Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Book Review - The Hustler by Walter Tevis

5.0 / 5.0

This book is soooo good. 

In 'The Hustler', Walter Tevis introduces you to 'Fast' Eddie Felson, a small time pool shark (though Eddie himself dislikes the term) and gifted pool player. And he really thinks he's all that and a bag of chips, and probably a couple other bags of chips. 

But I'll be damned if you don't learn to love him, even though he's kind of an asshole. But you know, he's an honest asshole that never pretends to be anything else. And there's some redemption in him as well. He's a complex machine of flaws and foibles and strengths and blessings, and there's some glory in him. 

Tevis can really get into a character's head, so much so that you're drawn into their world and, for those brief magical moments, believe they're real. The emotional moments towards the end of the book are like running the table in billiards, just one fantastic shot after another. 

For a slender volume, this novel punches way above its weight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Book Review - The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

 5.0 / 5.0

If I can, I usually enjoy reading the book before watching the movie or series that the book is based on. A book is often considered a collaboration between the writer and the reader, whereas a movie/series, I feel, often involves a bit more leading. I read the novel first because I enjoy forming my own images and meanings before I see someone else's interpretation of those same images. 

'The Queen's Gambit' is an excellent novel. First and foremost it's a character study on genius, addiction, and breaking down the barriers that hold people back. Elizabeth Harmon is a wondrous, flawed character who you can't help but root for. She's complex, intelligent and foolish, brave, weak, and strong. She's a contradiction bundled in flesh. In short, she very much feels like a real person.

In addition, the book walks you through the game of chess, with Elizabeth as our guide. It rekindled my enjoyment of the game.

I'd highly recommend the book. It's the best kind of underdog story with a character you can't help but love.

I haven't watched the Netflix series, 'The Queen's Gambit' yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it. I also have plans to read more of Walter Tevis' work.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Book Review - Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

4.25 / 5.0
Is 'Ready Player Two' as good as the 'Ready Player One'? 

 Of course not. But that's really not much of a crime, as I find It's a very rare sequel that is as good as the original. The novel has its flaws, mostly the mid-story slump that feels a bit samey-samey, and though the stakes are high, I didn't often feel that the characters felt the fear of failure. 

 But 'Ready Player Two' recovers well in the final stretch, and this, for me at least, partly earned back the ground lost because of the earlier flaws. 

 Overall 'Ready Player Two' is worth the read. It's good fun to share the page with the same crew of folks we learned to love in the first book.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Book Review - A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

3.5 / 5.0

Way back in the day, I remember reading 'A Room with a View' and really enjoying it. If my flawed memory is correct, I like that novel more than 'A Passage to India'.

There's a lot to love in this 'India', but I feel that it's an imperfect blend of two novels. One, a "crime" drama, and two, a slow burn story of the simmering tensions between two friends (which plays as a metaphor). I think on this count, the blend isn't super successful. The "crime" drama overrides the other plot and as a result the last quarter of the book feels like we're on autopilot, sort of coasting on the flats after a fun downhill ride.

What the novel gets right, is the nuanced quirks and foibles of friendship between two people from difference socials classes and cultures.

I'd recommend this book, but if you have to choose and you're only reading one Forster, maybe read 'A Room with a View'.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Book Review - The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

3.45 / 5.0

So this book is a bit of a conundrum to rate. In many ways, it's good, but the whole plot is fairly predictable (I guess about 1/4 of the way through I knew what was going to happen at the end). The main character is likable, and I even had some genuine emotion for her, which is key. The book's concept is fun, as well.

I don't think I can adequately explain what I *didn't* like about the book without laying down some spoilers, so beware.

*** Avast, spoilers ahead ***

This is pretty much a 'It's a Wonderful Life' variant, with more options. However, where Frank Capra (the director of IaWL) was able to tread the line between saccharine and tragedy and predictable, I don't think this novel did that so well.

