Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mid Year Thoughts

Last day of May and I'm thinking about dates. Not the movie and dinner kind. The calendar kind. On July 7th I'll have been in my current job for five years. This was really supposed to be a temporary thing, but I've ended up hanging around, mostly because of the convenience and the flexibility the job offers. So one more month until that anniversary.
I begin my third year in Kennesaw tomorrow, starting my third lease at my apartment. Hard to believe I've been living here that long, but it's true.
After I write the checks for June's bills I will be two months from being out of debt. August is my last loan payment and last truck payment. Three years of budgeting and discipline will finally pay off. It's tough being this close, because I just want it to be done, and I actually have the money to just pay it all off, but that would lower my reserve and I might need that for something important or even just to take a trip. I'm cautious with money these days. I always was except for the one period that got me into debt in the first place. I learned my lesson.
As I've touched upon in earlier posts, I knew that 2007 would be a year to take care of a few things. Get some accumulated weight off. Get out of debt. Handle a couple of other things. All of that is coming to a point of completion right here at the mid point of the year.
What comes next? I dunno. Got a few plans and a few ideas, but for the most part I'm making this up as I go along.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I have a reoccurring injury. I ended up getting a severe muscle pull, almost a tear, in my right trapezes about seven years ago. (That's the big muscle between the shoulder and the neck, to save you looking it up.) It's the only injury I received during my martial arts training that actually incapacitated me for a couple of days. Periodically I re-injure the muscle. Not as seriously as the first time, but it's still painful and keeps me from doing much of a workout. I pulled it again last Thursday, meaning that I got to spend most of my 4 day Holiday weekend in a not inconsiderable amount of pain. It's okay. Pain and me are old friends. Wasn't enough to keep me from enjoying my time off. Just irritating. It's better today and I should be back to normal by the weekend. Now some folks would say that it's just because I'm getting older. Me, I go with Indiana Jones' take. It's not the years, it's the mileage.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Legendary Companion

I ordered Hercules:The Official Companion book for 96 cents from Amazon. Best deal I've gotten in a while. This behind the scenes book has the most insider information I've ever seen in a book of this type. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, involved with the show took time to give interviews and there is a wealth of that sort of information, which fascinates me. (I've watched the 'making of' extras of the Lord of the Rings DVDs far more than the movies themselves.)
Anyway, the best parts for me are the entries known as 'Kevin's Take' and 'Michael's Take' which appear at the ends of most of the episode synopses. Here Kevin Sorbo (Hercules) and Michael Hurst (Iolaus) give you their thoughts on the episode and sometimes tell anecdotes about the filming.
One thing I found pretty amusing was that almost every time I had watched an episode and said to myself, That was really dumb, or Hercules would never do that, both actors said much the same thing in their 'takes'. Like, "I tried to tell the writers this was stupid and Herc wouldn't do that, but hey I'm just the actor." Funny stuff.
If you're a fan of the show, you definitely want this book. Tons of fun reading. It only goes through the third season, but I understand there's a second volume, so I'll have to track that down. Heck, I got another 96 cents burning a hole in my pocket.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Everyone has an inner city," she said one night when we were talking about things like that.
I said, "You mean like a ghetto?"
She made that face which meant I'm funny but not as funny as I think.
"No, a city inside yourself. And when you find a city in the world that you really love, then that city is the one closest to your inner city. It's the place that best reflects your inner landscape."
"London," I said.
"Yes, for you it's London. It's the only city you ever talk about in that way."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Joy of Fragments

