My top ten beach reads

The sign of a true nerd: He or she doesn’t remember a beach trip based on bitchin’ waves or a hot summer fling. Nerds get nostalgic over beach reads.

Here are the top ten favorite books I’ve read at the beach (in no particular order).

The Scar by China MievilleThe Scar by China Mieville
This was my first—and still my favorite—Mieville novel. The Scar is an autonomous novel set in the ‘New Crobuzon’ universe. Actually, it takes place on a floating city of ships connected together into Venetian-style neighborhoods. The book is teeming with Mieville’s typically brain-bending fantasy, and his eye-crossingly dense (and fascinating) prose. But don’t let bulk of the craft discourage you. At its heart, The Scar, is a rollicking-good adventure yarn. Kick off your flip-flops and prepare to have your buckles swashed!

The Perfect StormThe Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
Some people might say that this book isn’t conducive to beach reading, what with its painstaking and painful recreations of what it’s like to drown. I say it’s never a bad time to dust off this classic narrative nonfiction account of a fishing vessel that, in 1991, disappeared in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of lethal storms.

Gyo_volume_1Gyo by Junji Ito
Or, as it’s subtitled: ‘The Death-Stench Creeps.’ Okay, at this point you’re probably questioning my taste in beach books. This Japanese comic is told from the POV of a boy who finds out his girlfriend is haunted by a horrible fishy odor. (Umm. Whuh?) That’s pretty creepy in and of itself, but then her island home is overrun by chimeric sea-creature zombies.

Ito writes weird, truly disturbing, stuff, and illustrates it beautiful. If you’ve never heard of it, do yourself a favor and Google one of his other classic series, the Uzumaki Manga.

Gyo Shark

91icZ9KND7L._SL1500_We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
A young-adult book that I read recently on a trip to Jekyll Island. It follows the teen progeny of a wealth New England family who own a private island estate. A very clean, lyrical writing style that builds to a surprising and haunting end.

Killer EliteKiller Elite by Ranulph Fiennes
Here’s me when I read this book: “Whoa! I can’t believe this stuff really happened!” Well, it seems that this novel, ‘based on true events,’ is too good to be true. The story is sparked by a modern Arab royal who is pressured into fulfilling an ancient tradition of vengeance on the specific British soldiers who may or may not have killed his sons during a military engagement. He reluctantly hires an all-star team of hitmen, who carry out the vendetta to vary degrees of success. Their final target was is the author himself. (Umm. Double Whuh?) Their appears to be a mire of controversy surrounding this book, and I had a difficult time parsing through all of it. It seems that most of the assassins’ targets are real British veterans who died of seemingly accidental ways, and the many Britons are upset that Fiennes would conjecture that foul play was involved.

hornsHorns by Joe Hill
Maybe my favorite straight-up horror read (of the last few years anyway). Ig is wholeheartedly devoted to his girlfriend. He’s devastated when she’s killed, and more devastated when most people in his hometown (including his own parents) believe he is the murderer. Ig’s despair turns blasphemous, and he finds himself cursed with horns growing out of his forehead—and strangely blessed with inhibition-negating superpowers which might help him find the true killer. Joe Hill covers a lot of ground, flipping between time-frames and POVs including a switch from the bedeviled protagonist to a whole section of the book that follows a creepily realistic (and narcissistic) villain.

817OxAm5WrL._SL1500_Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden
Like The Perfect Storm, this is another famously riveting example of narrative nonfiction. Bowden ‘un-splinters’ the stories of dozens of U.S. Army Rangers caught in a chaotic firefight that covers a full day and a few city blocks in the Somalian port city of Mogadishu. You’ll often have to refer to the index of names at the end of this book, but cross-referencing has never been so exhilarating.

 

512pvHV6z9LA Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
What nerdy book-list would be complete without a little George R.R. Martin? This was the second book in the epic series, featuring the Battle of the Blackwater, which was a scene I read while in watching container ships pass by in Hilton Head.

 

 

51bD1E1t-DLSpin by Robert Charles Wilson
A sci-fi story that is uniquely character-driven and earthbound. Our planet is trapped in a gigantic bubble, glued in time, while the rest of the universe whizzes by, millions of years per day. This book, written in 2010, finds some fascinating ways to play with the passage of time. One of the most serious dilemmas facing the young main characters: At this rate, the sun will die of old age before they do.

 

81hdZB3eJ9L._SL1500_Beach edited by Gideon Bosker and Lena Lencek
A collection of stories about (you guessed it) beaches. There are some great classics in here: Salinger, John Cheever, J.G. Ballard, Rachel Carson, John Updike, and John Steinbeck. If you’re a fan of short stories, or the Golden Age of ‘Modern’ literature (1930-1970), you can’t go wrong with this one.

