Kevin's Blog

New Litter Blurb

Here's a new blurb we may be running for The Litter:

 

Karen Bannister is coming off a really bad year. Estranged from her father and her fiancé dead, she finds solace in her work with the city’s indigent, destitute,  and lost. Then something, something savage and brutal, appears and begins preying on those she works to save. Now, from the depths of her own personal tragedy, Karen has to find the strength to lift herself up and, with the help of an unexpected ally, fight back against the darkness that threatens to overwhelm those too weak to save themselves.    

New Castle Season

I've been a fan of the show "Castle" for several years. Yes, I know the premise is preposterous and the plots sometimes outlandish. But through most of its run the show has had such a twinkle in its eye that, at least for me, it gets away with its excesses. However, I don't feel the same about the current season.

There are new producers this year ("show runners" in the jargon), and it shows. For one, I don't like the idea of throwing up another barrier between the main characters and their happiness. After spending several seasons on the song and dance between Castle and Beckett, things finally appeared to resolve themselves. Then, with the start of a new season, we're back almost to square one. I've never cared much for shows, whether comedy or drama, that work unceasingly to keep characters gloomy and unhappy, and I'm afraid "Castle" has reached such a juncture.

That's the big problem, but last night's episode had a minor little point that irritated me no end. Again, "Castle" has never aspired to be a primer on proper police procedure (or on the realities of the writer's life, but that's another issue), but because it never took itself seriously the viewer could forgive the sometimes egregious lapses between reality and investigation tactics presented on the show. However, last night had a short moment where Detectives Ryan and Esposito entered an abandoned building in pursuit of a suspect. As they entered, both detectives pulled their weapons and split up. So far, so good. Then, a few seconds later, Ryan spots a shadowy figure carrying a gun on the other side of a plastic tarp and, without bothering to identify the person, shoots through the opaque plastic, hitting his partner in the posterior.

Besides the ridiculous cliche of the location of the wound, three things to consider. 1) When Ryan fires his gun his arms are at chest level, yet the bullet ends up several feet lower. 2) Knowing his partner is in the building with gun drawn he blithely fires without even considering the identity of the target, whose gun was not even pointed in his direction. 3) After all that, there's no investigation, no suspension or desk duty, nor is his gun taken away from him while the paperwork is completed. In fact, shortly after both men are back at the station house with Esposito doing an imitation of Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live.  (Bonus points if you get that reference.) I'm sorry, but even for a show with a purposely-loose connection to reality, this was too much. Much more like that, and I may find new appointment viewing on Monday nights.

And I didn't even mention the flatulence joke. Seriously, guys? 

 

 

No Silent Clock

Back against the wall with lots of work this week, but I did want to follow up on some stuff from earlier posts. My thoughts on the latest 24 and Salem, and please note there are spoilers ahead. Starting with, of course, 24.

So last week I waxed effusively about the tension and drama of the Heller death conclusion.  I stand by what I said then, which makes the opening of last night's episode even more of a blow. And let me say right up that, like a lot of people, I did notice that the final clock count last week wasn't silent. As an original viewer, I'm well aware that the "silent clock" after a main character's death signals that it's a real death and not some sort of plot twist. The prime example of this is the original silent clock, the one that closed out the final episode of season one where Teri died.

So it's not that I was fooled or overlooked the fact there was no silent clock last week (easy to say in hindsight). Simply put, I didn't think that Heller was a major enough character to rate the treatment. Audrey or Chloe, sure. But Heller just didn't strike me as that important of a character. Sure, he is this season, but before that he was a fairly peripheral character.

That being said, I absolutely hated the opening this week. As I mentioned before, I thought last week's final moments were so full of pathos and drama, and then to find out it was all a trick (and a pretty feebly explained one at that) came as a major letdown. For the first five minutes or so, I almost wanted to yell at the TV. If Heller had actually died, it would have been so much more realistic, and in keeping with his character, than how things actually turned out. And oh yeah, how does this affect his resignation? Who's really the Pres now?

But if there's one thing for sure about 24, it's that you can't stay mad at the show too long. Heller's being still alive did set off one of the most frenzied, and savage, half hours in the show's run. Savagery mainly on Jack's part. As he arbitrarily, and without much noticeable angst, threw Margot out the window to land five stories down, I couldn't help but think of his off-hand comment to Kate an episode or so back: "I hate these people."