I write a lot of fragments. For those of you unfamiliar with the term as it applies to writing, a fragment is a part of a story, usually but not always the beginning, that goes nowhere and gets abandoned. Now this is partly because I have a lot of ideas and I'm one of those writers who can't usually tell if an idea is going to work or not until I've written a chunk of it. So I may bang out five or ten pages only to find that the idea isn't really going to fly.
However, as I was just discussing with Beth, one of the reasons I write a lot of fragments is because I just enjoy the act of writing and I don't always have a story I feel like telling. Some days I just want to put some words on a page, to feel them spiraling out of whatever place it is that they come from, so I choose a vignette, a dialog scene or a fight scene or some descriptive passage and I just write that, purely for fun. In many ways it's like sketching in my sketchbook. I often fill an entire page with nothing but drawings of the human arm or leg or torso. They are studies, not finished drawings. I'm not exactly practicing. Just being kind of Zen and totally absorbed in the act of drawing. Writing can be like that for me too.
A lot of folks get way too focused on being published and think that every single thing they write has to be geared toward something they can sell. If that's where their writing interest lies, I'm not going to tell them they're wrong. I like to be published too. But there is a certain pleasure to be found in just writing for writings sake. No pressure. No point. No expectations. Just you and the words.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Impulse Buys and Byzantine Things

I'm reading four books so far this weekend. All at the same time. Don't worry. I do that. I start several and then I jump around until all are done. I especially do that with non fiction, but sometimes with fiction too. This weekend its two of each.
I'm reading Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman, which is an absolutely amazing book, with all the details one could possibly want about life in Medieval Constantinople. (Not yet Istanbul.) Everything from court life in the palace to farm life in the countryside. Really nifty book.
Also reading Sunset Express, a novel by come back kid, Robert Crais. Not up to the level of The Watchman or Demolition Angel, but a decent mystery so far.
Third is Mapping Murder, by Professor David Canter. Canter is pretty much considered THE authority on Geographic Profiling, which is the science of determining the probable living areas of serial criminal offenders by extrapolating from the locations of their crimes. Canter has had a lot of success with this technique. In fact, on a percentage basis, Geographic Profiling has been more effective than the type of psychological profiling done by the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit in catching serial criminals. Interesting stuff.
Finally, and this brings us to the eponymous impulse buy, I'm reading The Ring of Inkribu, which is one of six Red Sonja novels written in the early 1980s by David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierny. I wasn't really looking for the Sonja books, but someone had them up on EBay for like two bucks for the set of six and no one else bid, so what the hey, I bought em. Weird thing was, when they arrived they looked almost like brand new books and they're at least 25 years old. Shiny and tight and obviously never read. "Ring" has been okay so far. Serviceable prose and fairly standard plot. Basically reads like the Marvel Comic Red Sonja turned into prose. In fact, according to the introduction by Sonja's main creator, Roy Thomas, the books occur in the Marvel continuity, but earlier in Sonja's career.
So it's my usual eclectic mix of mystery, history, and mayhem.

Long Weekend

Once again I have taken advantage of my job's weird work schedule. We work four 9 hour days and one 4 hour day every week, which is very cool on weekends. 11:00 AM Friday and I'm done. Anyway, I have split an 8 hour vacation day, leaving at the half day yesterday and taking today (Friday) off. That gives me four and a half days off with the Memorial Day holiday on Monday.
I can use the time off. The job has been a little stressful lately as our company is going through growing pains. We're moving from being a small company to being a medium size company. Sales are up. Profits are up. We are busy busy busy.
But, as the only guy doing the drawings for five engineers, I've had a lot more drafting to do. This is okay because I prefer to be busy and I'm very very fast. Some say inhumanly so. But at the speed that orders are coming in, I'm often drafting stuff that I've never seen. The component parts haven't arrived and I'm drawing from customer prints or manufacturer's specs as opposed to actually having the part to look at. Means I usually have to do a good bit of redrawing to get all the details right. This doesn't make me happy. I like to get a drawing right the first time and move on. Thus my stress level has been up. I'm getting the hang of the new process I think, so things should improve. but as I said, I'm glad to have a few days off.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Retread Post

