Vampire House and Other Early Cases

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Justinia Wright and her brother, Harry, are my favorite creations. They weren’t the first of my imaginings to spring to life on paper, but they are the ones who have been in my mind the longest.

Tina and Harry sprang to life shortly after I read Raleigh Bond’s short story “Meet Athalia Goode” in an issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine way back in 1982. However, it took seven more years before I chronicled their first adventure: Festival of Death.

What I realized in writing my first novel is that I wasn’t ready to write a novel. The manuscript went into a filing cabinet drawer and stayed there for 25 years. When I pulled it out in 2014, the book was hopelessly out of date. I kept the first chapter, with modifications, and rewrote the novel; sticking more or less to the original idea.

The result was a much better story. Sometimes, one simply isn’t ready. Sometimes, one needs to learn more. And sometimes, one must simply wait and experience life.

Vampire House and Other Early Cases of Justinia Wright, PI is now available for pre-pub purchase for a mere 99 cents. Do get a copy before the price goes up on Halloween.

This new addition to Tina and Harry’s oeuvre is a collection seven cases that chronologically pre-date Festival of Death and form a prequel of sorts. Hence my numbering of the volume as Book 0.

I enjoy short stories and short novels very much. Prefer them, in fact, to the massively thick tomes that seemed to be popular today.

The reasons I enjoy short works, I think, are two: I grew up with them and I often find I don’t have the time to do a larger work justice.

Think about it. Books for kids are short. In many cases they are actually short stories or novellas. One of my favorite books is Wingman, a YA “novel” by Daniel Pinkwater. It is a mere 73 pages of large print text and pictures. Yet, it is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. Good things do come in small packages. Which is why I’m baffled when I read or hear of folks who don’t like short stories because they don’t contain enough character development or the storyline is too skimpy. Some of the most powerful pieces of fiction I have ever read are short stories. Stories such as “Sredni Vashtar” by Saki, “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken, and “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway are merely three among many.

The other reason is time. A 500, 600, 700 page novel a major time investment. Especially if I want to keep all the characters and story lines clear in my mind. That takes a degree of concentration, which if I’m busy is sometimes difficult to muster. Reading a hefty novel is something that requires, for me anyway, more than one or two sittings and sometimes reading a book of substantial length may take me upwards of a month. I’m not the world’s speediest reader. A short book, on the other hand, I can knock off in an hour or a couple days at the most.

As the average age of the fiction buying public gets younger, I think the demand for shorter works will increase. The Millennials and Gen Z folks have never known a world without computers. Statistics reveal a different pattern of reading for these people. Information and entertainment is consumed via their smart phones. They are used to short presentations which are often video. Presentations and attention spans are shorter. Think YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, and one minute vids on Snapchat or other social media. Short is in. And considering half of all books are read on a smart phone, there is a compelling case for short fiction. I think there is a real danger that fiction as we know it might just wander off into oblivion under the onslaught of other entertainment forms. That’s something to think about.

Short is in. In spite of what Amazon and the Big 5 want to believe. Amazon’s penalty in KDP select for short works by switching to payment by the page read. The Big 5’s insistence on mandatory long page lengths for novels, so they can justify printing. That kind of thinking reveals those folks to be dinosaurs catering to us Baby Boomers and older folks, who unfortunately are facing the end of our days. Short is in, whether we older folks like it or not.

Vampire House and Other Early Cases of Justinia Wright, PI is a collection of short stories and a short novel. They were fun to write and are hopefully fun to read. They’re packed with humor, sibling rivalry, dastardly villains, a touch of love, and puzzles to solve.

I love Tina and Harry and I hope you do too. Vampire House and Other Early Cases is only 99 cents until Halloween. Take the treat now! A mere buck for a rollicking good time.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Do Men Read Fiction?

Do men read fiction? This is a question traditional publishers have asked and decided in the negative. No. Men do not read fiction. The conclusion is based on numerous surveys that have been conducted concerning adult reading.

Now I find this to be a rather disturbing conclusion, because I’m a man and I read fiction. As of today, I’ve read 19 novels and 11 short stories this year. In fact, I just finished a novel yesterday. I also write novels. So how on earth did traditional publishers arrive at such a bizarre conclusion? Am I an odd ball? Or are traditional publishers mistaken?

Traditional publishing tends to be dominated by women and that may influence what ends up getting published. (cf, Where The Boys Are Not.) After all women do tend to read differently than men. And if women are functioning as agents and editors then their interests can’t but help have some influence as to what gets represented and what eventually gets published.