 

Review of #DarkFantasy LINE OF DESCENT, plus interview & excerpt

So excited to be featured with a review and interview on BarbTaub.com!

Barb Taub

The darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Psalm 139:12)

twins-kubrickAdorable little sisters or scariest twins ever?

What’s the difference between dark fantasy and horror as genres? As far as I can tell, it all comes down to the author’s intent. Does he want us to share in the trauma that makes the ultimate victory over darkness that much more precious? Or does he just want to scare the bejeezus out of us?

Or, to turn it around, what is the scariest, most horrific thing you can imagine? For me, as a parent, it would be evil stalking a child. And if that evil was her own parent?


Line of Descent by James Derry

Upside Down 3
 
The Gardeners are incredibly wealthy, with a dark secret to their success. One evening on their private island estate, their matriarch strolls into the ocean and doesn’t return. Her suicide sparks a chain of…

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Line of Descent

Thanks so much to Ana from https://anaslair.wordpress.com/ for the thoughtful & insightful review for Line of Descent!

Ana's Lair

Title: Line of Descent

Author: James Derry

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Thriller

Length: 248 pages

Source: Author

Format: Mobi

Rating: 3.75/5

Premise:

Following her mother’s funeral, Elise finds that, due to the betrayal of those she considered closest to her, she is in the process of being taken over by an entity. During the course of the 7 days it takes for the transcendence to occur, she can only count on her very recent best friend Mallory, who does not even know about Elise’s ability to see auras. Can Elise get through this and save Mallory in the process?

Review:

Line of Descent has some very unique elements, like the way Elise views auras. She does not only see colours – they are flower shaped and accompanied by smells and it is all exquisitely complex. Add that to a secluded environment (an estate on a peninsula owned by her filthy…

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Movie gems on Netflix

I used to have a problem with Netflix, back when most of their business involved mailing DVDs. I had this theory that they were punishing their customers who used the service a lot in favor of their customers who barely used the service at all. I wasn’t the only one who thought there was something shady going on.

But that was a long time ago, and now those red Netflix envelopes seem as charmingly antiquated as the video stores they helped push out of business. All of those old conspiracies have been forgiven, and Netflix’s streaming service is easily my favorite source of ‘moving picture’ entertainment.

These days, my biggest problem with Netflix is that they seem to be weirdly tight-lipped about promoting their movie acquisitions. Sure they have ‘Popular Now’ and ‘New Releases’ sections on their site and their app, but those don’t seem to be particularly well curated. When a big, buzz-worthy movie is available (or going to be available in a month) on HBO or Redbox, they make sure their consumers know it. Netflix seems to hide away some of their best movies like a trendy nightclub on a back alley in L.A.

So I’m not surprised that CNN and EW.com have taken to publishing lists of all of Netflix’s new releases at the beginning of each month. Some would say that’s too much of an ‘advertorial.’ I say it’s a needed service. With that being said, I want to offer my own list of three movies that I recently watched on Netflix and enjoyed. Perhaps you would enjoy them too.

chefChef (2014)
In 1996, actor/writer Jon Favreau used the 90s’ retro swing dancing craze as the backdrop to his story about twenty-something single guys living in L.A. With Chef, he’s focusing on a new trend and a new phase of adulthood. This decade’s trend: foodies / food trucks. The phase of adulthood: fatherhood. Nearly twenty years have passed, and it’s interesting to compare the cultural and technological differences between both films. In Swingers, Favreau’s character famously struggles with a prospective date’s answering machine. (Remember answering machines?) In Chef, the protagonist runs into disaster when he experiments with an innovation from this decade: Twitter.

Chef is mostly about a man struggling to balance his desire to be a good father with his need for professional and creative fulfillment. The pace and story is self-assuredly low-key, interspersed with lots of surprising co-stars (Robert Downey, Jr., Dustin Hoffman, Scarlet Johansson) and lively montages of mouth-watering food. Do not watch this movie on an empty stomach!

perfumePerfume: The Story of a Murderer (2007)
This movie, based on a 2001 novel by Patrick Suskind, reminded me of the grimily wonderful work of Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). Perfume is about a man who suffers through an impoverished childhood among the most horrid smells that 18th-century France has to offer. Facetious spoiler alert: this was a pretty odious period in man’s history. Another facetious spoiler alert—or maybe you have gleaned this from the movie’s title: the man becomes a serial killer. He’s obsessed with distilling a perfect scent from the essences of the beautiful women he kills. Our anti-hero stumbles into great success working with the proprietor of a fine perfume shop (played by Dustin Hoffman) and soon his olfactory obsessions create a sensation among the upper echelons of French society.

