Sunday, August 27, 2006

Operation Smokeout

Even though Operation Smokeout was published more than a year ago, it’s suddenly turned into a much more timely book. For me personally, it’s timely because the writer, who is a friend of mine, will be part of a panel I’m moderating at this year’s James River Writers Conference. What makes it so much more relevant for everyone is that the focus of Tony Jones’ story is Cuba and its infamous leader Fidel Castro.

Castro (the real one) has made it into the headlines with his recent health problems, in which he temporarily handed over control of his country to his brother. In Tony’s book, Castro’s brother attempts a coup. Another interesting parallel has to do with a large oil deposit off the coast of Cuba. Tony says he knew that would give the U.S. plenty of motive to depose Castro and replace him with a more capitalist-friendly government. Ironically enough, a similar deposit of oil was recently found off the coast of Cuba.

I’ve known Tony for years, but I still didn’t really know what to expect once I started reading Operation Smokeout. I was surprised to find his book is more of a straight action thriller, much in the vein of Clive Cussler’s books. This comes complete with the requisite too-good-to-be-true hero Schaffer O’Grady. Now an award-winning reporter for the Washington Post, Schaffer’s in good with the president. That happens when you’re a former member of his Secret Service who’s managed to take a bullet for the president, not just once… but twice.

Operation Smokeout starts off when a member of the president’s Cabinet is assassinated in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Schaffer witnesses the murder and starts a hunt for the killer, with plenty of facts pointing to his friend Alex (that would be the president).

I will admit that it’s a little awkward reading about Castro as a fictional character within a book. I’ve gone back and forth on that one. Certain scenes with Castro in them kind of break the reality. You can’t help but ponder how close Tony’s interpretation of the Cuban leader is to reality, but to make up a fictional replacement for Cuba and Castro with different names would be much worse.

As I mentioned, Tony will be part of a panel I’m moderating at this October’s James River Writers Conference. The topic is "Publish or Parasite: Whether and When to Self-Publish." He’s going to be joined on this panel by science fiction writer Dave Kuzminski (also well-known for his website "Preditors & Editors") and editorial consultant Marcela Landres. I’ve got plenty of homework to do for this during next month, so I’ll probably post some of my findings as the conference nears.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Quill Awards

I’ve allowed the Lair to get a little goofy this month with Frank’s “Beach Blast,” but I’m going to get serious with this entry. AOL’s Book Maven put out the word today about the nominations for the 2006 Quill Awards. The concept for these awards definitely holds some merit. The awards are designed to highlight and award more of the popular reads out there. That’s not to say these nominees aren’t worthy literary reads, too, but the nominees and winners are drawn more from what’s really selling in bookstores.

My interest in the Quill Awards is a bit tepid, I guess, even though I’m a fan of the concept. If I was invited to attend the big awards gala in October or nominated in a future Quill Awards, I’d probably feel differently. Still, I’m not without a certain passionate gripe. The Quill Awards offer some specific categories such as Children’s Illustrated Book, Poetry and Romance… but then we’re given ridiculously broad categories such as Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Mystery/Suspense/Thriller. For those of us who love genre fiction, we once again feel like we’re getting the shaft.

Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees for the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category:

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
Cell by Stephen King
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

I suspect some of the die hard fantasy fans, like myself, might find it insulting to see Diana Gabaldon’s book in this group, and I honestly don’t mean this as a slight against her or her “Outlander” series. Is her book fantasy? Well, yeah… but then why do we almost always see it shoved into the romance sections of bookstores? The answer: because it’s more romance than fantasy. That’s one slot in this category wasted.

Then there’s our lone horror nominee Cell. I’m still a bit baffled at horror getting lumped in with Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’m not a big horror fan, but I’ll also grant you that it’s a very separate beast. I think the publishing industry has long ago established that horror is a well-defined genre. I don’t even really care for horror books, but I think horror fans are getting short-changed here, too. And since I’m mentioning Cell, would someone please explain to Stephen King how the concept of “retirement” works?

So what’s the deal? Why does genre fiction have to take it on the chin… yet again? The frustrating truth is that the Quill Awards are probably staying true to their concept. They’re focusing on what’s truly popular with readers… with what sells. When I worked at a Barnes & Noble five years ago, I was stunned to discover what a pitiful amount of the store’s revenue came from science fiction and fantasy. Just how little are we talking? Somewhere in the neighborhood of five percent, give or take.

I love my fantasy books, it’s why I’m writing one, but I also realize that we aren’t really the backbone of the industry either. We fantasy fans just tend to be a bit, shall we say, louder than the average book lover. So on an intellectual level, I understand why the Quill Awards are grouping things as they are, but as a passionate fan of fantasy, it just irritates me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Put Frank's Butt on Your Computer

Yes, now is your chance to put Frank’s hindquarters (and mine, for that matter) on your computer. Since Frank’s “beach blast” seems to have overtaken the Wildcat’s Lair this month, I thought it fitting to give this event its own wallpaper. Besides, I needed something new for my computer.