The biggest thing is that the MC definitely would have found a life that was better. She did, actually. But everything didn't work out well, because...story. Yeah, that's right. We were working towards an ending that was pat and comfortable, and tied up with a bow. So she couldn't find a better life and stay there because then the story wouldn't have ended up with the right ending. The ending where you should work towards loving your very own life. And don't get me wrong, I think that moral is a good place to end, I just don't think this novel earned it.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Book Review - Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

3.5 / 4.0

This book is lyrical and beautiful, and filled with humans/characters you can love, or despise, or somewhere in between.

So why the 3 star rating? A large portion of the narrative force of this book deals with religious topics, such as redemption, salvation, and the struggles of faith inherent in worship. I think if you are strongly religious, you will feel a much greater connection with this book than I did. My two cents, anyway.

Where Baldwin nailed it, and why this novel, I feel, has earned its enduring place on the classics bookshelf, is bringing to light the tragedies that happen to the characters in a semi-autobiographical novel, which gives those tragedies just that much more punch. Also, even though the religious struggles didn't resonate with me, they will resonate with many a reader and elevate this book for them.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Book Review - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

4.5 / 5.0

I feel 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' endures because of its honesty about periods, and lovemaking, and sorrow and childbearing and parenting and everything in-between. But what really makes the novel a lasting work? The characters.

The sister/aunt, Sissy, is quirky and hilarious and fabulous and oh-so-very human. The whole scene with the tricycle? So. Funny. And then with the teacher? The grandmother, Mary, is wise and interesting. The father, Johnny, the mother, Katie, Neeley, really just everyone, you just can't help but love, foibles, warts, and all.

There are a couple places where I feel the book falls apart. One, the book is overly long and there are a few side characters and frame stories that I feel could be trimmed. The other is that with all the wondrous characters, Francie isn't really all that interesting, mostly because she's a young child. As the book goes on, she gets more interesting, but that delayed my investment. By the end, she was far more interesting. Some of the teacher interactions and how Francie dealt with them were awesome. Still, I mostly stuck around because of the other characters.

There are also a lot of little side stories about living in Brooklyn in the early 1900's that are fabulous. Details about bored cigar rollers and old Christmas trees and noodle making and barber shop cups really bring the book to life.

In short, a bit overly long, but worth it for the characters, honesty, and humanity.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Importance of Ritual in Writing ... at least for me.

Setting up a certain set of conditions, at least for me, is key to getting a lot writing done.

    I know that I focus best in the morning. Early, like 5am. Know thyself and when the muse is most likely to visit you. Don't be afraid to experiment and see what time works best for you. What conditions do I use?
    1. Set up everything the night before so I'm ready to start writing right away.
    2. Listen to nature sounds (my favorites are rain, waves and wind).
    3. I like wearing noise cancelling headphones to listen to the aforementioned sounds.
    4. Shut off the internet. I work on an old laptop that doesn't get online very easily. 
    5. Turn off the cell and put it out in another room the night before. Don't check email/social accounts until after writing.
    6. Set (achievable) goals. What works best for me is having a list to cross items off. Or a word count/set amount of time.
    Do I always follow all of these? Of course not. But when I do, it's when I usually feel the most productive. If you follow your ritual, your muse becomes accustomed to visiting at that time. If not, at least you've shown up and done *your* job, even if that slacker muse hasn't.

    Do you have any rituals that work well for you when you write?

    Thursday, August 2, 2018

    Wigleaf's Best Flash Fiction 2018

    I'm very excited to announce that my flash story, 'That Dark, Sweet Magic' made Wigleaf's Best Flash Fiction of 2018 (#20). So mosey on over to Flash Fiction Online and read it! It's less than 1,000 words, which means it will take you about 6.5 minutes to read, less if you're fast!

    That Dark Sweet Magic by Travis Burnham

    Thursday, August 17, 2017

    New Fiction and the Aussie Pink Floyd Show @ the Belk Theater, Charlotte, NC

    My flash piece, 'That Dark, Sweet Magic' is up over at Flash Fiction Online. Would love love love if you went and checked it out:

    In other news, I caught the Aussie Pink Floyd Show just a few days ago (8/13/2017). They put on a fantastic event.

