Well, THAT was fun …

The other day I was on Twitter and some guy posted a tweet saying that indie books were rubbish and he hadn’t come across a decent one yet so I replied, yeah, I had the same problem and, see image above. Because the guy was being sarcastic and meant exactly the opposite.

Should probably work on his sarcasm but that’s fine, I shouldn’t have been so direct because, Holy Hannah, the “Twitter writing community” just exploded. No, not over the initializing tweet which apparently the “Twitter writing community” understood as sarcasm because they know the guy– I don’t. Silly me — but, instead, that I agreed with it.

It was like criticizing the Politburo. And the response was very North Korean. 

Accused of creating a false issue to get publicity, that I thought I was better than everyone else, that I was an asshole … well, I am, but that’s reserved for my wife to point out. I haven’t seen a reaction like this since I told the head cheerleader her hair dye looked weird. It is an 8th grade world.

So what exactly is the problem here?

Well, it’s two fold: the demand for support, and Twitter as a writer’s group.

Twitter. As a writer’s group. Oh, please.

You want a writer’s group, go to Facebook, or better yet Backspace.org, which was, for years, the best writer’s group on the web when Karen Dionne  was running it. Or go to your local library ‘cause they usually have a writer’s work group of some kind but, Lord, not Twitter.

Twitter is the devil. And the devil cares nothing for your feelings.

But the “Twitter writers’ community” sure does, and thou shalt not criticize! Thou shalt support and nurture and encourage and ohmigod, I can’t stand it. What are these people going to do when they finally release their opus magnus into the wild and readers get ‘aholt’ of it and start ripping it to pieces? 

Well, they’ll pout and cry and accuse readers of being assholes. Because they are making the same mistake every starry eyed with-dreams-and-visions bestseller wannabe makes: if their support group likes it, then it must be good.

Got news for you, cupcake. 

There is a vast, unbridgeable difference between your support group and the reading public. The reading public demands a scrupulously scrubbed manuscript, copy edited and developmentally edited and rewritten a hundred, a thousand times, until it is logically and semantically tight and readable. And that’s before they decide if your story is any good or not. Trad publishers offer such products. Well, mostly, with exceptions (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown). Unfortunately, many indie writers do not. Far too many.

Because they confuse nurture and support with good writing.

Writing is anarchy. It is a Visigoth invasion, slash and burn, and you have no friends here. That is, if you actually intend to publish your 1000 page elf orc saga, or do you simply tweet about how much you wrote today and, ooo, I have this new character! and the rest of the Twitter writing community is all ‘you go, you go!’ If that’s it, then you’ve found a home. But when you add a cover and upload to Amazon, your lovely bunch of friends on Twitter aren’t going with you. You walk this plank alone.

And far too many of you indies are leaping off that plank with a deflated duck float and the inability to swim, because your Mom and your friends and the Twitter writing community urged ‘you go, you go!’ But your book is so unreadable I can’t get past the first page without turning it into a frisbee.

I have encountered far more of these unreadable indies than ones I could actually finish, at about a 3:1 ratio, to the point I don’t read an indie book anymore unless it has been vetted, like through Indies United Publishing.

Of which I am a member, because I need vetting, too. All of us do.

Highly recommend you join.

And highly recommend you stop relying on Twitter for your writing support. Find some asshole to review your drafts, someone with impossibly high standards who will brutalize it and make you cry, questioning your career choice.

Gold comes out of a crucible.

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Top 10 Thrillers I’ve Read So Far

I have a rather broad definition of a thriller. It’s any exciting, violent, conflictive combative story that doesn’t involve the supernatural or science fiction. In other words, pretty much everything that isn’t romance or a mystery or literary fiction. It includes police procedurals and serial killer stories and spy stories. Techno thrillers and war stories are subgenres but still thrillers. So yes, this means I have a wide-ranging selection to choose from. Such as these:

10. Fail-Safe, by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. The ultimate nuclear thriller written in 1962, an arming code transmission accidentally jams and ends up sending a B-52 to drop nukes on Moscow. Every attempt to stop the bombing fails, and the President of the United States has to make a series of terrifying decisions. The flayed bull metaphor throughout the book is an apt description. This was made into a very decent, and quite stark, movie with Henry Fonda.

9. The Comedians, by Graham Greene. Mr. Brown inherits his mother’s hotel in Port-au-Prince and takes a ship there, meeting a few characters on board who will all figure prominently in the upcoming events.  The story of ex-pats in Haiti is overwhelmed by the horror of the Duvalier regime and the actions of its secret police, the Ton Ton Macoutes. Prepare to have your hair curled.

8. The Little Drummer Girl, by John le Carre. A Mossad agent recruits a young English actress to infiltrate a terrorist group and find out the leader’s identity. Then things get out of hand. Classic le Carre, where nothing is what it seems.

