. Snake Plisskin only works once. Twice if you make him into a Metal Gear character. After that I'M BORED. You can give me an anti-hero if he's well-developed, likable, smart. You can stop giving me the same depressing, dark, amoral character who actually HAS no character development.  Even the book Codename: Winterborn, which has been compared to Escape from New York, went out of its way to describe how society works, how people life, how there's an economy. I never want to see another Escape from New York or Terminator universe unless they're in Escape from New York or the Terminator universe

Rule #10: Stop, stop STOP making professional soldiers into sociopathic Redshirt canon fodder while the plucky hero WITH ZERO COMBAT EXPERIENCE gets out alive.  Thank you

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Review: The Watson Chronicles.

For those of you who are suffering from a deficit of Sherlock, wondering why Robert Downy Jr. hasn't made another Sherlock Holmes film already, and the okay-Elementary isn't really cutting it, have we got something for you.

A while back, Ann Margaret Lewis wrote Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, in which she had the venerable detective come face to face with Pope Leo XIII, with a guest cleric named Father Brown. Holmes solved mysteries that Arthur Conan Doyle only hinted at in his books -- Sherlock fans will recognize the title of the short story "The Vatican Cameos."

And now, Madam Lewis tackles the next great task in filling the Sherlockian mysteries -- namely, giving Dr. Watson a personal life.

The premise: this book takes place in the latter years of Sherlock Holmes' career.  He is about to move to Sussex and raise bees (a retirement he had been threatening for years), and Watson decides to go back into private practice (since he had given up his last practice to live off of his stories published in The Strand). Watson has a nervous landlord, a sickly partner, and a lovely upstairs neighbor. But, as with Jessica Fletcher, the bodies are soon hitting the floor, and Watson is drawn into international intrigue and murder, and requires the aid of not one but two Holmes brothers.

And that's just the first part of The Watson Chronicles: A Sherlock Holmes Novel in Stories.  True, it's broken down into short story format, but it's a novel, plain and simple, written in such a fashion as to mirror the writing style and structure as Arthur Conan Doyle.  And if you don't believe that she writes in his style, I tell you that even the paragraph structure reads like Arthur Conan Doyle.

A good chunk of this book is a romance. No, not written porn, in the modern sense.  There are some elements of romantic comedy, mixed with some solid drama (real drama, not forced conflict for sake of drawing it out). We have a good, strong female romantic lead in the upstairs neighbor, Lucyna Modjeska -- Lucy, for short (and if you quibble with me because she doesn't throw a single punch or kick in the book, I will answer that it takes more strength to deal with both Holmes brothers than could be managed by Xena: Warrior Princess). Lucy is a bit of a saint, with all the flaws that implies.  And if you don't think a saint can be flawed, read some of the lives of the saints sometimes; there is a reason the church says that saints are to be admired, not necessarily imitated. It becomes an interesting time having a Polish-American Catholic working with two British Anglicans. She is a great addition to this established cast of characters, and works well with all the moving parts involved.

Great line: "One way to impress a Catholic girl is to tell her that you met the pope."

One of the fun parts of this book -- and there are so many, it's hard to count -- is the way Lewis has the stories interact with "reality." Basically, Watson's a writer, and writers get feedback, whether they like it or not.  There are some stories that are published years apart, and why is that? How does Watson deal with his own fans? That sort of thing. Lewis also addresses the little feature of how it was ten years between Holmes' death and resurrection in print, but only 3 years in the Holmes universe, leading to lines like "I'm so glad to know you're not dead."

And Mycroft Holmes gets his own murder mystery to solve. It's fun.  Then again, Mycroft and Sherlock actually act like brothers, at one point one-upping each other.  (Great line #2: "Holmes, you do not like women. Well, I don't like people.")   And then there's the story of his time in Montenegro, which makes for an interesting nod to another overweight genius in detective fiction.

I'm trying to put into words just how much I like this book, and it's hard. It truly is.  Especially since I don't want to come off as a fanboy.  This book is so good, I'm almost sad that there is no sequel already planned and penned; though the ending makes for such a good conclusion to Lewis' Sherlock works, as well as the entire Holmes canon. I'm not exaggerating.  With with Murder in the Vatican, I want to go back and reread all of these stories in order with the original Arthur Conan Doyle works, but I'm afraid that he will come out the worst for it.  But if I do, The Watson Chronicles will be the last thing I read, just so I can end it all on a high note.

Okay, let's skip to the interesting part. Buy this book.  Buy this book now.  If you didn't buy Murder in the Vatican, what are you waiting for? Buy that too.  While you're at it, buy a dozen other copies for your friends and family.

