If you grew up enjoying comic books like me, you probably have entertained the notion of writing or drawing your own comic book one day. It’s a thrilling and unique medium, and it clearly takes a team effort to bring the adventures of your favorite super-heroes to life month after month.

That, by the way, is the gist of the message in the new book, Make Comics Like the Pros, by comic book veterans Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente: teamwork.

Make Comics Like the ProsThe 150-page trade paperback book is a well-presented behind-the-scenes look into the production of comic books, from idea to script, from art to final production. Each area gets its own detailed chapter, complete with sample scripts, artwork and more along the way.

But, overall, the book’s main mission statement is abundantly clear: a comic book is all about collaboration. It’s about being flexible, with each participant in the process agreeing to be flexible and open to alternative ideas or ways of presenting the story to readers.

Yes, the idea may start with the writer – as do most things, whether it is a book, ad campaign or a movie – but unless the writer also happens to be the artist and editor, it certainly doesn’t end there. The artist and editor will also have plenty to say before the final product makes it to the presses. In that respect, comic book production is not unlike the production of a television episode, where the writer is just one voice in a roomful of writers, producers, actors and directors who ultimately will also have input into the execution of the final script.

If you can’t work collaboratively, and be willing to embrace, and sometimes concede to other ideas even when you are adamantly against it, then you are probably better off scribing novels. At least then you will only have an editor or agent to contend with, not a whole platoon of creative minds.

Pak and Van Lente speak from vast experience in the comic book business. Pak has written dozens of storylines for DC Comcis, Marvel, Dynamite Entertainment and Valiant Comics, including the “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” storylines. Van Lente is a #1 New York Times best-selling author, having written the Marvel Zombies line of books, Incredible Hercules (with Pak), and the original graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens, which was the basis for the motion picture.

Their insights into the comic book business are invaluable. The pair begin by crafting the idea of a comic book, showing the reader how to properly format and script the comic book, and how to work with artists on bringing their vision to life on the page. They then take the process even farther by explaining how to pitch your comic book and break into the comic book medium.

The only drawback to the book is the lack of any art from the more popular DC or Marvel comics the pair have worked on. Instead they use images from Valiant titles and an original tale crafted from beginning to end specifically for this book.

But overall, the book details a fascinating process that is guaranteed to hold your interest, whether you are a writer, artist or just a reader wanting to learn more about the medium.

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Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

They should put a warning label on those new Stouffer’s Cheeseburger Mac cups. One that reads: Caution, Frozen Mac and Cheese Cups Can Cause Physical Injury if It Should Roll Out of Your Freezer and Drop on Your Bare Foot.

Ouch!

That’s what happened to me this morning as I opened the freezer to fetch a Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowl. In doing so, the Mac and Cheese cup plummeted several feet and landed like a rock on my fleshy bare left foot. And it left a mark!

Now I don’t typically go strutting around the house in my bare feet, mind you. Not after my brother walked into the leg of a stationary bicycle in the middle of the night this past spring and promptly broke his little toe. And especially not while our house is a disaster zone of clutter. No, I usually wear my sneakers (slippers provide no more protection than socks, really, which is to say, none at all.) But for some reason, today I defied the gods and strolled into the kitchen sans socks, slippers or sneakers.

And I paid the price.

Fortunately, the frozen food cup landed on the top of my foot and not on one of my toes. Otherwise I might be off to have an X-Ray of a broken appendage like my brother did on his toe. Not that the hospital was able to do anything for my brother’s broken toe, by the way. All they did was wrap it up with tape against one of his straighter toes and send him on his way with a $900 hospital bill to go with.

(So what do you think hurt more in the end? Hospital bill or broken toe?)

I lucked out. I only suffered a small red mark and a stinging feeling around my wound, which has since subsided. No ice packs, broken appendage tape or emergency room visit needed. It probably won’t even leave a scar, so I won’t be able to make up a neat shark story like Brody and Quint in Jaws. Dang it all.

