Welcome to Biting-Edge, a blog shared by authors and vampire experts, Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein. We’ll cover urban fantasy, vampires, pop culture, and all things Joss Whedon. Unlike other fantasy blogs, we don’t insist on body cavity searches (unless you ask politely). Snarkiness is most welcome...though we won't promise not to bite back!
Sunday, June 30, 2013
A hero leaves us
We all have an Uncle Sam. For most of us, it's The Man in Washington DC. But I have another Uncle Sam, one who I helped bury this weekend.
We don't get to choose who we're related to but I'm pleased to say that my Uncle Sam was one of the good guys. You always knew where you stood with him, and it was always in a positive light.
Uncle Sam was an intensely dignified man and was always well-dressed and groomed. When I was a young kid, I remember seeing him wear fancy tortoise-shell eyeglasses and thick-soled wingtips that any modern hipster would kill to add to their vintage ensemble.
He was friendly and open to all, and yet decidedly unsentimental. He was long-winded in his stories (made worse as he got older when his hearing began to fail). He was a notorious penny-pincher, but more than anything else, he was a man of action and an advocate for the disenfranchised.
Soon after he turned eighteen he enlisted in the Army Air Force, was trained a photo tech, and found himself in Okinawa as a guard for Japanese prisoners-of-war. Once when patrolling the security fence, a prisoner called to him in Spanish. My uncle learned that in the early parts of the twentieth century, thousands of Japanese citizens had emigrated to South America. As Japan prepared for war, many of these ex-pats and their sons were summoned back to the homeland to serve the Emperor. Since they had been educated in Latin America, they were able to converse in Spanish. So my uncle, a junior enlisted man from Belen, NM, found himself as the go-between the US brass and their Japanese counterparts. Later he was transferred to Biggs Air Force Base near El Paso, TX (to again guard more Japanese POWs), where he rekindled a high-school romance with my aunt Alma who he married in 1951, and they stayed together for 62 years.
Uncle Sam worked various jobs while he sought footing in a steady career. He was a barber and a mail clerk before landing a job as a Federal civil servant at White Sands Missile Range.
Meanwhile, he became engaged in local and state politics. He was a prominent player in a civil-rights challenge against the City of Las Cruces that resulted in council members being elected from single-member districts rather than at-large to better represent the city's population.
Later as councilman, he proposed that the growing city needed public transportation to serve those who didn't have access to cars. The city argued that it didn't have the money to buy and maintain a bus system. So my uncle found federal grant money and with the groundwork for a local bus system in place, he returned to the city and said, here you are. Years later, when my youngest sister (who was developmentally-disabled) used the bus to get around town, my uncle said he was especially proud that the city's system was able to give her a measure of independence.
My uncle again locked horns with the good-ole-boy network. When the police requested new patrol cars, my uncle asked about the age of the current fleet. After they informed him it was two years old, he scheduled a test drive in their worst junker. After the drive, he told them the car had at least another three years left on it and to make due. Needless to say, the political machine worked against his re-election.
He sued his employer, the US Army, because he (like so many other minorities) was getting passed over for promotions despite seniority and superior job performance. Eventually he won, but the victory was moot when the army abolished the position he had fought for. Dispirited, he wondered about his next move until he unexpectedly received an offer to be a transportation master for the US Army in Saudi Arabia. Others had turned down the job, but my uncle jumped at the opportunity.
Unfortunately for the Army, my uncle brought his skepticism of big government and its cronies to his office. When the US government sounded the alarm about the dangers of Saddam Hussein, my uncle derisively commented that of course the Iraqis were well armed. He had witnessed the US ship them all those weapons.
However, he was more than a muckraker; he was also a life saver. Tires on military vehicles would explode and kill American and Saudi soldiers. My uncle asked about the exploding tires and was told it was the result of the hot Arabian climate. He replied that he was from Las Cruces, and he knew hot. Tires never exploded from the heat back in New Mexico. He poked around and discovered that the American contractor was shipping used, defective tires in place of new ones. His investigation forced the contractor to replace all the tires and that saved many lives. Later, when he questioned the practice of another American contractor who served hundreds meals for people who never showed up, my uncle was told by the Army it was time to return home.
Not surprisingly, my Uncle Sam was active in many organizations, and a short list includes the United Methodist Church, the Democratic Party, The American GI Forum, AARP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Masons.
Samuel L. Barba, 1928-2013, R.I.P.
May we all live as long and leave such a noble legacy.
A Day in Hell--er--Colorado
It's hot and I'm crabby. I hear some people say how they LOVE this weather and my immediate response is to think then you'll do well in hell.
Anyway, the new book Cursed (out in October if you've forgotten) will be in audio, too. Sam and I got an offer from Audible for the first two books. Thank you Audible. Don't know if I ever included the link to the book trailer, but if not, go here . Again, thanks to Max James and his crew for both the trailer and the San Diego travelogue.
