“Slipstream” is out!

“Slipstream”, the third installment of “The Endless Cycle”, my middle-grade readers series, is available today on Amazon in paperback and Kindle e-book. The adventure concludes in the final book, “Endgame”. (The Avengers stole the name from me! 🙂 ) Watch for it on Sept 1.

Visit my author page to see the entire series so far, as well as all my other books. †

It occurred to me that I never even mentioned book 2 in the series: “Blowout”.

(Sorry that book promotions are about all I’m putting on my blogs lately, but a guy can only write so much!)

 

Extraordinary praise of the Ordinary

I’ve seen movies that deliver more satisfaction in their first ten minutes than others do in their entirety. I’ll never forget my first viewing of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Note placement of period and quote there.) When Jock flies that plane carrying Indy (and Jock’s pet snake Reggie) into the sunset, I was ready to get up and leave the theater. I’d already gotten my money’s worth. There was more action, excitement, and fun in that segment than most films carry in their first two hours and three sequels.

Pixar’s “Up” is another perfect example. The opening is a brilliant, poignant short film in its own right that outshines (IMHO) the rest of a good movie.

You probably have a list of such favorite openers. (Feel free to mention some in the comments.) In a few of those, the rest of the movie goes nowhere. You wish you actually had gotten up and left or turned off the DVD or stopped the streaming. More often, the beginning is just a foretaste of a great cinematic experience.

That’s a whole ‘nother post. This one isn’t about movies.

There are books like that, too. In fact, there are paragraphs buried in the middle some books that are so wonderful, you could read just those words, close the book, and savor the experience. I’m reading one of those books. To be more precise, I’m rereading one.

I’ve said before in various places (here is just one such instance) that Mark Helprin is my favorite writer. I have to reread some of his prose on a regular basis. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t write books often enough to satisfy my needs. The good news is that, in researching this post, I discovered he has a new novel!) There have been days when I picked up one of his books and read a page or even a paragraph or two to be reminded what great prose sounds like. The following excerpt from his 1995 novel, “Memoir from Antproof Case”, demonstrates well his ability to capture profound truths in prose that is both poetic and humorous.

So many people spend so much time protecting themselves from the ordinary and the worn that it seems as if half the world runs on a defensive principle that robs it of the tested and the true. But if the truth is common, must it be rejected? If the ordinary is beautiful, must it be scorned? They needn’t be, and are not, by those who are free enough to see anew. The human soul itself is quite ordinary, existing by the billion, and on a crowded street you pass souls a thousand times a minute. And yet within the soul is a graceful shining song more wonderful than the stunning cathedrals that stand over the countryside unique and alone. The simple songs are the best. They last into time as inviolably as the light.

I find that passage simply stunning. It’s only a single paragraph, but the truths expressed therein are worth hours or days of meditation.

For a variety of reasons, this kind of writing is comforting, challenging, thrilling, enlightening, and depressing.

And aren’t those the reasons we read—to think and to feel?

Local Authors presentation

Shameless self-(and-town-library-)promotion:

FLYER Local Authors 2016

That’s me in the upper left hand corner (in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti). I’ll be hanging out with my fellow local authors talking about our books. My book, A Slippery Land, will be available for sale. As part of my presentation, I’ll be showing photos of some of the settings in the book. Click on the poster above for more details about the event.

Come on out if you have a chance. Support local authors! (Such as me. :-))

Religious arguments

argueWe are an argumentative people. That’s “we” as in my family, Americans, humans. It’s a congenital trait, I’m afraid. Conflict is built into us. It’s not called the human “race” for nothing. We all feel the need to top the other guy, just as the Patriots topped the Seahawks in the Super Bowl this past weekend. But that wasn’t enough. The arguments continue: Are the Patriots only capable of winning because they’re cheaters? (For the record: No.) Are Brady/Belichick the best ever? (Yes.) Is Gronk superhuman? (It sometimes appears to be so.)

The fighting, it seems never ends, even when the fighting ends.

Although David Gates has a good point when he sings, “…an argument can be outta sight, when you love to argue and you know how to fight”, I’m afraid we don’t know how to argue or fight well these days. What start out as discussions invariably degenerate into name-calling spite-fests. That’s a whole ‘nother area of discussion (and perhaps an argument) that I described in some detail in this post from a few years ago.