800 x 600 1024 x 768 1280 x 1024

This particular image of me and Frank also marks a special, graphic achievement. Until now, the only view I’ve had of Frank has been in profile. With a little work, I’ve finally managed a back view of everyone’s favorite blue-striped, talking cat. Feel free to download and decorate your computer screen (I’ve got it in the three standard sizes), so you too can say, “Yes, I have a talking, blue-striped cat’s ass on my computer.” Let’s face it… when will you ever get a better chance to say something like that?

Frank's Beach Blast, Episode V

Friday, August 18, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Moons Over Iridia

Well, I’m a little late with this, but this past Monday, blogfather John Scalzi challenged people to present their favorite space picture from NASA as his “Monday Photo Shoot” challenge. For this one, I’m going to reveal a certain detail about the fantasy world my wife and I write about for our book The Last VanDaryn.

Our world of Iridia differs from Earth in that it has two moons. One moon looks much like our own, but the second one has an amber glow to it. Two years ago, while playing around on the NASA website, I found two pictures of the moon I really liked. I put the two images together as a single shot of Iridia’s moons. I have this on my computer at work, and I’m amazed at how many people comment on it. From a graphic artist point-of-view, I now look at this and see several ways in which I might have made it look better, but I still enjoy it a lot. Probably why I’ve not bothered to fix it.

Frank's Beach Blast, Episode III

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Saturday, August 12, 2006

WORDSLINGERS: David L. Robbins

One of Random House’s biggest thriller novels this summer belongs to a friend of mine. This past May, I offered a review of The Assassins Gallery by David L. Robbins. The novel offers an interesting what if regarding FDR and the end of World War II. What’s ironic is that this isn’t a book David had planned to write.

This past Tuesday, Richmond’s local independent bookstore Fountain Bookstore celebrated the release of The Assassins Gallery. David spent some time discussing what led him to write this book and read the opening scene of his book.

David’s past works are made up mostly of World War II epics. He’s not one for light reads. His books include major conflicts such as the Battle of Kursk (The Last Citadel), the race for Berlin (The End of War) and the Allied invasion of France (Liberation Road). After finishing Liberation Road, David set his sights on another epic. His plan was inspired by the novel Exodus by Leon Uris. David wanted to take Uris’ idea and write about the birth of Israel. Only David wanted to do it from the point of view of an Israeli assassin. At a lunch with his editor, he pitched the idea. “They were like, ‘That’s a great story. You’re the perfect writer to do it… but no one would buy it’.” David was floored. “I asked, ‘So what do you want’?” The answer might not surprise many of you: they wanted another Da Vinci Code.

At first, David considered sticking to his artistic guns. A few days later, he was in Boston and vented by kicking pigeons (he spent a brief moment explaining that if you’re patient enough, you can sneak up on a pigeon and kick it… I think this is the Boston equivalent to cow-tipping; still not sure if he was serious) when the premise for The Assassins Gallery came to him. “Every time a president dies, there are theories that he was assassinated.” For this book, he chose the era he knows best, World War II. “I took the last months of his (Roosevelt’s) life and used his exact itinerary. I changed nothing.” David then looked at Roosevelt’s schedule within those last three-and-a-half months as if he was the assassin and figured out how he would get in and make the kill. Even though The Assassins Gallery isn’t the book he’d originally wanted to write, you can tell by the way he discusses its origins that he still loves it much like a father who avidly loves a daughter, even though he originally wanted a son.

David is Jewish and his family line descends from Russia, and you can easily see how these two elements influence his work. The Last Citadel offers a courageous family of Russians caught in “the largest armored engagement of all time.” David argues that people who think America won World War II discount Russia’s numerous victories against Germany. His Jewish background definitely shows itself within Liberation Road in which one of the main characters is a military chaplain who is a rabbi. An interesting fact about military chaplains David presented at the event at Fountain Bookstore: a much greater percentage of rabbis than chaplains from any other faith were also uniform soldiers during World War II.

Other Books by David L. Robbins:

David’s next book, The Betrayal Game, offers his first sequel. His hero from The Assassins Gallery, Mikhal Lammeck, returns and finds himself in the midst of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. You can expect that book to come out next summer.

One of my favorite questions to ask of any writer is, “What are you reading?” When asked, David said he was reading a book from George MacDonald Fraser’s “Flashman” series. I hadn’t heard of this series, even though it’s quite popular. The books tell the story of English soldier Harry Flashman who, despite being a coward and a drunkard, manages to find himself plunged into the action of many historic battles. That he achieves fame as a hero is the punch line to these stories as all the people who witness his cowardly actions typically die before they can out him for a fraud. The books are historically accurate in as far as these battles did occur and Fraser does nothing to alter their outcome. Basically, Flashman is the polar opposite of Richard Sharpe from Bernard Cornwell’s historical action series.