Someone sent Beth a quiz over at her blog, the object of which was to name three obscure favorite books. I picked three of my favorites and posted them at Beth's blog, but I figured I'd put em up here as well. Anyone wishes to join the game, feel free.
The Night Remembers by Ed Gorman
A haunting, melancholy mystery novel. A dead convict's mother hires private detective Jack Walsh to prove her son was innocent of the crime that got him killed. The mystery takes the back seat to meditations on age, love, and family. I don't think the book ever made it to paperback. One of Gorman's overlooked and underrated novels.
Derby Dugan's Depression Era Funnies by Tom Dehaven
I bought this one off the remainder table on a whim and it ended up being one of my favorite books. Set in the 1930s, it follows the life of a freelance pulp writer Al Beady. In addition to banging out a pulp novel or two every month, Beady ghostwrites several comic strip features, including the titular Derby Dugan, a strip modeled after Little Orphan Annie. Beady's stormy friendship with Derby's creator artist Walter Geebus forms the core of this book. The period detail is amazing, recalling the pre-television days when comic strip artists were stars and people eagerly awaited each four color installment of their favorite strips. Just a really amazing novel.
Cold in July
One of the early and lesser known works of the prolific Joe Lansdale. Ostensibly a thriller, the book has as much to say about the relationships between fathers and sons as it does about the nature of crime and the darkness that lurks at the edge of our daily lives. I need to re-read this one.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Reading Report

This weekend I read Michael Connelly's book, The Closers. Been a while since I read one of Connelly's Harry Bosch novels. This one follows Harry's return to the police department after a three year absence. He's assigned to the L.A. Police Department's Cold Case Squad and leaps right into investigating a murder from the 1980s. The book moves along at a good pace with much procedural evidence sifting. Not a white knuckle thriller, but a good solid crime novel.

Also read Lee Child's The Hard Way. Probably my last look at Child for a while. He spends too much time showing how much tougher, smarter, faster, sneakier, more clever, etc etc his protagonist, Jack Reacher, is than everyone else in the world. It begins to wear on you after a while. Seems like every incident and dialog exchange is set up to remind you just how cool Reacher is, in case you didn't get it the first time. Or the second. Or the twelfth...

Also read A Walk Through Ancient Rome by John T. Cullen, which is a major league cool history book. As the name implies, it's a trip through Rome and its environs, showing you everything you might have seen had you walked through the city in 150 AD or so. Very well researched and written with a surprising amount of verve and color. Anyone planning on writing fiction set in the Roman Empire should glom onto a copy of this. I've read a lot of books about Rome and I learned stuff I didn't know within the first twenty pages. Now if someone would just write one called A Walk Through Medieval Constantinople, I'd be all over it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

My porridge is too um...porridge-ish...

Tried some Irish Oatmeal this morning, at the recommendation of a friend. Didn't much care for it, so I'll go back to Quaker Oats. Guess I'm just a low brow. It was kind of fun to make though. Turned all thick and porridge like as it boiled, bubbling like liquid magma in the pot. The finished consistency was just too thick and rather soft. I like my oatmeal to have a little more texture. I'm giving the rest of the box to that nice family of bears that live over the river and through the trees...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Art for Art's Sake

