Friday, December 18, 2015

My Interview with John Hegenberger

With my graduate work dominating most of the past two years, my blogging has been nonexistent. Thankfully, all of that is behind me. I’m excited about some upcoming projects which I will be revealing shortly. But today I’m excited about a recent “conversation” with author John Hegenberger. John is the author of the newly released Spyfall. I can say that this book delivers on all fronts! The pop culture references fly fast and furious, and the story is rich with crackling dialogue. The protagonist is a P.I. named Stan Wade, and the setting is Los Angeles in the late 1950s. In fact, Stan offices out of the famous Brown Derby, and just that premise alone had me hooked! Throw in my love of all things Eisenhower Era and Kennedy Era, Cold War intrigue, and it’s as if John wrote the perfect book for me! I have a more detailed review coming soon, but for now I’m pleased to present John’s thoughts on writing, the state of publishing, and advice he has for others entering the field.

Ryan: First of all, I have to ask, where did your inspiration for Stan Wade come from? He’s such a great character and you manage to weave so many pop culture references and icons into his stories. Have you always been a fan of classic Hollywood? Is he modeled on anyone? In other words, if you had to pick an actor from Tinsel Town’s golden era to play him, or any era, is there anyone you picture in your mind?

John: Okay, let’s have some fun!  I came to the idea by thinking about all the great television shows I used to watch as a kid and wondered what might happen if the characters were to team up.  In other words, what if Mike Hammer visited 77 Sunset Strip in order to work with Sky King to help stop something from happening to Joe Friday.  When I think of Stan Wade, I picture Anthony Perkins.  Young, hip, but maybe troubled.

Ryan: It seems as if your work is appearing regularly now, but until earlier this year, I was unfamiliar with it. Is publishing something new for you? Have you written for years and just recently put it out there or is writing new to you entirely?

John: I wrote some science fiction starting in the ‘70s. I had a couple of nonfiction books published in the late ‘80s and lots of articles and a newspaper column. SPYFALL is published by Black Opel Books and, as with most authors, it was simply a case of travelling each day to the marketplace where dreams are bought and sold, hopefully taking my place among the sellers.

Quite a number of years back, it occurred to me that if you were a writer, you could work anywhere.  That's all I needed.

Ryan: I have to ask about rejection, as I think every writer has faced it. Did you face much of it? If so, how did you handle it and what advice do you have for other writers when facing it?

John: Rejection never goes away, especially if you set your aim high. You just have to expect that, like a salesman knocking on doors, you have to play the numbers game and keep going until you get a sale. Rejection is not your fault. Usually the buyer has all sorts of problems of their own that you know nothing about. That means it's their problem, so just keep on keeping on.

Ryan: Digital publishing has certainly changed the game. Do you think this is a good thing? What are your thoughts on the era of Kindles and Nooks and more freedom as an author?

John: I think digital publishing will continue to expand. Eventually the large houses will incorporate it to a point where there's a clear dividing line between self-publishing and traditional publishing. We may be there already, but it is still possible for a small press publisher to have a big hit. And that's the beauty of electronic digital publishing.

Ryan: Do you have a goal of “words per day” that you try to meet? Do you keep a regular writing schedule?

John: No real goal, except perhaps to have four pages per day, on the days that I'm writing. And I'm writing about four days per week. Usually in the afternoons. Reading time is considered a part of the process and that happens every day

Ryan: Do you work from an outline or just wing it as you go? Do you usually have the whole story mapped out, or do you just sort of see where the characters take you, working from a general idea?

John: I have to outline, mostly because I want to know who done it and I want to know where I can stick in some clever or exciting twist or setting and have it makes sense. However, during the writing process, I probably re-re-outline three times at least.

Nothing pleases me more than to have an entire story figured out and then at the last moment recognize that there's another whole aspect of the story which I haven't spent any time on at all.  It's an opportunity to jump in with a nifty new twist.

Ryan: Who are some of the other authors you enjoy?

John: I like to read stories that surprise me and gave me a chuckle. Favorite authors right now include: Craig Johnson, Dick Lochte, Mark Coggins, and Paul Kemprecos.  And, I keep coming back to most of that works by Stuart Kaminsky.

Ryan: Do you have any advice for “wannabe” authors like myself who dream of one day being published?

John: Have fun! If it's not fun, it's not worth doing. If you're writing and it's not fun, maybe you shouldn't be writing.  Maybe you should be outlining.  But whatever the case, don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Also, never throw anything away. Everything has a place; you just have to figure out where it goes in the overall process. Beyond that, just sit down and see what you’ve typed and how you can make it better.

Ryan: What should we look for coming up from you? Will Stan be back often? What genres are you currently working in?

John: Yes, Stan will be back! His next book, STARFALL, will be out in February. I expect to have maybe two additional novels in the series out later in 2016. I have another series about a private eye in 1988 and the next book is called CROSSFIRE, scheduled for publication in January. Finally, there are a few science fiction books that will be published in 2016. One is part of a trilogy called, interestingly enough, TRIPLEYE and it involves the first private I agency… on Mars.