howilivenowHow I Live Now (2013)
This film is also based on a book, a YA novel written by Meg Rosoff in 2006. A high-strung American teenager named Daisy arrives at her cousins’ bucolic English country house just as World War 3 breaks out. For the first act of the movie, Daisy is fixated on the typical social concerns of a teenager, on a new crush, and on a nearly unhealthy obsession with hygiene. We follow her perspective (which rarely rises above navel-gazing), so we only see vague hints of the coming calamity.

Daisy is frolicking in the forest with her new friends when they hear the distant rumble of a massive explosion, Then they are standing in an eerily beautiful snow flurry of gray ash. The teens naively decide they’ll be safe on their idyllic, isolated estate, and Daisy and her beau keep up their love affair despite signs of carnage in the distance. But soon they are all swept up by the tides of war. The last half of the movie turns quite brutal. I have to give the movie props for never making Daisy into a super-likable, wholly heroic character. Daisy does not outgrow her ‘personality flaws’ (her obsessive compulsive nature, her nearly anorexic focus on willpower, her puppy-love idealism). Instead, these ‘flaws’ become the source of her strength as she fights to reunite and save her cousins. But if you’re the type of viewer who like your YA heroines to be more like Katniss Everdeen, Daisy might leave you feeling cold.

See the difference?

See the difference?

One minor frustration with the movie: the causes and factions of the war are never revealed. At the end this is explained as part of the point. We can’t ask the world to make sense. Still, in these times of ISIS recruits and Russian expansion spreading across sovereign borders, it would have been nice to have a better idea of who’s causing all these atrocities. Still, I thought it was a very harrowing and haunting film.

How about you? Seen any great movies/shows on Netflix lately?

Hey jealousy

jealousmuch

Maybe I’m just a highly evolved person. Or maybe I’ve watched too many Jerry Springer episodes. But I have a hard time grasping the idea of jealousy as a motivating emotion.

I feel like I don’t get jealous. Yes, I’m one of those people. Although if I analyze the times when I feel standoffish, or intimidated, or curmudgeonly around other people, I’m sure I could ascribe those feelings to some form of jealousy. Or maybe they come from some other scarred and socially-unacceptable part of my psyche. Like I said, I have a hard time fully grasping the essence of it.

I think my confusion started with Jerry Springer. I saw too many episodes that started like this: A 300-pound man walks on stage wearing a pink micro-mini dress with peekaboo panels to show off his hairy belly. The audience boos and acts disgusted. He waves his finger at them and declares, ‘Y’all just jealous!’

‘Y’all just jealous,’ has become the rallying cry of anyone who refuses to accept the slightest bit of criticism (or good sense). To these people, haters are everywhere. Always drinking they Haterade.

Haters think being 16 and pregnant is a bad idea. Y’all just jealous
Haters won’t ‘leave Britney alone.’ Y’all just jealous
Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate.
They refuse to congratulate.

In fact, jealousy has become such a ubiquitous, expected thing that sometimes its apparent absence is viewed as an insult. Consider the following exchange:
“Sia has such a pretty singing voice. Don’t you think so, Brenda?”
“I guess.”
“Aren’t you jealous of how talented she is?”
“Not really.”
“You won’t admit you’re jealous?”
“No, I won’t say I’m jealous of Sia. I’ll say I admire her, but not that I’m jealous. That context is too negative.”
“God, Brenda, I don’t even know why I hang out with you.”

In a post-Kimye world, it’s not surprising that anyone would develop an overly-sensitized and cartoonish notion of jealousy. And this is a problem for me because, as a writer, I’m supposed to render any character’s emotion, no matter how vile, as realistically (If not relatably) as possible. So where can an author turn for an example of a character that is truly, undeniably jealous?

Cain, for one. He was probably the original hater.

Or Iago? He is considered one of Western culture’s greatest villains. And no, I’m not talking about the animated parrot. I’m talking about Shakespeare’s character from the tragedy ‘Othello.’ Iago’s plots make him the epitome of jealousy. If Cain was the original hater, then Iago was the first ‘frenemy.’

Except both of these examples exist in a sort of heightened, poetical reality. They’re not necessarily relatable.