    While playing covers from 'The Wall':

    A taste of how amazing the show is. The finale:

    Friday, December 16, 2016

    Wyrm's Gauntlet Writing Contest!

    For the last couple of months I’ve been participating in a writing competition called the Wyrm’s Gauntlet — consisting of a series of challenges, two fiction, two non-fiction—the number of challengers was winnowed from 33 to 8 to 5, and finally to the last 3.

    The first challenge was to critique a book review, the second to write a 2nd person POV short story, the third to write a critical paper about fan fiction and then, the final challenge, to write a short story with a movie trailer prompt.

    And I just found out a few days ago that I came in first place!! As seen here: Gauntlet Champs!

    Definitely fun, but challenging. It really is a gauntlet!

    PS: And thanks to the folks that offered advice on rough drafts -- Matt, Deborah and Sonja!

    Sunday, August 21, 2016

    On Goals and the "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest!

    I set some writing and submission goals this summer!

    Some goals that I've unlocked over the last few months:
    • My first royalty check! Not for a lot, but hey, a royalty check!
    • In June, I set out to write 1,000 words a day and I met that goal.
    • Over the course of July and August, I've submitted short stories to over twenty venues!
    • I had a reprint accepted!
    • I have a story will be produced as an audio podcast! Very excited!

    In other news, do you have a novel you're interested in having represented? In the "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest you'll have an opportunity for a real live agent to check out the first page of your novel.

    The contest is live until the end of the day, Wednesday, August 24, 2016. The contest is judged by agent Andrea Morrison of Writers House. Interest piqued? Mosey on over to the website for details!

    Sunday, April 3, 2016

    A Plea for Good Music - Jason Myles Goss

    Are you tired of all the same music that the six companies that control 90% of our media tell you to like?
    Jason Myles Goss

    Jason Myles Goss' music has muscle. It has soul and heart. He tells stories that tell the plight of regular folks trapped in their circumstances. Or folks just trying to live their lives. He writes beautiful songs. He writes earworms that you don't even notice your singing to yourself as you stand in line buying groceries. And then you realize for the fourth time in a day, or the tenth time that week who you're listening to.

    Treat yourself to a dose of amazing music. I've been listening to Jason Myles Goss now for going on more than a decade when he came to play at a little coffee house in Portland, ME. He was really good then, and he just keep getting better and better.

    It's criminal that he isn't better known.

    He brings to mind Bruce Springsteen if he wrote about life in New England, or Ryan Adams if Ryan were a little less Americana and little more Folk Rock.

    Do you really want to listen to what you're told you should listen to by the 232 executives that have our music industry in a stranglehold? Step out of your comfort zone for just a minute and you'll by happy you did.

    Listen to something genuine and good and real.

    Jason Myles Goss' Discography:

    • Long Way Down (2003)
    • Another Ghost (2005)
    • A Plea For Dreamland (2009)
    • Radio Dial (2012)
    • This Town Is Only Going To Break Your Heart (2015)

    • A Plea For Dreamland (2007)

    Wednesday, November 18, 2015

    Guster and From Bears at the Orange Peel

    Last Tuesday was the fourth time I've seen Guster. They played the Orange Peel, a top-ranked venue (with an iconic enormous ceiling fan) in Asheville, NC. A local band, From Bears, from Boone, NC, opened for Guster. It was the second time that I was able to see Guster for free by volunteering with Reverb (, an organization formed by Adam Gardner of Guster, and his wife, Lauren.

    From Bears, comprised of Ben Taylor, Matt Nemeth, Doug Little & Trent Mason, was the pleasant surprise of the evening. The two lead vocalists both had great voices, and the songs were a blend of catchy, clever, and cool. Links to my two current favorites From Bears tunes that you should click on immediately lest you be deprived of their awesomeness:

    "Noiseless," off their Drone Star EP and "Crunch",a single I found on their Bandcamp site. And heck, while you're clicking on links, you should listen to "Stranger to Mass Confusion" too, which I keep finding myself playing on repeat in my head.