I can at least share my harrowing experience with my reading audience. And, since this is a blog about the writing life, here’s the lesson to be gleaned from all of this: Real life incidents are sometimes stranger than fiction.

I see this experience as perfect fodder for a quirky character in one of my books who goes around wearing steel-toed boots wherever he goes, even in the middle of the night to raid the fridge. Maybe he even sleeps with them on.

Hey, sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up!

As an author, I welcome the opportunity to reach a wider audience by publishing in multiple formats, including audio, print and online. But as a reader, I clearly prefer being able to hold a physical book in my hands.

Of course, I am biased.

I was born in the sixties and fell in love with reading at an early age. I always had a book in my hands as a child, whether it was a comic book or a paperback Ellery Queen mystery. I’ve got hundreds – nay, thousands – of books in my personal library. So many, in fact, that I know I will never be able to read them all in my lifetime. And I still find myself buying new titles every month to add to the collection.

A few years ago my mother bought me a Kindle reader. It was an obvious solution to my growing book storage problem. Instead of killing more trees, I could load up the Kindle with digital words.

Digital reads are dirt cheap as well. There are half a dozen sites out there promoting ridiculously cheap novel downloads, along with a number of free reads available each day. If you sign up for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, you get even more free books to read.

Thing is, I still find myself preferring to read an actual book than sitting down with my Kindle. (I can also read on my desktop or my tablet, but neither of those has managed to upend my book-loving habit either.)

My book reading preference became evident this past month. I’ve been reading about a book every 10 to 14 days over the summer. But at the start of the month I decided to read a digital novel I downloaded. I raced through the first several chapters in one night and believed, yes, I could get used to this.

But, more than two weeks later, that book remains unfinished. What’s more, I haven’t even thought about picking up where I left off. And no, it wasn’t because the book was bad. It actually had a decent premise and it was well-written. For some reason I just don’t want to read on the tablet or Kindle.

Maybe it’s because I like being able to see how far I’ve read, or how far I’ve yet to read. Maybe it’s just the feel of the words on the page. The texture, so to speak. Maybe it’s being able to look at the cover and the spine and read the back cover over and over again.

Whatever the reason may be, I prefer print. And I guess I always will.

How-to articles on the writing craft are a dime a dozen. They’re all over the internet, in my email’s inbox daily, on my Facebook feed, and in the dozens of Writer’s Digest magazines and writing books in my personal library.

And everyone is an expert, or so they claim.

Today, I read an article sent to me by Writer’s Digest about finding time to write. I’ve been struggling with getting to the computer to actually write. This past summer was traumatic on a personal level for me with the loss of my mother, and the past month has been stressful as we try to put her affairs in order. So, writing has sort of taken a back seat to everything else.

When I saw the link to the article from Writer’s Digest, I clicked on it hoping to find some new spark of advice or inspiration to help me get writing again.

Instead, the article was more of a rehash of the same old advice: Take a notebook with you everywhere, because you never know where the urge to write will hit you; take time to day dream ideas during lulls in whatever else you do; plan beforehand/manage your time wisely.

Sound advice, yes, but nothing really new in it.

What was surprising when I reached the end of said article was the about the author blurb. The article was written by a 13-year-old. Out of curiosity, I followed a link to her book page. The blurb for her book was sloppy. It was comprised of typos and sentences that didn’t make a lick of sense.

The book, naturally, was self-published.

I typically respect and appreciate Writer’s Digest for its wealth of articles on the craft. The magazine often cites professionally published, best-selling authors and includes invaluable tips and information to reference time and time again. I also admire the magazine for promoting the works of young authors and encouraging a range of voices, from novice to expert.

I wish nothing but success for the writer of today’s article, but I was disappointed in her article overall. When I learned the age of the writer and then learned the writer was clearly an amateur, I felt I had been duped by Writer’s Digest.

Lesson learned: From now on, I will read the about the author blurb on any article first. That way I will have some idea of whether the source of the article is someone I can trust and put my faith in. Because apparently I can no longer trust Writer’s Digest to do that for me.