7. The Fifth Horseman, by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre. Libyan terrorists plant a hydrogen bomb in New York City and demand Israel vacate all Arab lands or they’ll detonate it. Published in 1980, it feels very current.

6. Child 44, by Tom Robb Smith. The first book in a series, it’s the only one I have read. This is supposedly about a Russian police officer’s search for a serial killer who preys on children, but it isn’t. It’s about something far more terrifying: the Russian justice system, which does not believe in fact or logic but in its own infallibility.

5. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow. The first of his Kindle County novels, Turow weaves a police and courtroom procedural into one story. Rusty Sabich, deputy prosecutor of Kindle County, becomes the lead attorney investigating the murder of his colleague and former lover, Carolyn. Until he becomes the lead suspect.

4. The Odessa File, by Frederick Forsyth. A German journalist investigating the suicide of a Holocaust survivor stumbles across a secret organization providing new identities and protection to former SS officers. It’s The Boys From Brazil without the science fiction aspects.

3. The Charm School, by Nelson DeMIlle. What really happened to the MIAs of the Vietnam War? Well, they’re in Russia, helping a new generation of KGB agents to perfect their Americanisms. So they can blend in better. Because they have things to do here.

2. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. French intelligence must stop an assassination plot directed at Charles de Gaulle. Problem is, no one has any idea who the assassin, nicknamed the Jackal, is. This was turned into a very decent movie starring Edward Fox in 1973. Please don’t confuse it with that awful Bruce Willis movie called The Jackal.

1. The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris. The grand poobah of the serial killer novel, this is probably the best book of the type, although Red Dragon, the forerunner to this novel, gives it quite the run for its money. FBI Agent Clarissa Starling seeks the assistance of convicted serial killer Hannibal Lector to identify another serial killer called Buffalo Bill, because he skins his humps. 

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Top 10 post-Apocalyptic Books I’ve Read So Far


I consider post-apocalyptic books as a subgenre of science fiction. After all, some fairly science fiction things have to happen before the world goes apocalyptic: meteor strikes, nuclear war, zombies. But it’s such a specific category that I see it as a stand-alone so I usually don’t include them in a listing of favorite science fiction books. If I did, it’s all post-apoc all the time because, man, do I love ‘em. They appeal to my anarchist heart.

I don’t include dystopian novels because they are standard scifi. Face it, just about every scifi novel is dystopian to some degree, benign or no. I suppose that’s enough of a separate category to warrant its own list … we’ll see.

Without further ado, and in order of my regard:

10. Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. This is the grandaddy of the post-apoc genre, the one that more or less started it all, if you ignore anything Wells and Verne did. Published in 1949 which is, wow, even before I was born, it is the virus-destroys-the-world type, and still holds up extremely well. It has one of the best endings of any novel in the genre, heck, of any novel in any genre.

9. On the Beach, by Nevil Shute. Published in 1957, this is the first Australian contribution to this list. The American Navy submarine, Scorpion, which has survived a nuclear war joins the Australian Navy because Australia is about the last untouched place on earth. But not for long. This has one of the bleakest endings in all of literature, so be warned.

8. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I don’t know if this is post-apocalypse or straight up horror because this is one terrifying novel, far more than the terrifying movie made from it. The world-ending event appears to be some kind of environmental issue but McCarthy doesn’t dwell on it; he’d rather spend his time scaring the bejesus out of you.

7. I am Legend, by Richard Matheson. Forget the silly Will Smith movie, this is a classic and rather stark vampire apocalypse novel published in 1954 that turns out downright poetic. Well, vampire-like apocalypse : these vampires are created by a virus, not a bite on the neck, but they certainly take on most of the characteristics such as sunlight avoidance and the need for human blood. Until they become something else. Incidentally, there is actually a pretty good movie version of this. No, not Omega Man, which is good in itself, but the Vincent Price movie The Last Man on Earth. Vampires as beatniks. Too cool.  

6, Tomorrow, When the War Began, by John Marsden. The second Aussie contribution to this list, it is essentially Red Dawn in the outback. A kids’ book, to be sure, but one brutally written with no punches pulled and quite hair- raising in places. It is the first book of a series that becomes increasingly more hair-raising. Wolverines! … er, Dingos?

5. Damnation Alley, by Roger Zelazny. Probably more scifi than post-apoc, this is Balto after WW3. The world is a radioactive wasteland and Hell Tanner – yep, that’s his name- is given a choice: spend the rest of his life in prison or run a plague serum from LA to Boston. Easy peasey, right? Well, no, not with giant sandworms infesting the deserts … wait a minute, giant sandworms infesting the desert? A rather dreadful movie was made from this, but don’t watch it. Just don’t.