Porter Anderson, writing on Jane Friedman’s blog, disputes the notion that men don’t read fiction. And indie author Mark Dawson has statistical evidence that his John Milton thrillers are read about equally by men and women.

Nevertheless, there is a deluge of novels with strong female leads coming out of traditional publishing and indie publishing. Both men and women authors are cranking out novels where the protagonist is a strong woman. Myself included. I can’t help but think that this deluge is due to the notion that men don’t read fiction.

As a reader, a male reader, I don’t mind reading books where there is a strong female lead. One of my favorite characters is Robert E Howard’s Dark Agnes. Better known as Sword Woman. But quite honestly, I’m getting tired of reading books that only feature a strong female lead. After all, I am a guy and I’d like a little guy fantasy every now and then.

So I ask myself, why? Why all the strong female leads even from the pens of male authors? It’s not that I don’t like women, because I do. So what is the reason?

I think the reason, in part, is because there is a very strong trend, which has been going on for years, to have the main character — whether male or female — to be very touchy-feely. Perhaps this trend is due to a female dominated publishing industry. Because women tend to like their protagonists to be touchy-feely.

Lee Child made note of this in his introduction to a new addition of his first Jack reacher novel. What had started out to be a good thing, pretty soon became a bad thing because so many people were copying it and not doing it so well. In other words it was no longer innovative. The sensitive and troubled main character had become hack. A stock character. So Child made Jack Reacher not quite the opposite. Reacher is something of a man’s man and yet there is enough sensitivity to him that a woman reader could find him attractive.

I think the other reason, in part, is the perception that men don’t read fiction. If men don’t read fiction then why have a male lead in the first place? However this perception may not be true. The popularity of Jack Reacher and Mark Dawson’s John Milton would seem to indicate that both men and women like a male protagonist and one who is something of a man’s man.

In doing a bit of online research concerning the question, I ran across a wonderful article which indicates men do read fiction. However, they’re reading habits tend to be less flexible than those of women. The article is by Kate Summers and is on the Reference and User Services Association website.

In addition to being less flexible readers than women, men tend to be far less social concerning their reading habits. In other words, men tend not to talk about what they read. Something Anderson alludes to in his post which I referenced above. Consequently, surveys indicating men are less likely to buy and read fiction may be skewed in favor of women simply because men don’t answer them! Women are much more likely than men to be in bookclubs, tweet what they’re reading, or share book recommendations on Facebook, Goodreads, and Google Plus. All of which gives the impression men don’t read fiction.

Additionally, young men may not be as attracted to a touchy-feely main character as are young women. And if young men get the impression that novels are only for “girls and sissies”, then we are going to lose male readers of fiction. Which argues for the need to have — especially in YA books — strong male protagonists, written by male authors. Because young men tend to read male authors over female authors. Think about comic books here. Comic book heroes by and large are not touchy-feely and boys love comic books.

As a writer, this is an important question to me — because it impacts both what I write and how I market what I write. However, I’m glad to say I’m no longer overly concerned. I think it’s clear men do read fiction. Even adolescent boys will read fiction if there’s a strong male protagonist and lots of adventure. What is also clear is that men and boys just don’t advertise what they read. For whatever reason. They are also more set as to what they will read, than are women and girls. As a writer, I need to keep this in mind.

Do men read fiction? Yes, they do. Perhaps writers need to include strong male leads in more of their novels. After all, men spend money too. Why not have them throw a little bit in the fiction writer’s path?

As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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TV Review: Murdoch Mysteries

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Steampunk is alive well. Not only as a sub-genre of speculative fiction, but also as a lifestyle movement and a musical genre.

A few weeks ago, while looking for something to watch on Netflix streaming, I stumbled upon the retro-detective series Murdoch Mysteries. I fell in love immediately. I mean who wouldn’t love a show that features Nikola Tesla in the first episode? I’ve been binge watching ever since.

Some people might not call Murdoch Mysteries steampunk. And in a very real sense it isn’t. At least it isn’t traditional steampunk. However there are many steampunk elements that the writers incorporate in the episodes, so I call it steampunk light.

Detective William Murdoch, of Toronto Constabulary’s Fourth Station House, is an amateur inventor and a scientific sleuth worthy of Sherlock Holmes’s shoes, Inverness cape, and deerstalker hat. But Murdoch wears none of those. Just a conservative 1890s suit and Homburg, the classic hat worn by Winston Churchill, among others.