    From Bears:

    Back to Guster, I had a chance to meet them afterwards (a perk of Reverb volunteering), and chat about sundry topics. They put on a great show and has a set list that really clicked with my personal favorites of theirs. Guster formed in 1991 and hail from my own home stomping grounds of Boston.

    I had a chance to snap some photos with individual band members as well:

    with Ryan Miller

    with Adam Gardner

    with Brian Rosenworcel

    with Luke Reynolds

    My favorite Guster songs, in no particular order, and subject to change:

    Song - Album - Year
    1. Manifest Destiny - Ganging Up On the Sun - 2006
    2. Kid Dreams - Evermotion - 2015
    3. Architects & Engineers - Easy Wonderful - 2010
    4. Satellite - Ganging Up On the Sun - 2006
    5. Demons - Goldfly - 1996

    Tuesday, April 21, 2015

    The Decemberists at the Fillmore Charlotte - April.9.2015

    The first time I listened to the Decemberists I was in a car hurtling up I95 in Maine, heading to Gray-New Gloucester school. It was an inauspicious beginning, as I was underwhelmed. Not surprising—I've been wrong before on a first listen, though never quite so wrong as then.

    Being a writer, I'm a lyric man, and singer/songwriter Colin Meloy makes the writing effortless, weaving in such words as ventricle and eidolon into his lyrics in such a way that they seem foundational, as opposed to flowery and show-offy.

    The show Thursday night at the Fillmore was phenomenal. I don't recall any other concert that passed quite so quickly through sheer enjoyment.

    Meloy, Query & Moen:

     Colin Meloy - The Rake's Song

    Jenny Conlee:

    The Decemberists @ the Fillmore Charlotte:

    The Decemberists are:
    • Colin Meloy – lead singer, songwriter, guitar, bouzouki, harmonica
    • Chris Funk – guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, multi-instrumentalist
    • Jenny Conlee – Hammond organ, accordion, melodica, piano, keyboards, synthesizer
    • Nate Query – bass guitar, double bass, cello
    • John Moen – drums, backing vocals, melodica

    The finale was wondrous fun:

    My Top Five Decemberists Songs (song - album - year)

    1. Red Right Ankle - Her Majesty (2003)  
    2. The Wrong Year - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (2015) 
    3. Summersong - The Crane Wife (2006) 
    4. The Rake's Song - The Hazard's of Love (2009) 
    5. 16 Military Wives - Picaresque (2005) 

    Saturday, February 21, 2015

    Dogtooth - Movie Review

    Umm. Yeah. So I love movies and I've seen a lot of them, and I'm pretty sure that Yorgo Lanthimos' Dogtooth is the weirdest movie I've ever seen. It's seriously fubar.

    It's also quite engaging. And it spins on a dime from funny to horrific to seriously bizarre. Do I wish I could get my time back after viewing it? To be honest I'm not really sure. As a piece of social satire, I didn't find it successful. And if that's the case, on what level does it work? I think it succeeds in appealing to our prurient, voyeuristic impulses, however artistic its aims.

    If I were to sum up the movie I'd call it ambitiously ambiguous.

    Would I recommend Dogtooth? Probably not. Unless the person was really into home-schooling gone seriously wrong, or wacko art-house movies.

    Alcohol Pairing: Nyquil/Jägermeister

    Overall Rating: C-

    Saturday, February 14, 2015

    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Book Review

    So this will just be a short review with a side order of ranting. It's chockablock with spoilers, so if you haven't read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, keep on rollin' past, finish the book, and then come on back.

    First of all, Shelley does an impressive job generating empathy for Frankenstein's monster. To the point where I truly, despite all of his crimes, cared for the monster more than any other character. We all love a reformed sinner, and the monster does show remorse at the end, but this isn't why I cared for him so much. He pulled himself up from nothing, was nothing but kind in his heart, and was continuously judged by his appearances by any and all who where in a position to offer him compassion. Including Victor Frankenstein, who creates him and immediately spurns him.

