I served on a submarine for several years. There isn’t much room for books on a submarine—the library was a drawer with maybe 20 tattered trade paperbacks—and, this was the pre-Kindle world. So, when we were at sea we told each other sea stories to pass the time. Some of the stories were personal (hellishly exaggerated childhood stories) and some were retellings of stories we had read. A friend once told me the story of Sandman over the course of many days at sea. Each day he picked up exactly where he had left off the day before. He described the images and captions and wove the story for me. Death was my favorite character before I even saw her depiction in the comic, but he explained every detail of her with stunning accuracy. When I eventually collected the comics for myself, I was thrilled that I was already a fan of the author; I had read (and loved) Neil’s Don’t Panic a few years before.
Neil challenged my imagination during those many days at sea. He inspired me to pick up a pencil and write. I had scribbled stories and poems in grade school, but never with much purpose or conviction. Neil made me realize I wanted to be a writer and tell stories like he did. I wanted to write stories that other people would want to retell.
Now, Neil is everywhere. He has a show on television (American Gods), a show on the radio (Anansi Boys), he has a film or two in production. He has countless books. And comics. His advice on writing and craft is sage. His generosity is endless. His contributions to the arts seem to have no bounds.
To this day, every time I see him or hear him, I am reminded to just keep writing, to just keep creating. Write. Finish things. Keep writing. I keep the message as my wallpaper, my daily inspiration.
I encourage everyone to read his books, give his books as gifts (there are ones for children, and adults, and adults that want to be children), and follow his twitter feed. Listen to him read The Raven or A Christmas Carol. Support PEN American and UNHCR, and any other cause Neil supports. Let him inspire you to do more, to be better this year.
Neil’s tweet for the new year 2018:
We love you too, Neil. Keep doing what you do.
My creed for 2017 was “Wake up. Try not to suck.” I was moderately successful. Some random musings for the year:
- My life is so much better now that I stopped watching The Walking
- I discovered the novels Denis Johnson and Jennifer Egan. I don’t know what took me so long.
- I may add “Bad Wrangler” to my resume. See Flying Vermin if you are curious.
- I attended to 5 concerts, the best of which was either Blue October or Sammy Hagar. I change my mind every time I think about them.
- I watched Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones, and Peaky Blinders, but my favorite binge series was The Punisher.
- I decided that Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber is probably the best piece of music ever composed.
- I published a few stories and poems; one was even nominated for Best of the Net.
- I grew a beard for the first time in my life.
- Looking forward to 2018, especially with the new venture at Genre2.
- Official creed for 2018: Drink coffee and be awesome.
- Unofficial creed for 2018: Just write the fucking story.
Veterans deserve more than a day. This month is dedicated to Veteran Authors. Buy their books! Post reviews! Support veterans!
Rajani Chronicles I: Stone Soldiers, Brian S. Converse
“The day was gray as the rain fell softly in downtown Detroit. It was a spring rain, meant to wash away the snow, blackened from passing cars, which still clogged the gutters and sidewalks; yet it only succeeded in giving the day a feeling a melancholy for all those who bore witness to the tragic scene laid out before them.”
To be fair, I typically cringe at descriptions of weather in the opening line, but I enjoyed the way the scene was set in the second line and the way it gradually transitioned me into some ominous present action. I enjoy a good tragedy. I also like the word “melancholy.”
Secrets Revealed, Willis Bullard
“My last official act while still in the military was working under assumed identity trying to retrieve information from a usually friendly country on a group of terrorists that were planning to conduct an attack against a significant embassy in Germany. I was working with the State Department in conjunction with agents from the CIA conducting an investigation on possible espionage activity within the embassy.”
This sounds like the plot for the next season of Homeland, so it scares me just a little that this is non-fiction. Non-fiction as in, this shit is real. I love the last line of the prologue, “Buckle up… this gets bumpy.”
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
This is one of my all-time favorite opening lines. Salinger was drafted into the Army, landed on Utah Beach, and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. Oh, and he met Hemingway while he was over there. Hemingway said he had “a helluva talent.” I tend to agree.
Veterans deserve more than a day. They also deserve more than one sentence. This month is dedicated to Veteran Authors. Buy their books! Post reviews! Support veterans!
Bishop’s War (Bishop Series Book 1), Rafael Hines
“Hours before the deadly desert sun rose above the low hills in the east, Clayton Unser walked over to one of the Valdez prison guard to ask a few questions. The moon had been full, bright enough to cast shadows, and the guard wore NVG’s (Night Vision Goggles), but Clayton made sure the man heard him coming. No reason to startle anyone in the dark when they’re holding an AR-15 assault rifle and wearing a .45 Colt Commander in a hip-holster. Clayton raised his hands palms up as a sign of reassurance, not surrender, and to make it an easy reach for the 9mm Glock 17 in his shoulder rig in case things got dicey.”
I immediately sense that Clayton is a bad-ass. If I ever need a bodyguard, I will look for someone exactly like Clayton. I may even pay him more if he will let me call him Clayton. Clayton has some skills that you can’t learn in books. Clayton is cool. Clayton is also someone I don’t ever want to anger.