If you want to know more about John, click here. If you want to purchase one of his fine novels (and I highly suggest you do), click here. A big thank you to John Hegenberger for taking the time to answer these questions!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Film Review: Vacation

I don’t think it is hyperbole to call National Lampoon’s Vacation a classic. Nor do I feel it is an exaggeration to bestow such status upon National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. European and Vegas were passable, if not slightly forgettable, comedies. But if I had to sum up the new Vacation film with one word, it would be “disappointing.” Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t horrible and perhaps the problem is with me; maybe I built the movie up too much and there was no way it could live up to my expectations. I’m a huge fan of the franchise and in my mind I figured it would be just like old times. There are some very funny parts! The two leads, played by Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, are likable and sympathetic. Some of the predicaments they find themselves in are hilarious. But then we come to their children: the oldest one is fine, but the youngest Griswold son is the epitome of obnoxious and almost ruined the movie for me in certain parts (the kid who plays him is a fine actor, but the character itself, as written, is the problem). He curses like a sailor and it got old for me in a hurry! There are some rare movies where excessive profanity adds to the humor. For example, The Heat uses its frequent foul language to set up several very funny gags (Smokey and the Bandit is an example of an older movie that does this effectively, too). But in Vacation I just didn’t find the cursing very funny. Perhaps it was supposed to be the gag, “Hey, this kid has a mouth that would make truckers blush,” but the gag completely misfired for me.
There were also several out-of-place references to one character’s political beliefs that had nothing to do with the plot. I don’t care if the filmmakers are liberal, conservative, or somewhere in the middle; just leave politics out of your pictures and dispense with the agenda. Maybe if the story had anything to do with politics it would have been different. But, as it is, it came across as completely needless.
Another issue I had was the film seemed to outstay its welcome. It is not a good sign when I’m fighting the urge to check the clock twenty minutes before the movie wraps up. Vacation clocks in right under two hours, and truth be told, about thirty minutes could have been shaved off.  There came a point where I found myself thinking, “Okay, let’s just get to whatever the next bad thing is that’s going to happen and get it over with.” The plot pretty runs as follows: family gets in tricky situation, end scene with gross-out gag, repeat ad nauseam, etc.  
I know I’ve had little positive to say about this picture, but it really isn’t all bad. There are more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, but a shorter run time, and leaving one character on the side of the road, would have benefited this film a great deal. Overall, Vacation is a decent film but a missed opportunity. 
Final verdict: 2.5 out of 5.

Monday, July 13, 2015

I'm Writing a Weird Western...

Well, y’all, I’ve decided to try my hand at writing a “weird western.” For those of you unfamiliar with weird westerns, it’s a sub-genre of oaters that dips into horror, science fiction, or fantasy. I suppose it could mashup other genres too, as there’s not a lot of rules it seems. Basically, one can let their imagination run wild.
I’m a bit nervous about my first foray into weird westerns, as I ain’t never dun it before (I think that’s proper English). I love traditional westerns, but lately I’ve been in the mood to try my hand at something a little “out there.” I came up with an idea on a recent trip to the Palo Duro Canyon, and this week I began writing it. So, below is a very short sample. And I do mean short; it’s only the first paragraph. I’ll throw it up on the Kindle when I’m done, if I’m brave enough and feel that it’s halfway worth reading. I’m playing around with the cover, and this is a very early rough draft so please don't judge the book by its cover! There will be more to come.
We’ll see how this goes…

Short Excerpt:
I rode into Canyon, Texas unsure of what I would find. Deep down, though, I feared I'd be dealing with some sort of evil of a significant magnitude. Many folks go through life overly superstitious and looking for the devil under every rock, but I’m not one of them. Truth be told, most of my investigations have led to perfectly natural explanations for the various phenomenon I have looked into. But every now and then I come across one that is truly the work of supernatural forces. In my heart of hearts I knew that would be the case out there in the West Texas desert. I prayed I was wrong as I silently rode across the northern edge of the Llano Estacado, making my way toward town. Nightfall was still a few hours off and there was plenty of sun that allowed me to see the cluster of buildings in the distance; too much sun, actually. It was the Year of Our Lord 1892. The air was hot, the dust was thick, and I was tired, hungry, and a bit cranky due to my long travels.

Told you it was short. More to come later. In the mean time, have a great Tuesday!

Review: Outlaw Ranger

I’ve been away for a while, but it is time to blog again! So, let’s jump right into my latest review…
Outlaw Ranger by James Reasoner is one of the best western novels I’ve read in a long time. I won’t give away any plot details (there will be no spoilers here), but I will tell you that this book is just a ton of fun! The plot isn’t overly complex, and that’s okay with me. The characters are still fully developed, and by the end of the book I felt like I knew G.W. Braddock, the Outlaw Ranger himself, pretty good. And speaking of characters, this story features one of the meanest villains I’ve come across in a long time! In fact, he’s so downright evil you’re rooting for him to get every bit of what’s coming to him.
The novel is short and that is not a knock. In fact, I think the briskness works in the book’s favor. It comes out of the gate strong and never lets up, and there’s not a dull moment to be found. Elmore Leonard once made a statement that a writer should leave out the parts readers tend to skip. In other words, dispense with the “filler.” Mr. Reasoner understands this as there’s not a lot of padding. Instead, we get a taut, lean thrill ride with more than enough action.
Unfortunately, the big publishing houses have canceled many of their Western titles. The news might sound bad, but I’m actually not worried. I feel like we’re living in a great time for Western readers and writers as the ebook era is opening up even more avenues of possibility. While we may not be able to pick up paperbacks at the local drugstore anymore, we can sign onto our Kindle and download hundreds of good titles in an instant. I’m grateful for authors like James Reasoner who are making their older titles available when possible, and releasing new works often. In fact, Reasoner launched his own publishing arm sometime back called Rough Edges Press. Not only can you find many of his works at reasonable prices, but also other talented authors to boot.
If you’re in the mood for a good, fast paced Western, check out Outlaw Ranger. Thankfully this is a series, and I’ll be reading the second and third installments soon! For more information about this book, click here.
PS…If you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited, which I highly recommend, you can read it for free!