    The plot point that really made me angry was when the monster threatens Victor with "I will see you on your wedding night" and Victor thinks the monster is coming for him. Duh! The monster, in three separate instances, killed his friends and loved ones beforehand (William Frankenstein and Henry Clerval, and collaterally, Justine), but, suddenly, the monster is going to shift tactics and come after you? Gah!  So stupid!!! Victor is a shallow, callous, moron. I felt like I was watching a really bad horror movie, but instead of the main character not knowing what was in the dark basement but still going down, the main character actually sees the eight foot tall serial killer with a running chainsaw out on the front lawn and decides to charge, armed with a plastic spoon. And you're really rooting for the killer.

    Not surprisingly, I have the least sympathy for Victor, which might be fine, but I don't think this was the intent of the writer. If anything, I think Victor should have manned up and either made a bestie for the monster, or, failing that, thrown himself from a cliff. Because I did feel for all of the people that end up dying for Victor's stupidity. They were blameless.

    Is this book deserving of being a classic? Hell, yeah. There were moral quandaries aplenty. You care about the character because of solid writing that does get a bit excessive at time, but isn't out of character for the time period it was written in. And it really makes you consider what responsibilities a deity would have. And Shelley was eighteen (!) when she wrote it. So yeah. Kudos. The book, especially being a slender volume, is well worth the time. Particularly because of the monster's entreaties for humanity from the humans around him.

    Beer Pairing: RJ Rocker's Brown-Eyed Squirrel
    Movie Paring: District 9
    Overall rating: B

    Sunday, February 8, 2015

    The Half Wrong!

    I present...The Half Wrong! The winning vote! I'm committed to wearing it until Wednesday. I somehow thought it might start interesting conversations with folks I don't know, but most people just look at me like I might be on drugs, or am a bit deranged. As for my opinion? Kind of fun.

    The final results:

    Beard Style
    # of Votes
    The Half Wrong
    Super Mario
    Franz Jozef
    The Zappa
    A la Souvarov
    Rap Industry Standard
    French Fork
    The Mighty Insecto
    The Half Right
    Mutton Chops
    Handlebar & Chin Puff
    Napoleon III Imperial
    Old Dutch

    Friday, January 30, 2015

    Manuary Beard to Raise Money!

    So. The Manuary Beard. aka: The Fundraising Beard! Students cast .50 cents a vote to determine what I will shave this shaggy thing into. Stay tuned for late this weekend or early next week for the winning beard! All proceeds to benefit the science program at my school!

    Sunday, September 7, 2014

    "Libri de Atrum Divum"

    So my latest story, "Libri de Atrum Divum" has gone live at the Australian-based, speculative fiction magazine SQ Mag. I made the cover! You can read the story here.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014

    The Outer Banks - North Carolina

    OBX - The Outer Banks

    When you look at a map of the east coast of the United States, it's tough to not have your eyes drawn to the topography of the Outer Banks, a long thin sliver of barrier islands that guard the coast of North Carolina. I'd always wanted to visit, and my wife planned a trip out there for me for my birthday.

    I spent a few days out on Ocracoke, one of the inhabited island far to the south, and it was beautiful and quirky and, to overuse a cliché, magical. It's also infamous as the location where the pirate Blackbeard met his end.

    And in order to make a big loop, as well as squeeze in a day trip to a northern island, we took three of the ferries that lend access to Ocracoke: we took the Cedar Island Ferry out to Ocracoke, took the Hatteras Island for fun, and returned to the mainland on the Swans Quarter Ferry.

    The beaches are gorgeous, though not unlike the pirates that roamed their water, somewhat treacherous with dangerous riptides, which feel as strong as a river's ebb and flow. Growing up on the Atlantic, I'm accustomed to undertows and riptides and perilous currents, and it was enjoyable to be back in the ocean's embrace.
    beach on Ocracoke
     The sunrises are beautiful.

    Ocracoke Sunrise
    And the Ocracoke Lighthouse comes complete with cats, satisfying no less than two national fetishes.

    Ocracoke Lighthouse & Ocracoke kitty
    Visit. The Outer Banks make for a stunning destination.