4. A Boy and His Dog, by Harlan Ellison. A rather excellent movie was made from this more novella-than-novel, but the source material is simply superior. Another post-WW3 radioactive hellhole, with ESP dogs. 

3. The Stand, by Stephen King. Yeah, I know, I frequently rail against the master but give him his due, this is a masterpiece. It gets a bit odd towards the end and it is obvious King has no clue about religion, or maybe he does, but you expect a flaw or two in so massive a tome. And Randall Flagg, man, what a villain. Ignore all the film/TV adaptations, which actually aren’t that bad, and stay with the novel.

2. Full Circle, by Bruce Ariss. Very little known and almost impossible to find, this is a stunning take on the world after nukes. I snagged it out of a Bookmobile in 1968 or 1969 and it has remained with me. After the War of the Poisoned Lightning, American Indians reclaim the land and restore it. Then the white people show back up, from under a lake, as the T.O.A.D. people. I forgot what the acronym stands for, but it doesn’t bode well. Incidentally I lived in Monterey at the same time that Ariss was managing Cannery Row and I wished I had known that because I would have loved to talk to him about this.

1. Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank. The best post-apoc novel, hands down, and one I still remember scenes from quite vividly. It is, as best as I can figure, the first novel that shows the effects of nuclear war on the average schlub. Safety tip, don’t loot gold and silver from your local jewelry store. They could be radioactive. 

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I’ve read about five or six books recently that appalled. Just appalled [NOTE: for private reasons, I’m not going to name those books so don’t bother asking]. What was so appalling? Besides the individual issues, all of them suffered from some of the worst editing I have ever seen. It looks very much like the only editing they underwent was the automatic checks that Word does as you’re going along. All of these books suffered fatal homophone errors and, no, that’s not some kind of sexual communication device. For example, ‘taught’ for ‘taut,’ which really changes the meaning of the phrase ‘taught face.’ All of them dropped critical words mid-sentence, like ‘not,’ turning what was supposed to be a negation into a positive. So someone who was ‘not’ killed was actually killed? What?

Okay, fine, editing errors, transcription errors, typos, yeah, I know those happen, even in the most scrupulously edited of books. I expect a few errors of different types in anything that’s published, especially now that much of the publishing process is automated. But when you run into five or six fatal homophone errors and numerous dropped words in the same book and you’re only halfway through it, already having suffered through incomprehensible dialogue and simply ridiculous plot points that defy all logic (even the logic built within the novel), then you start to suspect something else is going on. And there is.


Man, I’ve got my nerve, don’t I, calling out self-publishing, or its ootsy cutsie synonym ‘indie’ publishing, which sounds like a word that sophomore girls squeal, all campy and kicky and cool, hey, I’m an indie, isn’t that neat? Well, a lot of what’s coming out of ‘indie’ publishing is about on par with the sensibilities of silly sophomore girls who decorate their room with unicorns. It is unserious. It is unprofessional. It is appalling.

And this, of course, was the prediction when traditional publishing gave way to the self published: the necessary gatekeepers are bypassed, allowing a hoard of Visigoths to pour into the sacred city. Gatekeepers kept the city whole, ensuring that only the best of writers and stories went through the crucible of scrutiny to emerge as fully formed novel on the other side, a novel of which both gatekeeper and author could be proud, having maybe one or two homophones at best within its covers and at least a tacit understanding that the novel was the best it could be, selected for its excellence, its provocativeness, its importance, whether you ended up liking the novel or not.

That is the myth the publishing industry promoted, anyway, and still promotes, that they are all Maxwell Perkins looking for the next Thomas Wolfe, and the novels they have blessed into bookstores are all Look Homeward, Angel. And myth that is, because the Max Perkins type of editor died out with Max Perkins, and what replaced him is Jordan Belfort, with the bottom line and best seller list the only two factors applied to the selection of and subsequent publishing of books. How else do you explain Dan Brown?

All of this is, of course, reader driven, and the change in editors’ selections has occurred because readers have changed. They want Brown, not Wolfe, so the publishing industry shifted accordingly. After all, editors have to buy groceries, too. And whether it’s a diminishing of standard public education requirements or social interests or even something like switching from phonetics to whole word strategies (it’s difficult to read Wolfe if you’re reading pictograms) to blame for this, the trads are focused now on tropes and popular themes. We’ve got grrl power and crushings of patriarchies and urban/suburban fantasy and eeevil white people stories to publish, people! 

Which leaves out writers who write like Wolfe. Or look like Wolfe. Or don’t look like Margaret Atwood, or who don’t write what Dan Brown writes. Publishing has its eye on best sellers, millions of books bought through designated outlets and they don’t have time in this hurry-up mixed up world to deal with nuanced themes. Or themes that don’t poll well.

