Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: Get Known before the Book Deal

The first time I heard of Get Known before the Book Deal, was during Karen Burns' workshop on platform building, at last year's PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) conference.  (See PNWA Author Workshop post 7 Aug 09).  It took me several months to get around to buying, and then, reading the book, but I'm very glad I did.

Christina Katz (aka The Writer Mama), provides an invaluable guide for aspiring writers to establish their platform.  The premise of this book, as the title suggests, is that would-be authors must obtain a degree of visibility before they query agents.  This visibilty includes, but isn't limited to:  Your presence on the internet, public speaking, teaching classes, writing and publishing articles, joining professional organizations and networking, or as the author prefers to call it, "connecting."

Ms Katz advocates that growing your presence in steady increments is the best way to ensure getting your book published.  Establishing a platform boosts not only your credibility, but your confidence, while at the same time, it will provide literary agents with a proven track-record of your work.  Otherwise, when you meet for the first time, it will seem like a blind date.  That is, uncomfortable experience for both of you.

While Get Known before the Book Deal, is all about self-promotion, the author cautions the reader to avoid crossing the line between "being visible" and being "an annoying pest."  It's not all about "me! me! me!"  A writer has to think about providing a quality product for their readers throughout their platform construction, during their book publication and beyond.

While written for non-fiction writers, the platform-building concepts Ms Katz discusses can apply to fiction writers as well. In fact, this is the first writer's self-help book in which I started applying a couple of the lessons before I finished reading it.

Get Known before the Book Deal, has garnered 37 x 5-star ratings on, the most I've seen yet in any book.  However, Ms Katz's work isn't immune to criticism.  From what I can understand of the 4-star rater's comments, he was somewhat dissappointed this book was only targeted to authors.  Unfortunately this isn't the lowest rating either.  There are two 1-star raters.  One of them deemed the book "useless," while the other thought it worth only a single-star because he could find used copies for only $2.50.  Therefore, in his mind, the content can't be all that valuable.

Sheez!  Talk about sour grapes.  I wish I paid $2.50 for my copy!

I'm happy to add a 38th, 5-star rating to Ms Katz's constellation.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review for: Vlad the Last Confession, the Epic Novel of the Real Dracula

The people of Romania consider him a national hero.  To his enemies theTurks, he was known as Kaziklu Bey, the "Impaler Lord,"  while those living under his harsh rule called him Vlad Tepes--"Vlad the Impaler."  But thanks, in part, to Bram Stoker's gothic thriller, the rest of the world knows him best by the bone-chilling name of:


"Dracula" derived from "Dracul," actually means "Son of the Dragon," but was often tranlated to "Son of the Devil."  This was the perfect name for the character Bram Stoker originally called "Count Wampyr:"

But C.C. Humphreys didn't write a vampire novel.  Instead, Vlad, the Last Confession, is an historical novel about the real Dracula:

The author faced a daunting task writing about a leader, that few--if any--outside Romania admire.  In true journalistic fashion, Mr. Humphreys neither demonized, nor praised Dracula's actions.  The land Dracula ruled, Wallachia, was sandwiched between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.  Wallachian boyars, or high nobles were, therefore, adept at Machiavellian politics long before The Prince was even written:

Under these conditions, the "Son of the Devil" decided the best way to ensure the survival of his kingdom was to be crueler and more terrifying than his enemies.  He certainly achieved his goal, even from beyond the grave.

In Vlad the Last Confession, Mr. Humphreys utilized his talents as an actor to unearth the plausible motivations of the dreaded "Impaler Lord." The author neatly ties all the historical facts with this conjectured psych profile to weave a story, not only of torture, terror and betrayal, but also of forgivness, love and small triumphs.

But reader beware!  Vlad the Last Confession is not for the faint-of-heart.  This is a dark tale, that plunges into the depths of "man's inhumanity to man" and, for the most part, ends in a bloody train wreck.  That being said, I enjoyed this "wild ride into the night" and give the book a 5-star rating.  At least one reviewer on agrees with me.  Among the other 4 reviewers, 3 gave the book a 4-star rating, while the 4th gave it 3 stars, for an average 4-star rating.  All in all, a great read!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Building a "...Wretched Hive..."

"...of scum and villainy."