How about the narrator from John Knowles’ novel ‘A Separate Peace?’ Here is a more conflicted, more ambiguous type of jealousy. The narrator, Gene, becomes good friends with Phineas, who is perfect at everything. Gene is impressed and intimidated by Finn, and eventually his jealousy manifests itself in one impetuous but devastating act. I like this portrayal of jealousy, because it is paired so closely with remorse and self-loathing.

And maybe that’s a good way to look at jealousy. It’s a catalyst emotion, it’s a ‘companion’ emotion. Anger and self-consciousness and resentment can all stem from jealousy, or jealousy can color those emotions. John Knowles has an excellent grasp of this. And he wrote a book that is read in tenth grade literature classes across the country.

Now, aren’t you jealous of him?

Quick notes about Redbox

1. I’m being 100% genuine when I say that I consider it one of my greatest achievements that I was able to wait to watch the movies ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Interstellar’ until they came out on Redbox. I set a goal for myself, and I was able to stick to it.

When these movies hit the theaters, I knew that my greatest challenge would be waiting 6-7 months and avoiding any spoilers (I didn’t read the ‘Gone Girl’ novel). That meant avoiding the mini-departments in Entertainment Weekly and avoiding the Academy Awards telecast altogether. I stayed away from Twitter (not actually that big of a deal for me), and I turned the channel whenever any comedian or late night host mention either movie. As a result, I was able to watch both DVD releases with fresh eyes. And I enjoyed both movies very much. Ahhh. Mission accomplished!

And then just a week after I watched Gone Girl, Rob Kardashian (of all people) tweeted a spoiler about it as a ‘shocking’ commentary on his family, and CNN posted it on their home page. I made it just by the skin of my teeth!

2. God bless Redbox. They offer us 2-3 hours of entertainment for about $1.20. What else in this world can occupy that much time and only cost you six-score bits? Hardly anything. And yet every week Redox sends me coupon codes. Wow, Redbox is really dedicated to value.

3. The cheapness of Redbox DVDs reminds me of the pricing craziness around ebooks vs. printed books. You would figure with all the costs required to produce and ship DVDs across the country would mean they would be priced at least as much as the movies delivered digitally through OnDemand. But OnDemand movies are nearly 3 times as expensive as Redbox DVD rentals.

I guess the publishing industry and the movie rental industry are configured similarly; they’ve been distributing physical copies for so long that they aren’t willing to rework their business processes for the digital age—or to undercut the value of their physical output.

The state of my writing: Scattered

I think one of my biggest challenges as an author is finding my audience. My first book is out there and slowly picking up readers. (It’s currently free through Kindle Unlimited.) But I can tell it’s going to be a long process before I have a readership that is clamoring for more. One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve seen for independent authors is to keep writing, keep producing work, and let those pieces be the central pieces of your marketing program. A list of several titles will give you credibility—make you look more professional to readers. And hopefully those titles will build synergy together.

Unfortunately for me, my titles are all in different genres. My first book (Line of Descent) was Paranormal/Horror. I’m currently finalizing a Space Western book, but there are probably a lot of paranormal fans who won’t be interested in reading it. I plan to spin the Space Western, Idyll, into a trilogy, and I already have a rough draft for the sequel (‘The Wilds’) that is 70K words long. I also have a near-future sci-fi short story that’s about ready to publish. It’s about retired spies who live in the world’s strangest nudist colony. So that’s three upcoming releases (Idyll, The Wilds, and untitled-nekkid-people-story) that all basically fit in the science fiction category. So that’s good.

Except…

Now I’m jazzed up about writing a series of fantasy novellas! The idea came to me a while back, and I’m still thinking it through. It would be set in among warring city-states, surrounded by deserts and jungles. Think Conan the Barbarian, or the Daenerys chapters in Song of Ice and Fire. Each of these empires has its own pantheon, and each pantheon is like its own political body. Now what happens when one empire conquers another, and the two pantheons have to be assimilated together? That’s the spark for the series. But the main characters would not be deities—they would be regular folks who get caught up in the machinations of these divine Frank Underwoods.

So I’m all over the place. Paranormal/Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I don’t necessarily think that an A.D.D. oeuvre will be counter-productive to building an audience. Look at China DeMieville, or Daryl Gregory (two of my favorites!). But I don’t think I’ll be as productive as I could be if I could just stick to one genre.

But, hey, you gotta write what sparks you!

With that being said, at my current rate of production, that fantasy series wouldn’t see the light of day until 2016-2017. That’s my other big problem: It’s dawning on me that I’m a fairly slow writer, with limited amounts of free time to write. Oh well. If I force myself to think of writing as an assembly line, I’m sure that would suck some of the enjoyment out of my writing… for me and probably for my readers. So I’ll have to strive for that fine line.