Gearing up for the release for Blood Bond. Will post a signing schedule as soon as it's finalized. Also, you can catch Sam and I at ComicCon in San Diego next month and DragonCon in September.
Okay, I've been civil as long as I can be. Forecast today: 96 Hot and Dry.
We have a winner...actually two of them. Make that three. A trio of Colorado Book Award winners.
In the category of Crime/Mystery: critique pal and drinking buddy, Warren Hammond, for KOP Killer--quite possibly the best literary shiv ever.
In the category of Genre Fiction: another writer friend and RMFW champion, Cindi Myers for The View from Here.
In the category of Creative Nonfiction: fellow Lighthouse instructor and all around fountain of writer knowledge, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher for Descanso for My Father: Fragments of a Life.
But as we like to say here at Biting-Edge headquarters, life is not all sunshine and chocolate. Last week, one of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn, passed away, a victim of cancer. He was 47. Flynn was a regular on The New York Times bestseller list and had achieved the kind of success all writers long for. I had met him years ago at the Men of Mystery convention in Irvine, CA. What I remember: he was very gracious, a little guarded, and quite tall. Vince, we will miss you.
The Internet and cable have changed a lot about the way we enjoy movies. And that in turn has changed the way movies are made and changed the way they tell their stories.
If you've tried to write a screenplay, you know how rigorous the format and pacing have to be. By page 13, the inciting incident must occur. By mid-point, you should be at the reversal. It's a well-honed formula and when a script deviates from those principles, the story and our attention suffer. On the other hand, it takes a skilled hand to deftly articulate the plot points without feeling like we're checking them off a list.
One of the attractions of programs in episodic format, like The Sorpranos, Sons of Anarchy, and Longmire, is that such stories get to spool out the narrative in way that keeps us guessing. In a typical movie, we know that at eighty minutes we should be circling the plot resolution. And we're certain who will live and who will die. But the episodic format has subverted the formula.
Longmire is the most traditional of the shows I watch as it follows the TV mystery trope by solving the crime start-to-finish in one episode. But with every episode the subplots and the backstories of the characters continue to simmer beneath the narrative. At some point we're expecting the dramatic fireworks. Which is the point of entertainment.
Now George R.R. Martin wrenches the story narrative further with a bloody twist. He leads us along to root for our favorite characters, then ruthlessly kills them. One of the prime tenets in storytelling is to make you care for the major characters. To knock off the bad guys doesn't buy as much dramatic impact as we watch the show to see the villains get theirs. But to make us embrace the good guys and then hack them to death seems remarkably cruel. And it is. But it stirs the plot and keeps us watching. I'm sure a lot of other writers will attempt to follow Martin's example though few have his chops.
Saw a teaser for Man of Steel this weekend. Turns out, 2013 is the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel.
Got me thinking about how the idea of Superman influences our lives.
Now even I'm not old enough to have been around when the first comic came out--1938--
and yet he's one of those iconic characters that resonates with us no matter the incarnation.
From George Reeves
to Christopher Reeve
From Brandon Routh
to Dean Cain
Superman is the ultimate hero: courageous, loyal, steadfast. Ready to fight for a cause or a friend. Willing to sacrifice for the greater good. The embodiment of all the very best we humans can be even though, ironically, he is not himself human.
So now we have a new "classic"--a new Superman to remind us that we still want and need our heroes.
Which brings me back to my first thought. How Superman influences our lives. It's the idea of a bigger than life character--a hero who will be by your side in time of bad times and good, who fights for the right things because they are just that--right. The one you want in your corner when things get tough and the first person you think of when you have good news to share.
Come to think of it--we all have Supermen and women in our lives, don't we? They are our parents, siblings, friends. So take someone special to see the Man of Steel. See if they figure out why.
Want to see just how far Superman has come? Check out TFAW ! You may be amazed.
A sad, glitzy take on the one percent Mario here: What I'm reading:
Desperado by Manuel Ramos. Here's pimpage from writer pal Rudy Ch. about one of his favorite authors, Ernest Hogan:
High Aztech, the novel of mind-altering viruses running amok in a futuristic Mexico City--renamed Tenochtitlán--is available again. It’s only $0.99 from Amazon for your Kindle. $0.99 also can get it to you just about any e-format you want from Smashwords.
And, until August 2, 2013, if you use the coupon code TV57H at Smashwords, you can get it for free!
And more pimpage! Film producer and Lighthouse instructor Alexandre Philippe (The People vs. George Lucas) obviously doesn't have enough to do. His new venture, FriedComics.com, goes live tomorrow! Want in on the action? Sign up for Frieda's Shit List.
And still more pimpage.
The Great Gatsby, the movie.