Then there's Salem. First, a disclaimer. With a few notable exceptions, such as The X-Files, I'm not that big of a fan of horror on either the small or large screen. It's kind of odd, seeing as the majority of my short stories fall into that genre, but I just don't get that excited about most visual horror. That being said, after this week I'm about done with Salem. It's been a middling show so far, but this week we descended into darned near torture porn. Seriously, the episode title is "House of Pain." It did give something of an interesting look at Tituba's history, beginning the process of making her a more sympathetic character.  But the constant switching of scenes, every few minutes going to the torture sequence with Increase and Tituba, was just way, way too much. At least for me. I'll probably give this one more episode, but if it doesn't raise the bar stylistically, I'm out of here.

And what the heck was Cotton blabbering about?   

 

Bloggers' Rights

Like a lot of writers, especially those of us of the indie variety, I spend a fair amount of time scouring various web sites and blogs, seeking out people willing to review my work. Although one of my publishers is excellent when it comes to providing lists of sites and reviewers, it’s still a tedious, frustrating process. In general, of every ten sites I land on, usually nine are either not currently accepting requests or accept e-books, which is the main medium I work in to date. 

Of those who do seem likely, I’d say on average I get a response from one out of every five I contact.

Still, one perseveres.

But something that I’ve noticed more and more in the last few months is reviewers not accepting self published works. This doesn’t directly affect me, as my works aren’t self-pubbed, but I do come across some who also don’t accept works from micro or small presses, which category my works definitely fall into. And how do I respond when I come across such a restriction?

I move on to the next blog on the list.

Recently, I saw a posting on Facebook where an indie writer took reviewers to task for not accepting self pubs. This person made it rather personal, demanding to know where the reviewers/bloggers get off setting requirements for who they will and won’t review. He made allusions to a few big names who were originally self published and stated that reviewers who don’t do self pubs were working to keep him as a slave (actual word used), consigning him to having to work for a living at a job he hates instead of just writing, as he deserves to be able to do. 

Come again?

First, full disclosure and a disclaimer. In three years, my first book has sold less than ten copies. My second, in a year and a half, has sold less than twenty. My third, which came out earlier this year, is doing better but has still sold less than twenty. So I’m not somebody who’s got it made looking down on the little guy. Also, some of the comments ahead may irritate some. So here we go:

The posting I mentioned above really incensed me. I’ve been writing fiction, mainly short stories and only recently books, for decades. My first short story, “The Prime Ingredient” appeared in 1988 in Starsong, a small for-the-love publication from South Carolina, and my first book, One Helluva Gig, came out in 2012. Do the math, and you’ll see it took me a while to get even this far.

Over the course of this time, I’ve had a few encounters with creative writing students and teachers, corresponded with fellow indie authors, and of course participated in group discussions over different social media, primarily FB. What I’m about to say is directed towards some people in the field, but definitely not all. I’m guessing that the same could be said of folks in the art, music or acting fields. 

In short:

Nobody owes you anything. You may have the greatest talent every, some talent, or no talent at all. Whichever, you are not entitled to any attention or recognition. If you get some, fine. If you manage to have great success, more power to you. But just because you decided to take on an activity does not require that people cater to you.

If I have a blog or website where I review books, or anything else, it’s my site. I’m the one putting it up; I’m the one putting my name, time and effort into it. And guess what? I’m the one who gets to decide who or what I do or don’t review. 

It’s called freedom, folks. Someone who owns a store gets to decide what merchandise they do or don’t sell. A homeowner gets to decorate their house how they want. And a person who decides to spend a large chunk of their time, unpaid in almost all cases, reviewing books, gets to decide what they do and don’t review. 

Specifying what type of books they review is no different than specifying what genre they will review, or whether they review e-books.  

My guess would be, and here’s where I’m going to tick people off, that several of these reviewers have suffered through self published books of exceedingly low quality. They may think, rightly or wrongly, that the quality isn’t the same as traditional publication, and they don’t want to waste their time with it. 

Notice, though, that I said rightly or wrongly. Whether they’re correct is irrelevant. It’s their blog/ site, and they get to choose what they do and don’t do.