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About me: I’m a former journalist who has written about local government, business, schools, crime and edited thousands of stories for print and the web. I’ve had two short stories published in local anthologies and I have dozens of unfinished stories waiting for me. I am working on a novel and screenplay.  I don’t profess to be an expert on anything.

Besides The Walking Dead, there’s one show I’m looking forward to more this season than any other: Fox’s Sleepy Hollow.

The first season, in which Colonial soldier Ichabod Crane finds himself thrust into the present to do battle with the Headless Horseman and other no-goodniks, was both smartly written and refreshingly fun entertainment.

Sleepy Hollow coverSo, I was more than excited to recently receive a copy of Keith R.A. DeCandido’s new paperback original set in the Sleepy Hollow universe, Children of the Revolution. The novel was the perfect thing to tide me over while waiting out the summer doldrums and the start of the new tv season next week.

Fortunately, DeCandido does a great job of capturing the essence of Crane’s character and his cast of supporting characters, while weaving an exciting tale about a coven of witches seeking to resurrect their long dead leader, Serilda. I won’t say much more about the plot to keep from spoiling the story, but suffice to say there is plenty of action, gore, scares, and humor that comes from being a soldier out of time while fighting supernatural bad guys.

As with the tv show, the book blends historical fact and fiction to perfection. The afterword includes a fascinating historian’s note about all the facts and not-so-facts that make up the adventure.

Capturing the essence of a tv show in a novel isn’t easy, but readers of many a TV tie-in have come to expect no less from the author. DeCandido, according to the book’s author page, has made a living by scribing adventures in others’ universes, from Firefly to Star trek, from Stargate to Leverage, and more. He was even awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers (who even knew there was such a thing?).

Children of the Revolution fits seamlessly between the first-season Sleepy Hollow episodes “The Golem” and “The Vessel.” The 283-page novel unfolds at a breakneck pace and I could easily envision it unfolding on the tv screen like any other episode.

Of course, the inherent drawback to writing in anyone else’s universe is that you know gong in not much is going to change for the characters. The author can only take these characters so far, lest he infringe on what’s unfolding on the screen. Even so, DeCandido makes it a fun read in any case.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Earlier this year I began work on a mystery/thriller novel. I created character sketches and bios. I filled up a corkboard with sticky notes describing key scenes and character arcs. I invested in Scrivener and learned enough about it to actually start using it. I wrote about 18,000 words.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Mom got sick. Real sick.

And the writing just didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered. Nothing but helping mom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver two months, mom went from a fully functional, independent woman in her 70s to a hospital bed, to a rehab program, to a short-term rehab center, to a nursing home. She never made it to a hospice program because for some reason hospice said she didn’t qualify, even when the doctors only gave her two weeks to live.

My brothers and I were by her bedside almost constantly. When we weren’t by her side, we were taking care of the house, her dog, her bills, etc. We dealt with doctors, nurses, therapists, and a pushy social worker who kept reminding us that she was about to go on vacation so could we hurry up and get mom’s paperwork signed.

We immersed ourselves in online crash courses in Medicare, cancer, brain tumors, hospice, rehab facilities, nursing homes, radiation, chemo, oncologists, powers of attorney, living wills, and last wills and testaments. We took turns caring for her dog, who was more confused and alone than almost any of us.

On Aug. 17, Mom closed her eyes one last time.

We’re still grieving. We’re still dealing, each of us in our own ways.

But we all know we must soldier on. We all must pick up where we left off.

There’s work and there are bills.

There’s that thing called life.

Only, it’s not that easy.  

In my case, I have to wonder: How do you return to a cast of characters and a storyline you left two months ago like nothing happened?

The story I started earlier this year seems so distant now, so pale in comparison to all that has transpired. The story seems only vaguely familiar, yet oddly unfamiliar after all this time. The characters seem like old friends, yet strangers at the same time.

Are they worth revisiting? Are they worth getting to know all over again?

Is the story worth finishing?