When it comes to comic books I am pretty much a traditionalist. Usually I want stories of heroes versus villains with lots of action. As a kid I seldom read so called funny animal comics or Archie-style comics. It was superheroes all the way.
But, I have always loved the comic strip medium and appreciated the art of comics itself. When I was eight or ten I used to check out these massive volumes of comic strip reprints from the library and lose myself in the strange world of the American comic strip. Here I discovered not only strips that would be familiar to the average reader, strips like Barney Google, L'il Abner, Little Orphan Annie, etc, but also strips such as The Gumps, Polly and her Pals, Mutt and Jeff, and other strips most folks today have never heard of. I have a great respect for the medium and the art of comics.
So, I'm always interested to see someone do something new and different with the comic form. Nick Bertozzi has reminded me once again that comics can be used to tell almost any kind of story and to tell some stories better than any other medium possibly could. His new graphic novel, The Salon, is one of those amazing creations that just seems to pop up from nowhere and tell a kind of story that no one else has told before.
Set in Paris in the 1920s, The Salon involves the circle of artists and hangers on that surrounded Gertrude Stein's famous Salon nights in a strange adventure of mystery and horror. Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Alice B. Toklas, Erik Satie, and Guillaume Apollinaire wander through these pages, tracking a supernatural, seemingly unstoppable killer. A further weird element is a added by the discovery of a strange, blue, absinthe, which when imbibed, allows a person to enter the world of a painting, making for some of the comic's most surreal scenes. During all of this we watch Braque and Picasso struggling to redefine art . Their discussions of painting are some of the best moments in the book. My synopsis doesn't do the comic justice. Reportedly, artist-writer Bertozzi went to great lengths researching the characters and tried to present them as accurately as possible, just as any good historical novelist would. He made me want to read more about the artists and their times. More history reading for me. The more fantastic elements of the story only serve to move the plot along. The real stars here are the artists and the art themselves. Picasso in particular is a great character, a pint size dynamo, obsessed with sex, fighting, and the Katzenjammer Kids.
Bertozzi's art is perfect for the book, not too realistic and not too cartoony. His inkline is fluid and powerful in a way that perhaps only a fellow cartoonist can fully appreciate. His backgrounds invoke both the time period and the techniques of the artists involved in the plot. After I finished reading The Salon I spent a good deal of time just flipping back through the pages and admiring the drawing.
This isn't it comic for kids by a long shot. There's a considerable amount of sex and some fairly graphic scenes of violence, just like you'd get in a real novel. Basically this is one of the few works that really does strike me as a 'graphic novel' and not just an overblown and over extended regular comic book. Of course, in many ways, I am the perfect audience for The Salon. It involves mystery, art, comic strips, and great period detail. It also merges fiction and reality and has a cast formed of real historical figures. All of these things fascinate me. But mostly The Salon is just a really good story, told in an art style that is reminiscent of the glory days of the comic strip and at the same time a tribute to the emergence of modern art. Heady stuff for a funny book. Visit Bertozzi's website and learn more.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I haven't given a weight loss report in a while. Gotten so used to eating right and all that it's kind of become second nature. Coming up on 20 weeks since I began my eating program and I've lost just under 40 pounds. Need to drop six to eight more pounds to reach the goal I began with. It's getting tougher now. My body has become more efficient, so the weight loss is slowing down. I'm adding more cardiovascular training to keep my metabolism geared up.
I can do 51 pushups in a minute now. My next goal is to start doing 400 pushups a day. That's what a wrestling coach recommends for good upper body conditioning. Pushups make for useful muscle as opposed to aesthetic muscle. A lot of the visible muscle you get from weightlifting isn't actually that useful. It just looks impressive. Pushups make a lot of your muscle groups, chest, shoulders, arms, work together, especially if you vary your hand positioning between sets. (Wide, narrow, etc.) Anyway that's my next goal. He also recommends 500 crunches every day. Dunno if I want to do that or not. Yeesh.
I should probably mention that all of this has been made possible by my two plus decades of karate training. The discipline and the approach to living that traditional martial arts teaches you is far far more important than the self defense benefits. Karate taught me to make a plan and work toward it. In many ways I'm a pretty disorganized kind of person, but all those years of training taught me to knuckle down and get the job done when I have to. Have to remember to thank my brother Doug for that, yet again.
Oh well, guess I'll go do some more pushups...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On Any Sunday

Met my mom and dad for breakfast this morning. Gave mom her mother's day present and chatted with she and dad a bit. I'd just had dinner with them on Thursday night so we didn't really have a lot of catching up to do.
Afterwards I swung by Borders and picked up Robert B. Parker's young adult novel, Edenville Owls. Read about half of it and was underwhelmed. Fond as I am of Bob, he doesn't seem to have the knack for YA.
What else have I been reading this weekend? Hemingway short stories. Read 'The Short happy Life of Francis Macomber', which is one of uncle Ernest's most famous shorts. It reads very very well in terms of prose, but its plot defies logic. I got what Hemingway was trying to say about cowardice and love, but the story still doesn't make a lot of sense. There's a bit more of the inner lives of the characters than you get in later Hemingway, such as 'Hills Like White Elephants' where he's trying to achieve the effect of the reader eavesdropping on an arguing couple without ever knowing what either of the characters is thinking.
Tried one of Lee Child's thrillers. Wasn't thrilled. Read a graphic novel called 'The Salon' which I was extremely impressed with. More about that later. Re-read Karl Edward Wagner's Kane short story 'Raven's Eyrie.' Also read several issues of Savage Sword of Conan.
I watched a bunch of episodes of Hercules of course and I picked up three more seasons of Xena, which were on sale.
Basically it was a pretty unfocused weekend, and now it's Sunday evening and I'm a little annoyed at myself, as usual, for not getting much of anything accomplished. But hey, that's life in the real world.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Life's Embarrassing Moments...