The show begins in the mid-1890s and in season six enters the new century. Numerous inventions are featured that were either invented or discussed at that time and some of them Murdoch himself invents to help him solve crimes. Also a feature of the show are the famous personalities who appear as part of the storyline; people such as Tesla, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, and HG Wells.

The episodes are filled with humor and historical puns, such as when Constable Crabtree claps his hands to activate a sound activated switch (the Clapper of modern day fame), which makes the series almost a comedy were it not for the seriousness of Murdoch and the murders he’s trying to solve.

I believe the success of this series lies in the interaction of the main trio of characters: Detective Murdoch, Constable Crabtree, and Inspector Brackenreid. Murdoch is unrelentingly serious and conservative, in spite of his love of science, technology, and invention. When he invents “Silly Putty” to capture newsprint he can’t read on the inside of a wallet, Brackenreid wants to take some home for his boys because they would love the silliness of it. Murdoch rebukes him that the putty is not a toy.

Crabtree aspires to be like Murdoch, but has an imagination that enables him to see practical applications of Murdoch’s and other inventors’s inventions that they themselves don’t see or dismiss. When a microwave machine shows up in Murdoch’s office, having been used as a weapon, Crabtree envisions it could be used to bake potatoes. When told the machine would have to be the size of a room, Crabtree goes on to imagine homes being built in the future with potato baking rooms. Eventually in the course of the series, Crabtree puts his imagination to use and writes a novel.

Brackenreid is an old school cop who in the beginning has little toleration for Murdoch’s odd methods. He’s a blustering blowhard, who is really a marshmallow on the inside.

Of course no series would be complete without a love interest and that we have between Murdoch and the very progressive coroner, Doctor Julia Ogden.

The series also explores many social issues and can therefore be seen as a commentary on our own age, which in many ways isn’t much different from Murdoch’s.

As I noted above, many might not see Murdoch Mysteries as steampunk. But whatever genre you decide to call the series, the series is riotously good fun. Very highly recommended.

As always, comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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Movie Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

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This past weekend I watched a dieselpunk cult classic: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I loved it! The 1930s and 40s feel of the cinematography, the cheesy ‘tween war movie dialogue, the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne designs, the fabulous inventions, hero versus evil genius, the terrifying mechanical monsters, and let’s not forget that fabulous spaceship! Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has it all.

The movie is part noir mystery and part comic book superhero adventure. The film is a blend of the 30s and 40s acting style combined with exquisite modern special effects.

The acting and plot are typical of the old B grade movie. The stuff I grew up with in the 50s and early 60s. And perhaps that’s why I like the movie. It’s all action and adventure. No complicated plot. Simply an evil genius bent on destroying the world and our superhero who has to stop him. There are no complex characters. No one is pouring angst all over the screen. Just action with a romance subplot to keep the personal level interesting. In fact the movie isn’t all that much different from Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. It is pure entertainment. Nothing thought provoking here. Just stuff to get your adrenaline pumping.

If you have no idea what a B grade movie is, then you may think Sky Captain is ridiculous. Clearly some of the reviews I read on Rotten Tomatoes indicated to me the reviewer had no idea what the director was trying to achieve. The movie is a tribute to the movie fare that entertained millions every Saturday afternoon at the theater.

The B grade movie was not much different than the dime novel or the pulp magazine. It was cheap entertainment and movie studios cranked them out by the score.

One very popular theme of the old B movie was that of the knight-errant story from the Middle Ages. It is the story of a knight who embarks on a mission of great importance. The traditional Western is classic knight-errant stuff. A gang of bad guys takes over a town. The lone sheriff comes to the town and cleans it up. Usually by killing the bad guys. The classic movie The Magnificent Seven is the knight-errant trope. And so is Sky Captain. Only he can save the world from impending destruction.

In my opinion, Kerry Conran did an admirable job in recreating the old B movie. All the tropes are there to relive your youth — provided, of course, you’re old enough.

Otherwise, sit back and simply enjoy a Time Machine that takes you back to another world, an older and maybe better world, when a movie ticket cost 50¢ and a bag of popcorn was a quarter.

Two features of the movie I especially loved were the fabulous art deco and streamline moderne designs of the space ship’s exterior and interior and the mechanical monsters. The space ship takes you back to Buck Rogers and the monsters are straight out of the comic books I used to read. Truly fabulous stuff there.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is highly recommended. Definitely five stars.

As always comments are welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building
Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building
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