Which led to self-publishing, which is about the only way a lot of authors can bypass the Bryn Mawr graduates managing the slush pile and get their work before the public. Fine, well and good; if there’s anything Jurassic Park taught us, life finds a way. All those authors who do not have the currently accepted genetic structure and/or who choose topics dimly viewed by Bryn Mawr graduates now have an outlet for publishing their work. But with great power goes great responsibility, and you indie writers must ensure your product is as professional as ones available through traditional publishing.

And I don’t mean book covers and binding; I mean content. The book has to be readable. That means your grandmother is not your editor, unless your grandmother happens to work for MacMillan… is MacMillan still around? Whatever, you get the point. And I don’t mean copyediting. Word will copy edit as you go along. I mean content, logic, continuity, character- and-plot-development types of editing, ensuring that your female elvish werewolf story makes sense, holds together, and follows along believable lines to the conclusion. Your grandmother is not going to tell you that. Nor is your best friend. They’re going to be supportive.

The last thing you need as an author is someone to be supportive.

No, I don’t mean the spouse keeping the kids away from your attic room while you hammer out the last battle between the elvish werewolves and the MAGA orcs. I refer to those well meaning relatives who are encouraging our little muffin to write that story and, yes, dear, it’s wonderful, go ahead and load it up on Amazon and you’re going to be a world famous author! Why, I’ll bet you get a Netflix deal! 

And then guys like me get aholt of it, read maybe one page, toss it across the room and then write you a half-star review that will make you cry.

There is no crying in publishing.

And if you want to keep from crying then, by God, you had best upload the most professional, scrutinized, hammered, scrubbed, critiqued and excellent piece of writing possible, or brace yourself for the avalanche. This is the real world.

Best bring your A game.

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Ten Books that Scared Me

Image result for terrified simpsons

These are not necessarily horror novels or monster ghost stories. At least one of them is non-fiction, and the rest are all over the genre pallet. With, yeah, a couple of ghost stories thrown in, but it doesn’t have to be horror to be scary. Real life is scary enough.

Now, it has been awhile since anything truly scared me. Amused me, annoyed me, appalled me, yeah, I get a lot of that these days but not really scared. C’mon, I used to live in New Jersey. So a lot of these are going to be older titles. And not the usual suspects like The Exorcist, and other well knowns which I have probably touched on somewhere.

Without further ado, and in no particular order:

10. The Monk, by Matthew Lewis. Published in 1796, this is a lurid and downright terrifying story of soul corruption by His Satanic Majesty himself. Some of the imagery is downright hair-raising and you’ll be amazed that a novel so old could be so graphic. When the monk Ambrosio finally gets his long overdue comeuppance, whoa.

9. St Leon, by William Godwin. Another 18th Century gothic novel written by one of my favorite characters in history, Mary Shelley’s father. This novel extols the horrors of immortality and the Philosopher’s Stone. Believe me, you don’t want to possess either.

8. Treblinka, by Jean-Francois Steiner. I actually read this sometime in the mid 60’s when it was serialized or excerpted in the Saturday Evening Post (May 1967). This was my first exposure to the graphic horrors of the Holocaust. Sure, I knew about it; my Dad’s WW2 unit was the first American one to discover a concentration camp, Ohrdruf. He never really talked about it but, when he died, I discovered some photographs he had taken shortly after his unit breached the gate. I’ve since given those to the Holocaust Museum. Many people consider this a fiction novel because of its style. 

7. No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. This novel is actually more frightening to a subset of readers, those in law enforcement. Not a lot scares these people; I mean, when you’ve been to crime scenes and autopsies you learn pretty fast how awful people are to each other. But there’s always been a sense of ‘cops and robbers,’ good guys and bad guys who know that they’re good guys and bad guys and follow a set of unwritten rules so things don’t get too out of hand. A set of Old Men rules. But now we have the Joker, those people who simply want to watch the world burn, like Anton Chigurh, the soulless, black hearted hitman of this novel. He is a monster. We’re still not ready for these monsters.

6. Jaws, by Peter Benchley. Speaking of monsters, the Great White Shark in this novel is one you could actually encounter. Indeed, it’s based on an actual shark attack in 1916, the Matawan Man-Eater, which happened not too far from where I lived in NJ. I didn’t really think about sharks before this book; had one surface near my rowboat in the bay outside Long Beach once. But, after reading this? Oookay.

5. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. Rather tame by today’s standards, but this tale of a dark carnival that trades in souls made my thirteen-year-old hair stand on end.

4. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. If you still hold onto the fiction that children are naturally good and loving, then you need to read this classic story of English school boys stranded on an island with no adult supervision. The speed with which civilization breaks down and the boys fall into barbarism is a cautionary tale. It takes centuries to build civilization, just one night to lose it.

3. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess. On the other end from stranded schoolboys are schoolboys deliberately left to their own devices when society no longer maintains any kind of standards. When bullies and criminals realize they can do anything they want with little consequence, life gets scary. Right?

2. Come Nineveh, Come Tyre, by Allen Drury. Somewhat turgid and paranoid as all get out, this is one of three sequels to Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent, two of which sequels are alternates to each other. Don’t ask. The last part of this book is one of the most frightening depictions of a Soviet takeover of the United States, and well worth enduring the rest of the novel.

1. The 900 Days, by Harrison E. Salisbury. I actually read this in a Reader’s Digest condensed book in the 60’s, and it shook me up. This is a graphic telling of the siege of Leningrad. Between the Nazis and the Stalinists, the citizens really didn’t know who to fear most. The description of what’s found when the snowbanks melt off the sidewalk will curl your hair.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

The other day I got a really cheerful Email from TruConnect saying ‘Hi D### Krauss, let’s stay connected because we’ve noticed you haven’t been using your service and we don’t want you to be disconnected so how ‘bout you call someone or text someone or just surf the ‘net?’  I am not D### Krauss and have no idea what TruConnect is, but it was readily apparent that TruConnect had presumed my email address was that of their customer, D###. I can understand that. D### has a full first name that, when shortened, matches my Email, but it’s probably on a different platform. So I replied to TruConnect that they had mistaken me for another and that they should probably check the Email address again.

I then got another Email from Customer Care  saying ‘hello D### and thanks for contacting us and that your account is active and here’s your phone number so be sure you text, call, or surf to keep it from being disconnected. If further assistance is needed, here’s Customer Care’s phone number.’ It was signed by J###. I said okay, let’s try this again: I’m still not D### Krauss and I have never applied for a TruConnect phone and since you seem to have D###’s phone number, why don’t you give him a call and get his real Email? Just a thought. And I signed it, Not D### Krauss.

So I got a third Email from them apologizing for the inconvenience and that they are happy to help but they needed additional information to locate the account, such as full name, account number and/or the TruConnect phone number. Which they had just sent me. This Email was signed by a different person, E###. At this point, I began to suspect aliens, but TruConnect turns out to be something worse: government. 

It’s the Obama phone.

Which explains a lot. Being a government entity, their levels of competence and clarity are somewhat subdued. Everything is template and bot and if something is off then the templates and bots will respond relentlessly until you either (a) admit you are D### Krauss and immediately start using their service or (b) give up. I chose (b). I have many decades of dealing with government entities and that has always proven to be the best option. 

Time goes by and nothing and I presume that either the real D### Krauss has gotten in touch with them asking why his phone doesn’t work or the statute of limitations has been reached and the bots have moved on. Then I got a big Email from TruConnect with headers and superscripts urging D### to use the service because we see you haven’t been so c’mon, man! At this point I’m really starting to worry about D###, so I let them know that I’m not he (yes, I know, dangerous to assume pronouns, especially when dealing with the government) and would you please check the Email again? Give D### a call, ya know? You’ve got the number. To which E### replies with an apology about my receiving these Emails and giving me instructions on how to block them.

Typical government. They cause the problem, but want me to fix it.

A few weeks go by and I figure we’re done. But no. ANOTHER Email begging me to do SOMETHING with the phone, anything, at least once a month, please D###, please! replete with a big clickable button that is guaranteed to keep my TruConnect service active! Now there is no way in hell I am going to click that button. One of those new IRS agents will come a’knockin’ lookin’ for my Obamaphone. Which I don’t have. Then why did you press the button? Ah, because I was doing D### a favor?

Come with us, sir. 

So I replied with another EMail reminding them I am still not D###, still don’t have a TruConnect phone, and I am about to use them as material for a blog post about incompetent customer service and I will send them the link when it’s done.

Here you go, TruConnect.

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Ack Nowledge Mints, Part Deux

I give up. Despite railing against this trend before, it looks like fiction novel Acknowledgements are here to stay, as ubiquitous as mold in the basement. Just about every recently published novel has one.

Which baffles me, because a fiction novel springs fully armoured from the forehead of the author. It’s not a scholarly treatise, a dissertation, a biography, anything else that requires a ton of research at obscure scholastic libraries with even more obscure holdings that only specialists can access, so, yeah, acknowledge those people. And, yeah, there are some fiction novels that require extensive research and should include an Acknowledgement of the scholars who helped the author get the fabrics and customs of Georgian society correct. But that’s not the kind of Acknowledgements I’m finding. They’re more a summary of the Greatness That is Me, and how the leedle peeple helped me achieve this wondrousness. Let them eat cake.

It’s like the lord of the manor thanking the peasants for their taxes and their daughters. 