There was an episode of Hercules the other night that featured cupid, the son of Aphrodite. I felt kind of sorry for the actor who had to run around with fuzzy angel wings on his back. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I'd seen him before...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hercules in Love

I was watching yet another Hercules episode last night. Prince Hercules, where Herc gets amnesia and a bunch of bad guys try and convince Herc that he's actually their prince (who died in a war) to further some nefarious scheme. They force the late prince's wife to help them and of course she falls for our hero. As I was watching, I thought that the actress playing the princess was one of the most beautiful guest stars that had appeared on the show, which is saying something, considering the array of dazzlers featured on Hercules.
Kevin Sorbo apparently thought so too. An interview that follows the episode reveals that he married the actress, Samantha Jenkins. A quick Internet search shows them still married twelve years later and with three kids. I like that.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Angel of Destruction

Beth has requested vacation beach books for folks who might actually get to take a vacation. I'll chime in with a nail-biter of a suspense book which I read last week. Robert Crais' Demolition Angel is a white knuckle thriller. Just the sort of hefty,'can't put it down' kind of book that suspense fans want, and it's out in paperback so you can stuff it in your travel bag or beach tote.
Carol Starkey was a bomb squad tech, blown up along with her partner/lover when an earthquake triggered an explosive device she was attempting to disarm. Dead at the scene, she was revived by paramedics but her lover didn't make it. Demoted from the bomb squad to an investigative position, she carries the physical and mental scars of what happened to her. Carol is angry, bitter, and unable to make any sort of emotional connection.
Then, when a former bomb squad colleague is killed by a serial bomber know as Mr. Red, Carol leads the investigation. She has to face her own inner demons to hunt for the bomber, and follow a twisting path that could lead to her own redemption and maybe even a chance at love again. Unfortunately, Mr. Red knows who Carol is, and how to find her.
I raved about Crais' new hardback, The Watchman, a few posts ago. Demolition Angel may be even more suspenseful. It's certainly more complex and a much bigger book. Grab a copy and head for the hills. Or even the beach.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Hmmm, seem to have gotten my DVDs mixed together...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Savage Post Script

After Marvel canceled Savage Sword of Conan in 1995, they tried a similar black and white magazine a few month's later, perhaps hoping to bring in new readers with a new number #1 issue. Must not have worked because Conan the Savage only ran for 10 issues, not even a full year. I bought all ten from one of the guys who sold me some Savage Sword issues. This is my favorite cover from the lot. Doug Beekman's portrait from issue 2.

A Silly Story

I was in Barnes and Noble the other day and two small boys, probably five or six, were looking at the display of all the Pirates of the Caribbean 3 books, posters, etc. They were talking excitedly.

"Look, there's Davy Jones!" said one.
"And there's Jack Sparrow!" said the other.
I said, "Captain Jack Sparrow."
The first boy punched the second in the shoulder, and said, "Yeah! CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow, stupid!"