The Vampire of Rome, Lincoln Farish
“Waking up on the scratchy, bare concrete floor of an underground cell beneath the Vatican in a puddle of my own saliva wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to me that day. Father Guillermo was the nicest torturer one could ever imagine.”
What could possibly be worse than waking up in a cell? In the Vatican? In a puddle of spit? Oh… torture. Got it. This is book four of the Inquisitor Series. If you haven’t already met Brother Sebastian, you need to fix that. Check out my full review of Book One.
The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
“First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack.”
I couldn’t resist including the quintessential veteran story here. I expect that most people have read it, at least the first chapter. If you have not read it, or if you have only read the first chapter, then you should probably fix that too.
My 3rd annual Veterans’ charity promotion begins November 1. As in the past, 100% of all book proceeds will be donated to organizations that support veterans and their families. This year I have chosen to divide the proceeds between the following organizations:
Throughout the month, I will be posting Flash Reviews of books written by fellow veterans. Please support these and other veteran authors out there!
Welcome to Flash Reviews, Friday edition. I could promise to post reviews every Friday, but that would be a lie. I am not that organized. If you still have no idea what I am doing, read about it here. As always, if you would like to request a review of something you wrote, or something you wish you wrote, send me a message on twitter. I am an equal opportunity flasher.
Shoot ‘em Up (A Maisie McGrane Mystery), Janey Mack
“A siren bawled as Lee Sharpe, eyes flashing, grinning like a demon, loomed over my gurney. “Who stabbed you, Maisie?””
Ok. That’s technically two lines, but how can you possibly stop reading after the grinning-demon-over-the-gurney image? Besides, the dialogue is just an extension of the first line. And I make the rules anyway, so deal with it. Of course, you read the second line only to discover the main character has been stabbed. There is something about the calmness of the situation that is unsettling. Lee is suddenly a sympathetic demon. Do I want to find out why Maisie is so calm about being stabbed? Do I want to know who stabbed her? Hell yeah! You should definitely check out Janey’s website.
Spoils, Brian Van Reet
“She is the most dangerous thing around.”
I stumbled upon this and was immediately consumed. Such simplicity and intrigue. How can you not keep reading? I actually didn’t stop reading this one. Check out my full review.
In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje
“This is a story a young girl gathers in a car during the early hours of the morning.”
The girl is Hana. You probably know her from The English Patient. But this is where she started. The English Patient was a sequel of sorts. This is my all-time favorite novel, and I highly recommend you read it. Just read the next few lines of the prologue. Stunning. I am excited he has a new novel coming in May.
Literary legends Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger met more than once in the middle of World War II.
Source: The Two Great American Writers Who Met at War | Flashback | OZY
Welcome to the third installment of Flash Reviews. If you still don’t know what I am doing, read about it here. If you would like to request a review of something you wrote, or something you think is really awesome, send me a message on twitter.
The Name of the World, Denis Johnson
“Since my early teens I’ve associated everything to do with college, the “academic life,” with certain images borne toward me, I suppose, from the TV screen, in particular from the films of the 1930s they used to broadcast relentlessly when I was a boy, and especially from a single scene: Fresh-faced young people come in from an autumn night to stand around the fireplace in the home of a beloved professor.”
Wow. 71 words in that sentence, at least according to Word. I didn’t bother to count them. Some things I just believe. And I believe that Denis Johnson was an amazing writer that was taken from us far too soon. As much as I love his language and style, I truly hope that his estate doesn’t release some lost and forgotten and incomplete manuscript. Those are always lost and forgotten and incomplete for a reason. I have a few. May they never see the light of day.
Stillhouse Lake, Rachel Caine
“Gina never asked about the garage.”
Not very exciting, but intriguing enough for me to read the second and third lines. Somehow this garage destroyed Gina. Now that has my attention. I’ve never known garages to attack.
The Bull, Cycle 2 of the Blood Zodiac, Erica Crockett
“She can’t get the blood out of her blond wig.”
Now that’s a first line that gets attention. Yes, I kept reading, and yes, you should too. Check out Erica’s first novel, Chemicals, while you are at it. You won’t be disappointed. This girl can write.
If you are unsure about what the hell I am doing, check out the first installment.
The Witch’s Lair, Lincoln Farish
“By noon, there had been three attempts to murder me.”
How could you possibly stop reading after that intro? Talk about a bad day. That’s the kind of day that should make you just go hide somewhere and hope that tomorrow will be better. This dude is not an accountant or a mechanic. Unless of course he is very very bad at either. I also highly doubt he is going to take my advice and hide.
Alpha Beta Poetry, Nicole Pierman
“Admire adamant affections, amity among allegiance, admit an admirer against all actions, and amour always, absolve.”
That’s a lot of fucking a’s. I was tempted to write an alliterative review but I gave up after “Pondering poetry, potent, portend, properly pure.” I was exhausted. Hats off to Nicole for her vision and discipline.
Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks
“You’ll probably think I’m making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I really am or smarter or even luckier but I’m not.”
I picked this up at Riverrun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a few years ago. I immediately sensed a flavor of Catcher in the Rye, so I kept reading. I am usually wary of first-person child narratives written in dialect, but this one kept my attention. I spent the remainder of that afternoon reading beside the actual river.