And because the quality and biliousness of these Acknowledgements vary from book to book, as a service to the literary community I am providing a standardized generic fiction Acknowledgements section that can be used in any manner of fiction novel, from romance to fantasy. Feel free to copy and adjust as necessary:

My Humble Acknowledgements:

I can’t thank everyone enough for all of the support and encouragement given me while I spent days and days and nights servicing my undeniable muse, resulting in this wonderful novel about werewolf elf women at war with the male oppressors of the orc kingdoms. I have no doubt this book will advance world peace. Or at least result in a Netflix series and everyone everywhere proclaiming the genius that is me. 

To do this meant I had to ignore a lot of things that I was responsible for, like employment and my family. I want to thank the kids for taking after-school jobs to pay the bills, doing the hard work around the house that always needs doing, and for going without meat and most vegetables while I pursued this necessary and extremely important vision. I will make it up to you when I get back from the world tour. Before I start the next novel in the series, of course.

My parents were instrumental in my success because they birthed me. If it hadn’t been for their giving up those selfish dreams of world travel and a paid off mortgage, then I would never have gotten the specialized attention from the numerous experts they consulted to help me understand that I am a creative and unique individual deserving of everyone’s attention. I would never have been able to write this important novel, which is so very different from every other novel written in the last ten years, at least, according to my agent. And my agent should know; she represents at least three other authors with Netflix series that sort of sound like mine but aren’t. Mine’s unique. And original.

And where would I be without the teachers who taught me how to read and write and the rules of English which are quaint and, really, shouldn’t be followed anymore because they’re so restrictive. And racist. That I had the privilege of attending public school like every other child in my neighborhood and learned the same things they did freed me to pursue my single-minded intent to be a world-famous author. Thank you, public servants, for doing this work. Thank you, grocers and baristas who fed me and kept me motivated and allowed me to use free wifi to find story ideas. Not that I got my ideas from anyone else. My book is unique. It is.

My writer’s circle was instrumental in this novel’s development, what with all the encouragement and support and urging from those members who got me and understood my vision. The others, the ones who said my novel was downright unreadable? What you gotta say now? 

And, finally, I want to especially thank my spouse because you’re supposed to do that in Acknowledgements, because we’re still married after all these years spent apart in the same house while I perfected this life changing novel. There is no doubt my spouse will benefit materially when the Netflix series comes online and can always bask in the glow of my celebrity at all the various conferences and TV shows I’ll have to attend. Where I’ll probably meet someone else and divorce and remarry a few times but, hey, that’s the lifestyle, ain’t it? 

Think I’ll put on my smoking jacket and light up a pipe.

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The Top 10 Books I Hated

This is a different list from the one preceding because these are books I actually finished. Very difficult list to put together, let me tell you, because I rarely finish a book I dislike (see below). Going the distance in these various cases was a function of forcing my way through, either because I had to read it for a class or something or because I maintained expectations all the way to the end. Here, then, in no particular order:

10. Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak. I was rather bewildered when I got to the end of it because the book was downright incomprehensible. If I had not seen the Omar Sharif movie, I’d have no idea what was going on, which is saying something because the movie has its own degree of incomprehensibility. I stayed with it because I kept expecting it to turn into the movie and it didn’t. I later found out that I was reading a bad translation, and that a much better translation is now available. I may have to give this another go, then. 

9. Cujo, by Stephen King. Funny how King keeps showing up on my lists of books I didn’t enjoy. I read this expecting something King-like to happen, a psychic kid or a vampire, but a rabid dog as metaphor for punishment of your sins? Oh, please. And now I hear he’s writing a sequel. Oh, please, no.

8. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. Terribly written, embarrassingly so, and so obviously a polemic against the Catholic Church that one wonders how it got published. Which I guess is the reason it was published.

7. Practically everything from Dan Simmons. The Terror, Summer of Night, Drood. Yeah, yeah, I know, Hyperion, which I will read one day. And no doubt will get added to this list. Or I will eat crow.

6. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Yes, I know, classic and loved, the absurdities of war and the people who run them. But I’ve got a bit of a problem with this dismissive, smug attitude towards a war that was nothing but godawful and hell on earth and devastating and whose effects still ripple through these days. Ya know, it wasn’t some war for oil or national corporations, it was for the very survival of humanity. And yes, I have no doubt that numerous absurd and downright funny things happened in its course. My dad told me a couple of funny stories about his 9-month trip to Berlin on top of a tank. But to treat the entire thing as just an object of your amusement? No.

5. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. Revisionist crap.  

4. Forrest Gump, by Winston Groom. I saw the movie and ran across the book thereafter and grabbed it with delight and, pitched it across the room with contempt. What a load of unadulterated crap. The title character generates no sympathy or even much interest. Whoever did the screenplay did a much greater service than this POC, and I don’t mean point of contact.