Even those who would consider themselves above the fray, cultured literati who read, write, and talk about same, have their endless and futile religious arguments. Here are a couple you might overhear in a local coffee shop:

ebooksGood old-fashioned paper books are better than e-books. Now there’s a religious argument if ever there was one. It’s about as pointless as Archie and Meathead’s argument about the order of putting on shoes and socks. There is no right and wrong here. It’s pure opinion. My own personal preference depends on the context. If I’m traveling, I can load more books on my Kindle than I could fit in my luggage. Additionally, most traditional books are impossible to read while both hands are otherwise occupied.

Conversely, some books feel as if they were meant to be held in the hands. My copy of “A Soldier of the Great War” has a heft to it that matches the epic scale of the wonderful novel. It’s also signed. Try that with an e-book.

Finally, there’s something aesthetically pleasing about a shelf or entire wall of books. Scanning the binders can be a joy unmatched by twiddling through the menus of a Nook or Kindle.

Mona&DavidBooks are always better than the movies made from them. Hopefully no one has such a sweeping opinion. Anyway, it’s a specious argument for the most part. We’re talking about two different mediums: a mental one and a visual one. Your opinion may well depend on the way you process information. You might as well ask which is better, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David?

Were the “Lord of the Rings” books better than the movies? It’s a moot point. The films were the vision of a small group of artists, Peter Jackson and friends. Who am I to say their vision is wrong or right? I love both creations for what they are. Note: “The Hobbit” films are a different story for reasons I expounded on here.

Some books are rightfully considered unfilmable. Any attempt to do so generally leads to disaster. Cases in point from the not-too-distant past: “Winter’s Tale” and “Cloud Atlas”. Both were monumental critical and box-office failures made from monumentally fine books.

There are a few movies I believe improved on their literary source material. One prime example is “About a Boy”. A good book, a better film, the final third of the story having been changed radically for the better in my estimation. Thus we’re talking about two different stories. Which is better? Again, personal preference. In this case, my preference is the movie’s story. You may disagree.

 

These two arguments are carried on all over. They can actually be fun to argue about, if it’s done right. When it’s done wrong, we’re missing the point entirely. Needing to be right can kill relationships.

It’s 11:00. Do you know where your priorities are?*

(*Does anyone remember this reference?)

Of watermelons and books

watermelon&books

In the middle of his tea party, the Mad Hatter asks Alice a riddle:

Why is a raven like a writing-desk?

When Alice gives up trying to figure out the answer, she asks the Hatter, who says:

I haven’t the slightest idea.

I’ll do Mr. Carroll and his Hatter one better. Here’s a riddle, the answer to which I not only know, but will divulge (spoiler alert) in this post.

Why is a watermelon like a book?

First, confession time: This isn’t a true riddle, although what constitutes a true riddle (if that isn’t an oxymoron) isn’t 100% clear to me.

You see, I was cutting up and eating a watermelon today (I can never do the former without indulging in the latter) when it occurred to me that there are striking parallels between these two things that are, on the surface, quite different. Here’s my (probably partial) list of similarities:

  1. I love both of these items. I couldn’t imagine life without either one.
  2. Both are often consumed voraciously. I treat a book in the same way as I do the melon. At first I savor every bite/page, but as I approach the end, I down those chunks/pages as if they might disappear before I finish them.
  3. Both have seeds. In the case of the fruit, literal ones. (Yeah, even the “seedless” ones.) With books, they’re seeds of inspiration.
  4. Either one makes a great beach companion on a hot summer day.
  5. You can’t judge either by its cover. Believe me, in the case of watermelons, I’ve tried to figure out how to identify a quality melon by inspecting, tapping, or shaking it. I still end up with clunkers. Which brings me to the next thought:
  6. There are good ones and there are bad ones. Far fewer watermelons could be described as “bad” but I’ve had a few. Books, while I haven’t read them all, probably have more bad than good, especially in this day of self-publishing.
  7. You can grow your own. It’ll be a crap shoot quality-wise, but with time, effort, and enough fertilizer (make of that what you will) you can have yourself one sweet fruit of your labors.

Mind you, there are also major differences between watermelons and books which are hard to ignore.

  1. With few exception, watermelons are much bigger than books. They can be downright unwieldy.
  2. If watermelon juice drips, it becomes very sticky. I honestly can’t think of a book about which I could say the same thing.
  3. No one has yet been able to perfect the eMelon. I pray it never happens.

That’s about all I can think of at the moment. I’m open to your ideas.

Meanwhile, I’m going to grab a book and some watermelon.