You want more reasons?  Because Ann Lewis has taken every single hole left by Arthur Conan Doyle and filled it.  Did you know that Watson had three wives because Doyle couldn't keep track of the names or who he had killed? Ann Lewis filled all of that in. Did you know that ACD couldn't remember if Watson had been shot in the leg or the shoulder? Lewis addresses that too.

You're going to read this book for every little character touch between Holmes, Watson, Lucy and Mycroft -- Mycroft, who is a major player in this book that he never was in actual Sherlock canon, and he has some of the best lines in this book, even when he's not recreating natural law. You're going to read this book for Dr. Watson's wedding being presided over by the "inscrutable" Father Brown, and to see almost every single case Sherlock Holmes has ever solved come back to him in one of the most tightly written, canon-filled and canon-filling books put on paper.

And you're going to read this book because it is one of the best, most touching, hilarious, heart warming, tear-jerking Sherlock Holmes novels ever written.

Stop reading this review, click on the link, and start reading. Go. Now. Don't just stare at the page, go.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014

Music blog: Amaranth, by Nightwish

The Fury Clock, by Christopher Bunn

The Fury Clock, by Christopher Bunn

...Yeah, I'm not sure what I was expecting when I started this one, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't this.

The flap copy:
MAYHEM, MAGIC AND MANIAC DWARVES
Malix Shandy, the best-looking scoundrel in the kingdom, sets off on a hopeless quest to find the dreaded Fury Clock. If he doesn’t find it in seven days, he’ll suffer a fate worse than death. Teamed up with an enormous ogre and a psychotic dwarf, Shandy starts to think maybe death would be restful after a week in such company. But he doesn't have time to die, not with all the necromancers, vampires, and dragons out to get him.

Brimming with romance, monsters, magic, and deceptive wenches, The Fury Clock is a humorous and rollicking adventure in the tradition of Terry Pratchett and Terry Brooks.

I made the mistake of not seeing the book's full title before I read it, and that probably threw me for the beginning.  What's the full title? The Fury Clock (The Infinite Wheel of Endless Chronicles Book 1).  I think someone might -- just might, mind you -- be making fun of Robert Jordan.  Just a little.

Bunn's style for this book feels like a little of column A, a little of column B, and a pinch of What The Hell Is This?  The vast majority of the book *does* feel like Terry Pratchett writing The Princess Bride, and in the middle, we wander into the Xanth books of Piers Anthony .... sometimes, not in a good way, but, overall, the book works.

I'll unpack that statement for those who aren't complete and total nerds.  We've got our hero, Malix, described as a "man in black" (at least he wasn't a dread pirate) on trial for treason, set free to do the work of a shadowy figure who runs the country from behind the scenes (at least the malevolent shadow was not a tyrant who asked him about angels, a la Pratchett's Going Postal).

Along the way, instead of footnotes, we get little treatises on various and sundry subjects, much like Prachett's novels, or perhaps the The Hitchhiker's Guide. As one of the major scenes in the books take place in the Tavern at the center of the Earth instead of the restaurant at the other end of the galaxy, you can see why it might come to mind.

There are some conversations, like with Anthony, that drag on, and makes you wonder "Where is this going?"  However, unlike Anthony, never, not once, is a page or chapter merely a buildup to one bad pun. For that alone, Bunn should be given tons of awards and dollars.

The casual use of soul gems and describing a princess as "a peach" makes me think "Hmm, a gamer wrote this," but I could be reading into things.

After the 20% mark, the book tends to wander a bit (see: Piers Anthony, cited above). Our hero picks up some companions for some odd reasons, but they do make the journey interesting. By 30%, we're solidly back on track and full speed ahead. So if you get stuck around that point, and can get past it, you're golden.

Did I like the book? Sure. It was fun.  The ease of casual lines like dwarves hankering for a good GLT (goat lettuce and tomato) and platform shoes.  The hippie Charon was fun. There was a dragon that should have been voiced by Stephen Fry. And how can one forget the outlaws with bylaws .... oh, sorry, they were "redistributionists," can't forget that.

However, if you're looking for deep character studies, richly drawn characters with their own personal biography, or Lord of the Rings, then do not approach. This is pure entertainment, and somewhat deranged entertainment at that -- this is a compliment, coming from me.  If you're looking for a rock-solid, fun ride that's Piers Anthony without the terrible, terrible puns, or an American Terry Pratchett, then The Fury Clock is for you.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Music Blog: Immortal

Just because I like the sound of this one. I tripped over it in my wanderings for new music. Enjoy.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Scenes from Codename: Unsub.