3. The Hobbit, by J R R Tolkien. What? Heresy! But, no, I did not like this novel at all. Not only is it turgid beyond belief, but it is kid’s book turgid. And, yes, yes, I know, it was written as a kid’s book, but no kid on earth would stand for this long-winded convoluted word mess. Its saving grace, of course, is the introduction of Golem and Gandalf but, really, not the best of the group.

2. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. A very long novel about a guy who simply needs to be slapped around for an hour or so. Good Lord, is Ignatius J Reilly obnoxious. Why anyone thinks he is a compelling character, I just can’t say. This is not social commentary as much as a cautionary tale. Which I didn’t need to read.

1. The Firm, by John Grisham. This isn’t a bad novel, it’s just not that good, and overhyped novels and authors irritate me beyond belief. If you can’t live up to your own press, then don’t expect me to bolster your efforts. Besides, I read Scott Turow before I read Grisham and Turow is light years ahead. Grisham is a Turow wannabe. And this novel is a good story wannabe.

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The Top 10 Books I Tossed Across the Room

These are books that didn’t make it past my self-imposed fifty-page rule, sometimes not even past the first paragraph, before turning it into a Frisbee. Not the top ten books that I hated…hmm, sounds like another list… because I’d have to finish them before deciding if they qualify. I might actually like these books, if I can ever bring myself to restart them. Dunno. Not too inclined to take another spoonful of something that was so wretched on first taste.

I’m sure you have your own version of a fifty-page rule because most of you know that most stories don’t get started for awhile. There are exceptions: ‘Call me Ishmael,’ for example, but that’s due to a compelling opening line which Melville followed with a rather compelling situation. Not every book can start that way so you gotta be fair. But if you’re not at least interested by page fifty, then it’s tossable.

There is a category of books tossable almost within the first sentence: the self-published nightmares that are flooding the bookways. You know to what I refer, books that have apparently not been edited nor critiqued by anyone other than the author’s mother, who told her what a great story it was so she bought a $20 cover and threw it up on Amazon and waits to be proclaimed the next Charlotte Bronte. I don’t include any of those. That’s like shooting fish in a barrel. 

Without further ado:

10. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. I realize what heresy I speak here, given the immense popularity of this book, but I could not get past the first ten pages, let alone fifty. It was long ago when I tried so I don’t remember much of what I read nor specifically what irritated me, only that I sadi “Oh, brother!” quite a bit. I think that’s due to every single fantasy trope, dressed in Capital Letters, showing up every other sentence or so. I am willing to give this another shot, but not right now. 

9. The Tommyknockers, by Stephen King. This book convinced me that King had decided to stop writing and merely trade on his name, certain his byline was enough to assure best seller lists. I’ve read elsewhere that the good man, himself, regards it as his worst effort, so there is redemption. 

8. Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. What a load of pretentious dreck, apparent by page 25 or so. And yes, I fully understand that Pynchon-worship is a mark of heightened intellectual capacity and sophistication, and those who do not like his works are just a bunch of bourgeoise shopkeepers. Okay.

7. Space, by James Michener. I loved Michener’s Centennial, regard it as one of my favorite big books, but this one … oh Lord. Actually got to about page 100 or so before I tossed it. It is so formulaic Michener that I suspect he wrote it in his sleep. 

6. Red Rising, by Pierce Brown. I didn’t make it past ten pages. Felt like I was back in middle school.

5. Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. This is a YA book, quite brutal, and filled with so much unbelievable teenage superiority and angst that I felt like I was back in high school. Shudder.

4. The Tank Lords, David Drake. I love space opera and space military stories and Drake is the Stephen King of the genre, at least based on his production. But I could not get into this, at all. Made it to about page fifty. I think. Didn’t like the characters, didn’t like the world building.

3. Wool, by Hugh Howey. I know, I know, this is supposed to be the self-published wunderbuch but I stopped right after Howey killed a character that I really liked. I didn’t like any of the remaining characters, so why bother? Add to that an absolutely baffling world with very few hints of what the devil was going on and, well, frisbee. Admittedly, I went back months later and finished a great majority of the story, although, given the way this book /story/series is published, I have no idea whether I actually finished it or not. Still didn’t like it that much, but I have a better idea of the story and well, okay, it ain’t that bad. But I’m not going back.

2. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach. No further comments necessary.

1. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. I actually liked this until about page 100, and by then it was so tedious I just put it down and never went back. So not so much a frisbee as a doorstop. I’d be willing to pick it up again one day, if I can remember where I left it.