Spiderman 3

Just in from Spiderman 3. It's too long, has too many subplots, and too many musical numbers, but the action is first rate and the special effects fantastic. Venom looks great and the Sandman looks like Steve Ditko drew him.
There are cameos by director Sam Raimi's brother Ted and Bruce Campbell, (Hercules,Xena, Brisco County Jr., Bubba Hotep) and even a speaking part for Stan Lee. The trailer for the second Fantastic Four film was nifty. Silver Surfer, the Fantasti-Car, and other fun stuff.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Complete Savage

Well, it's done. I got home last night from Dr. No's with the last four issues of Savage Sword of Conan. I own them all. 235 issues. If you look to the left, you can see the covers for the first and last issues. It's interesting to note that the final issue, number 235, is the only issue in the series that didn't sport a painting on the cover. I guess since the book was being canceled, the editors at Marvel didn't see much point in going to the time or expense to have a painting done. Also note that the painting for issue number one was done by Boris Vallejo, now a famous fantasy artist, but just breaking in to the industry back then.
The first issue of SSoC hit the stands in 1974. It was preceded by another magazine called Savage Tales. Conan appeared in the pages of Savage Tales for the first five issues before spinning off into SSoC. Savage Tales ran for six more issues without him, and before you ask, yes, I own all of those as well.
The original idea of Savage Sword was to get around the Comics Code Authority, which had hamstrung the comics industry since the 1950s. The code was supposed to keep anything out of comics that might warp the brains of impressionable children. SSoC was an oversized black and white magazine, not answerable to the code, and that allowed Marvel Comics to tell stories with more blood, gore, and partial nudity, just like the actual Conan books. The four color Conan the Barbarian comic was subject to the code, but SSoC wasn't.
I actually bought the first issue of SSoC off the magazine rack at Blair's Food Town, the only supermarket in the small, rural Georgia town where I grew up. I had been reading the color comic for about a year and had found two of the Conan issues of Savage Tales. (Distribution was very spotty in those days. Hard to get consecutive issues of anything.) In 1974 I was twelve, which was the perfect age for SSoC. I liked the violence, and of course the higher degree of female nudity was a big draw to a twelve year old boy. There was something a little dangerous about reading SSoC. I knew my mom wouldn't approve of the magazine. I never hid them like some kids would have, but I put then in the bottom of my stacks of comics. I remember reading one issue while in the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church, just waiting for God to strike me down. Can't recall what I was doing there. Probably waiting to be picked up from some Sunday school function.
I managed to buy most of the first 60 issues over the next few years. To my mind these remain the best of the lot. That was when Roy Thomas was adapting the original Robert E. Howard short stories and when artist John Buscema was the most enthused about drawing Conan. He was really putting his all into those stories, filling them with amazing images of savage battles, beautiful women, lost cities, demons, monsters, and all manner of fantastic things. Roy Thomas was working hard too, bringing as much of Howard's dark imagination to the page as he could. Heady days.
Roy left the book around issue 60, and as I've chronicled in earlier posts, so did I. That had mostly to do with my losing interest in fantasy fiction and turning mostly to crime fiction. (Which now that I think of it, seems to be happening again.) That would have been 1980 or so. Savage Sword would go on for another fifteen years with varying degrees of quality. I bought occasional issues when I would come across them, usually when a favorite artist would draw an issue or two, but for the most part the comic was below my radar. I don't recall even knowing it had been canceled in 1995 until well after the fact.
When I moved a couple of years ago, I got rid of most of my comic books. I kept the first 60 issues of SSoC, and got rid of the other fifty or so issues I had. Unfortunately my interest in old time sword & sorcery swung back to the front of my mind and I suddenly wished I had those issues back. I also learned that Roy Thomas had returned to SSoC with issue 190 and had written the last 45 issues. I decided I wanted to read those. Making a couple of lucky EBay bids, I found myself with about two thirds of the series and decided, what the heck, I might as well get them all. And now I have. I've been reading them as they've come in and having a grand old time. There are some really good stories and some really bad. Amazingly good art and sub professional art. SSoC ran the gamut over the years.
Anyway, let me say a particular thank you to my friend Cliff Biggers, who went way out of his way to help me get all the issues. Thanks, man. I couldn't have done it without you. Also thanks to Brett, Jared, Buck, and Whitney, for watching for all the packages I had shipped to Dr. No's and for alerting me when they arrived.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have more Conan to read.