And if so, how do I begin to reacquaint myself with them? How do I pick up the pace, the flow of things, so that it feels fresh, yet natural? Like I’d never left them? Do I start over? Or do I pick up where I left off and just hope for the best?

I ask, but I already know the answer to my questions. I think I just had to write it here and make it official. To reaffirm my answer to myself, if nothing else.

I will carry on. I will write on. I will pick up where I left off. I will finish what I started.

It’s what Mom always taught me: Never give up.

I love you, Mom.

At the end of chapter 2 of Peter Pan Must Die, the new Novel by John Verdon, one of the characters makes a bold statement as he tries to convince his friend, former NYPD Detective Dave Gurney, to take on one more investigation:

“The Spalter case has everything — horror, gangsters, politics, big money, big lies, and maybe even a little bit of incest. You’re gonna fuckin’ love it.”

Peter Pan-large

As a reader, my first thought was: Wow, what a promise. And my second thought: Would Verdon live up to the promise?

After reading the last fifty pages today, I can answer that with a definitive yes!

The 440-page novel from Crown Publishers (Random House) is the fourth in Verdon’s series of books following Detective Gurney, but you don’t have to read the other three to jump on. Verdon does a good job establishing Gurney’s world and backstory without making the reader seem like he has missed something. Before long, the reader is comfortably following Detective Gurney’s investigation of a seemingly impossible murder – impossible in the sense that the deadly shooting seems unlikely to have happened the way prosecutors say it went down. Further investigation uncovers more oddities, including a possible cover-up of obvious evidence to the contrary.

Gurney questions everything – and I mean everything. He reviews his list of questions several times with his cohorts, sometimes annoyingly so, saving up the answers for the end. Readers, in that regard, will have to be patient. But, in truth, the answers to everything are not as far away as you may think. In fact, if you put your mind to it, Verdon allows the reader to know everything Gurney knows every step of the way. It’s just a matter of piecing it all together in the end, reminiscent of those old Ellery Queen TV episodes.

Despite a lull in the middle, where not a whole lot happens other than more annoying pondering by Gurney, Verdon sprinkles in enough mystery and intrigue to keep the pages turning. More important, perhaps, he delivers a high-octane finish with plenty of action, drama and bloodshed at the scene of a county fair.

If there is a major complaint it is that the antagonist, uber assassin Petros Panikos, aka Peter Pan, seems to come to a rather easy (albeit grisly) defeat. For a professional killer that’s baffled international police for decade, one would expect him to put up more of a fight (although he certainly does go out with a bang).

Overall,  Verdon comes through on the promise he made in chapter 2 with an action-filled ending, making this read more than worthwhile.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

If the book cover for The Good Suicides hadn’t billed the novel as a thriller, it might have left a better impression with me. The book, the second to feature author Antonio Hill’s inspector Hector Salgado, features a snarling dog on the cover and the words A THRILLER in the bottom corner. By thriller, I expected to be reading a lot of action, namely in the form of heart-pounding chase scenes or shoot ‘em ups between characters and a battle against the clock to avoid some sort of impending doom.

Not the case.

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill

Instead, the book was more of a straightforward police investigation into a series of suspicious suicides among employees of a cosmetic company. Salgado isn’t even the main character here. Much of the novel features his subordinate agents pursuing clues or interviewing witnesses while Salgado awaits updates. Or, in the interim, we get chapters following his assistant Leire Castro as she tries to unravel the mysterious disappearance of Salgado’s wife Ruth, which apparently happened in the previous book in the series, The Summer of Dead Toys.

 Okay, so setting the cover blurb aside, the premise is an intriguing one. Each of the suicide victims has received an emailed photograph of dogs hanging from a tree along with the warning: “Never forget.” There is a deep-rooted mystery here and one that begs to be solved before another employee falls victim.

Unfortunately, the investigation proceeds at a snail’s pace. Hill does the reader a favor by providing numerous chapters from the point of view of several of the employees, hinting at their deep secret/cover-up, but never divulging the whole truth until near the end. But as a reader I never really cared whether any of the surviving employees were in danger of meeting their own fate. Nor did I care if Salgado solved the case in time to save them.