This is the first time I've done something like this, assuming you don't count those short stories that became extras in A Pius Man.  This is actually from my current novel in progress, entitled Codename: Unsub.  It will probably come out after A Pius Stand, especially since A Pius Stand is damn near done.

If you don't know the plot of Codename: Winterborn, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

However, that being said, please read the book already.

Anyway, the prologue to the next Finn and Yoskowitz novel, Codename: Unsub, is below the break. Let me know what you think. While I have no problem with you pointing out errors (crowdsource editing ... works for me), and if you decide to lynch me for a few errors, well, I'm writing three books at the same time, doing most of the copy editing, line editing, proofing, while also being the primary marketer, and maintaining a blog that posts once if not three times a week. When you do the same, let me know.

Editing help, good. Heckling? Bad.

More below the break.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: Night Wolves.

Last year, I was asked to review something at the Catholic Writer's Guild. The story was called Night Wolves, part of a collection called Continuum: Fables of the Fallen.

The premise?

Fables of the Fallen is the first installment of the Continuum Series. Published by a college writer's group, these six Fantasy/ Sci-fi stories explore the depth of true fallen heroes. Join a Legend Slayer, Mind Reader, Ghostwalker, Mage, and a Medieval Soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in these truly fantastical tales. There is no triumph without the fall.
Let's start at the beginning. The beginning is that I hate short story collections. Never could get into them. Most of the time they're written by authors who can't leave their own universe long enough to create an original character -- so that means unless you've read everything else the author has written, you're SOL.

And then there was Night Wolves.

Night Wolves, by Kathleen Gulo, starts as a rather painless coming of age tale (COAT), with what appears to be werewolves thrown in (when the word "silver" is used to describe teeth and eyes, I think "werewolf").

And then Aragorn showed up. Long story... okay, a short story, but you get the idea.

Keep in mind, "painless" coming of age tale is a compliment. Most COAT trend to 90s Disney movies, and I can't stand them. This was far superior, and makes you keep reading.

This is apparently the prequel to another novel. And I'm glad, because I do want more, and I look forward to it, when it arrives. And it better be soon, because I want to see what happens next. This is the best story of its kind I've read since Peter David.

I look forward to Gulo's next story. Preferably the next novel, because I'd rather not just have one potato chip.

Prominent Catholic Writers to Speak at Catholic Writers Conference in Chicago Area

Dang it, this was supposed to post earlier today. Instead, it went to "Draft."

Maybe Chicago doesn't suck quite as bad as one might think. The Catholic Writers Conference is going to be there this year. July, in fact.

However, while it's not mentioned, there's going to be one more person there.

Me.  I'm going to be on an action/adventure panel with Ann Margaret Lewis, John Desjarlais and Gene Wolfe. 

See, they have no taste at all.

Prominent Catholic Writers to Speak at Catholic Writers Conference in Chicago Area
SCHAUMBURG, Ill., June 2, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ -- Several prominent Catholic writers will speak at the sixth annual Catholic Writers' Conference LIVE taking place July 30-August 1, 2014, at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel in Schaumburg, IL. Sponsored by the Catholic Writer's Guild and the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN), and held in conjunction with CMN's annual retailer trade show, the Catholic Writers Conference LIVE provides Catholic writers with a prime opportunity to meet and share their faith with editors, publishers, fellow writers, and bookstore owners from across the globe. The theme of this year's conference is "Perseverance."

Speakers at this year's conference include authors Lisa Hendey (BOOK OF SAINTS FOR CATHOLIC MOMS), award-winning science fiction/fantasy author Gene Wolfe (THE NEW BOOK OF THE SUN), Inspirational Speaker Lizzie Velasquez, Gary Zimak (FROM FEAR TO FAITH), Claudia Volkman (Editor, Servant Books), Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle (EWTN, CATHOLIC PRAYER BOOK FOR MOTHERS), Ellen Gable Hrkach (STEALING JENNY), author Declan Finn (A PIUS MAN: A HOLY THRILLER) and many others.

The conference will give authors an opportunity to meet personally with publishing professionals and pitch their writing projects. Some participating publishers are Ignatius Press, Ave Maria Press, and Servant Books. In addition, attendees have the opportunity to sign up for fiction critique workshop with award-wining short fiction writer Arthur Powers, a non-fiction critique group with Nancy Cook Ward and attend a writing workshop with novelist John Desjarlais. Information for these events can be found on the conference website.