My experience, completely anecdotal, is that those who protest most vociferously about their “entitlement” to recognition and praise are the ones least deserving of it. Just because five of your family members tell you that your work is the greatest thing they’ve ever read doesn’t make it so. This is somewhat related to experiences I sometimes have in my teaching. Numerous times I’ve conferenced with parents confused as to why their child received a poor grade on a paper. Often, their response is along the lines of “But I read it over and thought it was great. So who are you to say it wasn’t?”

Uhmm – I’m the teacher.

And at some point in the next week when I check out a new web site offering reviews, and I see that they don’t accept e-books for review, or only want family friendly material, or only accept work from a certain type of publisher,  guess what my reaction will be?

Well, okay. It’s their blog, and they’re the ones who get to set the rules.

On to the next one.   

Creative Assignment Part 2

So how did my sophomores short story assignment turn out? And what did I learn from it?  Here's some positives and negatives. Starting with the cons and ending with the pros. Plus some thoughts of last night's 24. Spoiler alert.

The Cons:

1) It’s really, really hard to get young people away from copy editing during first drafts. So many times one would call me over for help and, a page or two in, they’re worrying over comma placement. Crucial, sure, but not the first time through.

2) Young people today are too infatuated with zombies. Again, not a huge surprise, but after a while I did get tired of reading about them. And yes, I did read all of them all the way through.

3) As any editor will tell you, someone’s first few attempts at fiction tend to be excruciatingly autobiographical. So much so that I had a couple of students, on their own, coming up with the same plots concerning high school athletes and the big game.

 

As for the positives? Here’s a few of the main ones:

1) Amazingly, in all three sections (about sixty students total) nearly every student got into the project. We had a cart full of laptops in the room, and each day, after going over a few things, they hopped right in. Naturally, I had a few stragglers and goof offs, but for the most part they did okay.

2) Most of the stories ended up fairly long and complex. The average was around three thousand words. (Made grading them all in about a week rather tough, but worth it.)

3) And several, in a few cases kind of surprising to me, came up with intense, well-structured and subtle stories. One in particular had a young teenage girl going to her friend’s funeral, and rather than lay everything out at the beginning, bit by bit over two thousand words the reader follows the protagonist through the course of the day and gradually learns the story of how her young friend died. You never got the full story, there was a fair amount of ambiguity involved, which actually heightened the punch in the final paragraph. 

     4) One young man really went to town and bumped right up against novelette length, handing in to me a 7,400 word piece. Got to admire the dedication.

So what did I take away from the experience? For one thing, a fair degree of humility. In some ways, some of the stuff they came up with was actually better than my own fledgling efforts, and I started writing fiction in my twenties. Also, as many of the students commented, the thing they seemed to like best about the work is that subject matter (as long as somewhat school appropriate) was up to them. That sense of liberation seemed to go a long way in propelling them. I’m not sure that would have been ideal earlier in the year, but it fit right in with that end-of-the-year, almost-out-of-here spirit. 

But I think the most satisfying thing I took away from the experience was that a fair number of our modern, video-game obsessed, short-attention-span youth, had absolutely no problem with spending days on end furiously, with great concentration, putting thoughts, ideas and words down on paper.

I think that bodes well for the future.

I just don’t want to read about zombies again any time soon. 

 

24 -- This show has always been one of extremes, moving from tense, white-knuckled pathos to outright silliness in the space of a commercial break. What I want to talk about here is the pathos aspect. Of course, in the history of 24 nothing, but nothing, equals the emotion of the last three minutes of season one when Jack bursts through the door to find Terry dead. You never saw it coming because back then there was no way a serious program would kill off the hero's wife. And those last few seconds, as Jack cradled Terry's dead form in his arms just as the clock ticked over to midnight (thus completing the "day"), were beyond tense. However . . .

The last few minutes of last night's episode came awfully close. I kept thinking that something would happen, Chloe would pull a rabbit out of her hat, something would transpire. But no. President Heller, who all the way back to season four has never been the most sympathetic of characters, walked out onto the empty field (okay, a bit contrived that Wembley Stadium, completely empty, is all lit up), removes his hat and glasses (specifically allowing facial recognition programs to ID him), turns his head skyward and waits. And the fact that you don't actually see him dying, just the bright scarlet Target Destroyed message, made it so -- I guess pre-ordained -- would be the word. Kudos to William Devane for putting so much solidity into those last few seconds.

 

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