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Top Ten Best Fantasy Books I’ve Read So Far

I classify ‘fantasy’ in a fairly broad way, summarized by ‘swords and sorcery;’ you know, mythical lands, wizards and goddesses, brawny barbarians, Game of Thrones. But not necessarily all swords and mythical ages; they can be set in contemporary times, can even have scifi and horror mixed in, but the main characteristic is a nonexistent world that may or may not be human but is definitely not alien in the scifi sense. Yeah, I know, that’s pretty loose but it’s like pornography, you know it when you see it.

(Caveat: A lot of my favorite horror or scifi or what-have-you novels could have easily ended up on this list, but I figure if I’ve already placed it under some other heading somewhere else, then it’s cheating to round out another list with something already spoken of. This way I get to have 40 or 50 top ten book favorites, which I guess is cheating, too, but in a good way).

The fantasy books that didn’t make this list could, instead, make my list of Books Tossed Across Rooms … hmm, make a note. Those include lots of best sellers and big names and award winners, lots of which are just crap.  Everything is a Capital Letter or has the Chosen One of the Mysterious Race in the Land of Humbug with Gifts of Humbuggery… you know what I mean. All trope, all checklist, the orphan abused boy or girl who has Powers that will Save the Kingdom. Spare me.

But not these. These are good uns.

10. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart. An oldie but a goodie, this remains for me the best fictional treatment of the Arthurian legend ever, which is kind of a nothing statement because aren’t all King Arthur treatments fiction? At least we think they are. Told from Merlin’s perspective, this is the story of Merlin’s youth as the despised illegitimate child of a king and a Celtic princess, and how he discovers the crystal caves where his power develops. First of a four-book series that Stewart wrote covering Arthur.

9. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I know, I know, cheesy writing with female characters right out of a Vallejo painting, but this is still a rousing tale of swashbuckled derring-do and one of those books and series that made me love reading. John Carter, adventurer of Earth becomes, through some odd meditation, an adventurer on Mars, where he fights for every teenage boys’ wildest fantasy, the Princess Deja Thoris. If you can ignore the last thirty years of Martian science, then this is a lot of fun.

8. The Dancers at the End of Time, by Michael Moorcock. Consensus is that this is not fantasy, its scifi, far future scifi at that, and it’s not even one novel but three: An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands, and The End of All Songs. But, to quote the old shibboleth, magic is just technology we do not understand, and Jherek Carnelian, who lives at the end of time, has powerful tech indistinguishable from sorcery. When a time accident throws him into contact with 19th Century beauty, Amelia Underwood, he pursues her across the centuries with devastating and hilarious results. This is not for the faint hearted because those end of time denizens have lost all sense of a moral compass.

7. The Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe. Another one easily classified as scifi, and another first book of a series, called The Book of the New Sun, it is set on the planet Urth …hmm. Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers, is banished for violating the overriding principle of his guild: never show mercy.  

6. The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance. Actually a series of related stories more than a novel, and also the first book of the Dying Earth series, these are tales of wizards and warriors at the end of the sun’s cycle. Sort of like the end of time, except it’s merely the end of the earth. There’s only a few thousand people left by then and all of them are desperate to improve their wizardry so they can dominate everyone else, and the occasional alien who shows up. This book was published in 1950 and had a lot of influence on the creators of Dungeons and Dragons. 

5. The Black Company, by Glenn Cook. The Black Company is a mercenary unit consisting of warriors, tech, mech, and wizards, who fight the enemies of the Lady, who may, or may not, be someone worth fighting for. Rollicking adventure that at times is downright hilarious, this is a combination swords and space opera. This is the first of a series, too, all of the follow-on books well worth reading.

4. The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. This is Harry Potter for grownups, a very dark, downright terrifying version of the magical world versus us poor muggles. Quentin is a sad sack loser whose innate magical ability gains him an application to study at Brakebills academy of magic. What makes this fantasy instead of standard horror is the existence of a Narnia-like world that turns out more Mordor than anything. There’s a pretty good Netflix series based on it.

3. The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. A single-handed revival of the entire fantasy genre, Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards are the best troupe of lying, thieving, conning conniving lovable blaggards to have slung a sword or stiletto or magical potion since the Grey Mouser. The insults alone are worth the read. 

2. Shadow Gate, by Kate Elliott- still my favorite book of her Crossroads trilogy, which I read out of order and grateful that I did because I don’t think I would have got past the first book, Spirit Gate, because it’s fairly standard stuff. But once you get through the first novel of world-building, holy hannah, this is great stuff. Eagle-reeves and Guardians and a horror overtaking the Hundred. And then there’s Mai. 

1. The Fifth Season, by N K Jemisin. The first book of the Broken Earth trilogy and the first Jemisin I read and one that blew me away and turned me into a Jemisin fan. The Stillness is a land ironically named, because it is anything but, threatened by periodic life-ending cataclysms that have to be contained by properly trained mutants called Orogenes. But if an Orogene gets away from the cruelty of the Guardians, then things shake up. Literally.

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