The Catholic Writers Guild, a religious non-profit organization affiliated with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, sponsors this conference in July, an online conference in March, and a writers' retreat in October to further its mission of promoting Catholic literature. "With members all over North America, these events bring our diverse membership together for fellowship and networking to promote our mission of creating a rebirth of Catholic arts and letters," says CWG President and award-winning novelist Ellen Gable Hrkach.
Registration costs $80 for CWG members, $85 for non-members and $45 for students. There's also a discounted combined membership. To register or for more information, go to www.catholicwritersconference.com.
The contact information for this event is Ann Lewis, at 317-755-2693.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

E3 2014 Day 1, part 2

Yeah, you didn't think that yesterday's post was EVERYTHING at E3 that looked cool, did you?

No such luck.

First, a few things.  One, there's a new Call of Duty game that I commented on over at The American Journal.  Then there's the Year of Being the Villain, as well as another look at yet another postmortem Tom Clancy property (I swear, his postmortem career is almost as bad as Ludlum's. Maybe worse.)

Oh, and Halo is back.

And then there's this. I want this game. I want it now.... and I'm still playing the first one. Dang it.



Then there's a book-inspired video game that makes me want to read the books and  play the game.




And there's another Assassin's Creed game, if you care.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

E3 2014, Day 1

I hate E3. It makes me want to buy systems and games I probably can't afford. Damn them.

Far Cry 4 looks like a lot of fun. In fact, I'm going to link to the two videos and the commentary I have over at American Journal.  Enjoy.

There's also a look at the new Battlefield, Cops and Robbers. That's not the title, but it should be, darn it.

As for the games here, first....

Because he's BATMAN.



Bayonetta 2 ...... I loved the first one. It was just plain FUN.




Uncharted 4



Oh, and.... oooo, shiny.



E3 Meets its Destiny.



This was just hilarious. Zombies go into self parody.

Updates, and E3

So, you're wondering....

John, Declan, whatever alias you're using this week, what the hell has been going on with you? You don't really deliver on blogs, and you're mostly just slapping together a post filled with links to other things you're doing. What the hell?  What happened to A Pius Stand? What happened to that thing with the vampires? What's going on?

Well, a few things. A Pius Stand should be done by July. Yes. July.  The beta readers are going through it now, including the lovely Ann Margaret Lewis. Yes, a real, honest-to-God author is reading my stuff. I've already gotten one good review from a beta reader.  The comment, well...
"durn you. now i had to go and buy the 1st two. Liked it that much."
And he did, I saw the sale numbers.

So, that's good.

Right now, Honor At Stake, "that vampire novel" is with the publisher. Haven't heard back from them ... well, that's not true. I've heard back from the owner of the company, and I've heard from the art department. I got the impression my book was a few down in the stack. I have time ... and I'm already working on the sequels. All three of them.

While I'm doing that, I'm working on the sequel to Codename: Winterborn, and I'm waiting for my coauthor to do something.

By the way, E3 is out, and I'm covering it for American Journal. Enjoy.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Music, Lists, Arrow, and Agents of SHIELD

I've been doing a lot of writing lately, though not here.  I've got Codename: Unsub to work on (the sequel to Codename: Winterborn), A Pius Stand to finish when the beta readers get back, and I'm working on Murphy's Law of Vampires, while I'm waiting for Damnation to get back to me on Honor At Stakes.

To start with, there is the list of Arrow vs. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  And, damn, there were a lot of reasons.

There is also what we're not going to miss from the Star Wars expanded universe, courtesy of The Mouse.

You can check out any of my articles on The American Journal, if you feel like looking at me being cranky with the news, politics, politicians, life, that sort of thing, as I do my impersonation of a right-wing fringe lunatic.... or maybe just a lunatic.

If that's not enough, I've got a fun bit of music for you today.

Now, pardon me, I have to keep working. I hear that DC did something else stupid over the weekend that I have to rant and rage against.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My radio career has begun!!!

In case you were wondering what the bloody Hell I was doing for the last week, well...

I was getting ready to host a radio program.

I explain below.

Check Out Writing Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Writestream on BlogTalkRadio

Monday, May 19, 2014

TV Review Roundup. The Season Finale

After having done the mid-season review, I figured I should have some follow-up.

Walk with me through my television viewing one more time..

Arrow:I think I've gushed about this show often enough.  Between my review, and my post on American Journal about it, I think we all know where I stand. And my opinion hasn't changed. It was an amazing season from start to finish, and they only got better with each successive episode, ramping up the stakes and the threat with each new twist. And the final fight scene, which involved inter-cutting the battle of the past with the one of the present, was a great bit of business.  Oh, and the final setup for the Season 3 flashback storyline? Oliver Queen, Agent of ARGUS, I have a few associates who can testify to the fact that, yes, I did call that one.  And damn if it isn't going to be absolutely frigging awesome by the end of the day. MUAHAHAHAHAHAH
Ahem .... anyway, as I was saying....

[more below the break]