Hill sprinkles in some fine writing along the way, though it’s not enough to save this novel from its mediocre pace and not-all-that-shocking finale.

The Good Suicides clocks in at 352 pages and is published by Crown.

 Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

 

When I think of heroes, I naturally migrate to the Marvel and DC comic book heroes of my youth (or to today’s comic book heroes on the silver screen). An avid comic book collector, I often thrilled to the exploits of Captain America, Thor, The Uncanny X-Men, Superman and Batman, to name a few. Comic books were a fascinating, four-color medium filled with fantastic images that sometimes masked poignant and thought-provoking stories. So, when I had the opportunity to read Max Brooks’ new graphic novel, The Harlem Hellfighters, I leapt at the opportunity. 

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

Of course, Brooks’ tale doesn’t involve super-powered do-gooders in tight-fitting spandex suits and capes battling equally colorful maniacal super-villains. A black-and-white graphic novel, it takes on a color and tone of a different sort, but one that is equally heavy on heroics. The story revolves around a little known black troop of soldiers taking up arms during the first world war. It is rife with racist conflicts of the day and moral challenges for its characters. 

But at its core, it is a story about heroes. No spandex or capes needed. 

Like the black troops that fought in the Civil War immortalized in the movie Glory, and the exploits of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, The Harlem Hellfighters follows the story of a black regiment. Brooks does a fine job of weaving the soldiers’ emotional journeys within the action and adventure of the greater war itself. As a reader, it was easy to become immersed in the historic events, moral quandaries and heroic struggles within The Harlem Hellfighters. 

Brooks, who is known for his books World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide and The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, has effectively made it known that he is not a one-trick writer. Zombies are not the only thing he does well, and it will be fascinating to see what Brooks does next. 

I would be remiss not to mention the great artwork throughout the book by artist Caanan White. Any comic book or graphic novel, in order to be effective, must incorporate images that enhance the story being told by its author. White does that, and then some. His images, in stark black and white, are powerful and expressive. 

All that said, the one thing that always bugs me about stories of this nature is that they do follow a pattern: the soldiers are recruited, go through training, get involved in the fighting, etc. That’s how it happened, of course, but it does become a bit predictable after a while. Still, it is one small complaint among dozens more reasons to give this book a read.   

Note: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.  

Other articles:
A Conversation with Max Brooks 

Anyone who has tried this thing called writing knows how easy it is to fall out of the habit. So, I’m particularly thankful that here in Nashville there is such a vibrant writing community.

The Nashville Writers Meetup offers a number of groups for writers of all levels to participate in each month. There is a group for novelists, one for sci-fi/fantasy writers, a mystery/thriller writers group, speculative fiction writing group, poetry group, writers chat group, young adult group and so much more.

After missing a few meetings over the past couple months for a variety of reasons, I managed to attend several meetings this month. On Tuesday I joined my fellow writers at the sci-fi/fantasy group, and Saturday I brought pages from my work in progress to the novelist group. Between those meetings, I even found time to attend the Tennessee Screenwriters Association’s weekly meeting on Wednesday.

All three meetings were great, as they have helped reinvigorate my writing efforts. Being able to sit down with other writers and having the opportunity to discuss our craft, as well as read, critique and learn from each other’s works is amply rewarding. Not to mention that there is always a new face or two at each meeting to connect with.

I’ll admit, you do have to bring an open mind to the table as you never quite know what you’ll be reading next. The sci-fi genre especially seems to bring out some rather inventive and, sometimes, complicated works to consider. But, that’s the adventure of it. That’s what’s so cool.

I sincerely appreciate each and every writer who dares to bring their material to the groups for review. And I especially appreciate their candid responses and input into my own works in progress.

If you live in or near a big city, do yourself a favor and investigate whether there is a writing group you can join. Or consider a book reading group, as you can learn about the craft that way too. You’ll be glad you did.