I went to the theater worried the movie would disappoint. I'm glad I fretted for nothing. I freakin' loved it. Sure the nags bitch that the movie isn't 100 percent faithful to the novel. Well, duh. One is a book, the other a film. Different mediums require different storytelling techniques. Unlike the 70's adaptation of this story--a real snoozefest with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow--this movie captured the kinetic, bipolar mood of the Roaring Twenties. From the opening credits to the dazzling landscapes, to the wild parties, the speakeasy scene, the hoodlums and high-rollers, the filthy down-and-out vs. the downright filthy rich, to the gorgeous Art Deco fadeout, director Baz Luhrmann delivered the cinematic goods. A lot of wags rank on the acting. They either hated Leonardo DiCaprio or tossed him air kisses. As for the other actors, here is what Elizabeth Weitzman of the NY Daily News says about Joel Edgerton playing Tom Buchanan. "And Edgerton’s Tom all but twirls his mustache in cartoonish villainy."
I disagree. If anything, Edgerton's portrayal isn't anywhere coarse enough to play the brutish Tom Buchanan. Here's how F. Scott hisself introduced the priviledged bully:
"He had changed since his New Haven
years. Now he was a sturdy, straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth
and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance
over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively
forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the
enormous power of that body--he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he
strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when
his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous
leverage--a cruel body."
Tell me if such a man is capable of anything subtle.
Wings Over the Rockies
It's been a very busy week. I had a cousin visiting from Southern California who journeyed to Denver to meet with a contact for the nonfiction book he's writing on the airmen of World War II. As life would have it, there was a B17 Fly-in scheduled by the Wings over the Rockies museum right here at Centennial Airport.
It's pretty amazing to stand beside one of these famous airplanes and think about the history it embodies, the lives of the men it both saved and took. Can you imagine laying in one of these turrets, hanging from the belly of the plane, a target for the rockets launched from below and the bullets flying around you from enemy aircraft? The space is barely big enough for a small child.
So many of the airmen who flew these airplanes individualized them with nose art that either held some significance for them personally or was a reflection of the popular culture at the time. The museum has a wonderful collection of photos.
And as sometimes happens, we ran into someone we knew: a fellow RMFW member and WWII aficionado, Rick Gustafson.
My cousin is undertaking a monumental task. But it's an important one. Soon, these heros will be gone. My dad and my cousin's dad were part of this extraordinary generation, as were the warm and welcoming men who greeted visitors at the airfield.
I couldn't help but think of my dad yesterday. And all the other dads and grandads who made it possible for us to live as we choose. It would be a great shame if their memories were lost.
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Almost forgot...Jaye Wells has a brand new novella up on Amazon: Meridian Six. Check it out here:
Just the thing to start off your summer reading campaign!!
What I'm reading this week: Tainted Mountain by Shannon Baker.
Big congratulations and a fly-over of the corporate UFO to Rudy Ch. Garcia for his Honorable Mention in the category of Fantasy/ Science Fiction novel in the 2013 Latino Book Awards for The Closet of Discarded Dreams.
Warning! If you missed this year's Denver ComicCon, you might get your geek credentials revoked. Just sayin'
After a long absence (years!), I did my bit at the Larimer Square Chalk Festival. Three days on my hands and knees, getting so down and dirty that I'm surprised I wasn't arrested.
My fellow scriveners,
Spinning your writer wheels?
Looking for inspiration and support?
Is a thirst holding your Muse hostage and you must pay the ransom with booze?
If you checked any of the above, then sign up for this year's Lighthouse Lit Fest. Bring your trusty writing implement, bend a knee, and learn from the fabulous Lighthouse faculty: Steve Almond, Robin Black, Andre Dubus III, Bill Henderson, Gordy Hoffman, Erika Krouse, Thomas Lux, David Wroblewski, and Jason Heller. Plus me, and I'll be teaching these craft seminars:
Monday, June 10. You Had Me At Hello.
A great story begins with a great intro. The opening lines of your novel
should draw the reader into your house of magic. Make them suspend
disbelief and follow you deep into the drama. In this workshop we’ll
discuss masterful opening lines and analyze the techniques used to
create a compelling tone and an engaging voice. Participants are invited
to bring the first page of a fiction (or narrative nonfiction)
Thursday, June 13. The Longest Distance: Putting Your Ideas On The Page.
It’s been said that the longest distance your ideas will ever travel is
from your head to your hands. We’re writers and we live to write—or so
we say. Then why don’t we write? Why are writers masters of
procrastination? In this workshop we’ll discuss self-defeating
behaviors, head trash, and those other nasty demons that keep hijacking
our motivation. More importantly, we’ll discuss techniques to shorten
the distance between your head and your hands.
Monday, June 17. Start With The Diamond: The Premise of a Great Novel.
Your brain is bursting with ideas for a wonderful novel—your big
breakthrough. But you’ve been here before. A hundred pages into the
manuscript, you peter out. Those great ideas stagnate and your plot
turns into a soggy mess. In this workshop we’ll discuss how theme and
character motivation drive the story. We’ll drill through your plot to
find the true premise—the diamond—that you can build your story around.
Participants are invited to bring an outline for a novel that we’ll
discuss to find the diamond.
And...Thursday evening, June 13, I'll be on the salon panel, Yes You Can: Writing in a Subjective World.