Which brings me to another fleeting fancy of mine: Wattpad! I love the feel and the concept of Wattpad. (Lousy spell-check, I am not trying to type ‘Wattled!’) Burgeoning authors (and some very well-established ones) post their works-in-progress, chapter by chapter, for the audience to read for free. Because it’s free and ‘unfinished,’ readers tend to be more forgiving and encouraging, and I’ve heard it can be a good way to gain exposure, gain feedback, and possibly earn a few new fans or beta-readers. So I’m seriously considering posting Idyll there as I prepare to release it to Kindle.

Watch this space, I’ll keep you posted!

10 Statements – James Derry

Thanks so much to Karen at mytrainofthoughtson.wordpress.com for allowing me to contribute my 10 Statements!

My train of thoughts on...

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I’ve been writing or drawing stories since the day my parents let me borrow a ballpoint pen. A few years later I created my first magnum opus in blue ink: a comic-book parody of Ghostbusters called ‘Roastbusters.’ Hey, I was ten. I studied art in college, hoping to become an illustrator. But eventually my aspirations shifted, and I became a graphic designer (living in Atlanta). I returned to writing ten years ago when I met my wife. Since then I’ve spent large chunks of my free time writing (and rewriting) my manuscripts. LINE OF DESCENT is the first of my books to see the light of day. I hope to release a Space Western, IDYLL, before mid-year!

Find me…

Website:  james-derry.com
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/derrywriter
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/James-Derry/508342985941322?ref=bookmarks
Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13527973.James_Derry
(just started that one!)

My personal motto:

“Bend. Don’t Break.

10 statements
  1. A typical work day begins with… breakfast for the kids, then…

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Series Condition: Invincible

invincible_coverThis is my attempt to start a new feature on this blog, showcasing my appreciation for sequential art (i.e. comic book geekery). With Series Condition I want to give my overall impression of an entire comic series, from its first issue to last (or most current) issue. I figured why not start ambitiously with a title that has been running for 117 issues?

That title would be Invincible. You know, that other long-running comic series that Robert Kirkman writes…the one that doesn’t feature ambulatory corpses. Kirkman started Invincible in January 2003, ten months before he launched The Walking Dead.

Invincible’s alter ego is Mark Grayson. (And yes, his super-hero code-name is Invincible. I know. I know.) Mark is essentially an Peter Parker archetype. He’s a regular high-school student, except…wait for it…his father is basically Superman. Actually he calls himself Omni-man, which is pretty lame, but still better than Invincible. Omni-man is a super-powered alien, and since half of Mark’s DNA is alien, he begins to develop his own, lesser super-powers when he hits puberty.

This is the direction of the series, which is quite entertaining for six or eight issues. Then Kirkman smacks the reader with his first of many jaw-dropping paradigm shifts. I won’t spoil the twist for you, but if you want to try out a modern take on super-hero comics, I recommend you try out Invincible up to issue 12 and see if this shocker grabs you. After this turn, the tone of the book shifts, and the series is truly off to the races. Kirkman is also a master of changing the status quo of the comics he writes, while also keeping the essence of the saga intact. Any twelve-issue run of the series feels fresh and different than the others, and yet fundamentally familiar

What do you get with 117 issues of Invincible? You get lots of modern teen issues. Girlfriends, growing pains, parental issues, sexuality. The book even deals with abortion. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, then you know that Robert Kirkman is a genius at creating fully-realized characters never fail to react realistically—yet unexpectedly—to the insane problems with which they are confronted. And like Walking Dead. Invincible can get very dark at times. Secondary characters are routinely killed off or maimed. Friendships and alliances are broken. Most of the characters (even the heroes) do shameful things, sometimes even when their motives are good.

invincible-5

But Kirkman does a good job of balancing the dark stuff with jaunty (or just plain goofy) comic fun. Invincible is a pretty weird code-name, right? Well how about the awesomely dorky names like Dupli-Kate, Atom Eve, KaBoomerang? How is it that Kirkman can create a character named Rex Splode, then build him up until the reader feels emotionally invested in his story?

Finally, I want to give kudos to Ryan Ottley, who has pencilled Invincible for ten years. Ten years! That’s insane! Ottley has a sort of classically ‘clean’ style, and yet he is capable evoking subtle (and convincing) character acting with just a few lines. Ottley has amped up his style with more detail and dynamism as the years have gone by. And when the story erupts up into Dragonball-Z-style mega-battles Ottley truly shines.