While I have a suitable collection of 25/28mm buildings for fantasy role-playing games (RPGs), I have none for my science fiction RPG figures.  For pre-fab looking structures, I started out with Sterilite storage trays like this:

I used Storage Tray Models # 1605 (6 1/4" x 5" x 2 1/8") and #1606 (9 5/8" x 6 1/4" x 2 1/8").  I purchased 8 of each at my local Fred Meyer store, but you can buy them on-line directly from the company:

The #1607 trays (12 3/8" x 5" x 2 1/8" shown above), remain unpainted because I couldn't fit them under the paper cutter I used to slice off the curved rims of the trays.

For paint, I chose Krylon Fusion, which supposedly bonds to plastic.  However, from my short experience, I think it depends on the type of plastic.  I first used this brand to paint two of my large card tables a swirling green and blue to represent a base-level body of water for my game table.  Unfortunately the paint scratches off my, now blue-green, tables very easily.  On the other hand, the Krylon Fusion paint does seem to bond to the Sterilite trays as advertised.  Though I still  wrap each tray in a plastic grocery bag to protect the paint.  (Be sure to say "plastic" when the checkout girl asks "Paper or plastic?").

Since the trays are suppose to represent cheap, pre-fabricated buildings I chose light brown and light grey for the colors.

Here are some samples of the buildings so far:
You "...must be cautious."

Because "...this place can get a little rough."

Even if you're "...ready for anything."

The figures shown in each picture are samples of some ruffians from Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars Miniatures.

The next phase in my Sci-Fi Slumlord Construction project is to cover-up the holes.  I plan on using black construction paper to simulate windows to darkened or even burnt-out rooms.  Once the "windows" are in place, I'll figure out what to use for doors...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Review: The Shadow in "The Plot Master" and "Death Jewels"

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

This opening line, followed by the ominous laughter, first chilled listeners tuning in to the The Detective Story Hour radio program on 31 July 1930.  The Shadow remained on the air until 26 December 1954, but the Dark Avenger wasn't confined to the airwaves.  Within a year of this first broadcast, The Shadow morphed into a multi-media juggernaut, spawning over 300 pulp-novels, numerous comic books and graphic novels, along with five movies.  The Shadow cast a long shadow indeed:

I remember listening to one program with my dad during a PBS-Radio rebroadcast in the 1970s.  In fact, I was more impressed with this radio show than I was with the 1994 film.  While I've known of The Shadow's existance nearly all my life, I never read about any of his exploits until I picked up a copy of The Plot Master and Death Jewels last month, republished by Nostalgia Ventures, Inc. 

In The Plot Master, The Shadow tries to thwart a spy from stealing top-secret plans to a revolutionary submarine, while in The Death Jewels the Dark Avenger is on the trail of a crime ring relieving New York socialites of their priceless baubles.  Both stories were written by The Shadow's main author, Walter B. Gibson, under the pen name of Maxwell Grant.

Like the Doc Savage reprints, The Shadow books earn 4-5 star ratings from a handful of reviewers.  While written in the same "pulp-style" as the Doc Savage novel I previously posted about, I found The Shadow more enjoyable to read.  Doc Savage is too much of a paragon for my taste.  Looking back at my previous book review, I was rather put-off by the fawning descriptions of The Man of Bronze's amazing abilities.  In fact, one of these abilities is that of an actual doctor.  Therefore, he refrains from taking the life of a villain directly. (They usually come to a bad end when they're ensared in their own fiendish devices).

The Shadow, on the other hand, is an anti-hero vigilante.  Once confronted, criminals neither expect, nor receive, any mercy from the Dark Avenger.  Their life of crime is cut short by a bullet fired from The Shadow's signature weapons--a pair of .45 automatics.

As with all pulp-novels, there is very little character development because these stories focus entirely on the action.  I expected that, but what I found irritating, but laughable, was the prevelance in both stories for heroic and villainous monologues, especially when the hero/villain states what's obvious to the reader.

This irritation aside, I give both The Plot Master and Death Jewels a 3.5-star rating.  They're not literary masterpieces, but they were fun to read!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: Doc Savage in "Cold Death"

Before "The Man of Steel" appeared in Action Comics #1, Doc Savage, "The Man of Bronze" was saving the planet from the diabolical schemes of evil masterminds:

While I've been a science-fiction and fantasy fan my whole life, I never read any pulp stories until I picked-up Hunt at the Well of Eternity (see my 6 February blog post).  After reading that book I decided to delve into some original pulp fiction:

I found this particular book, published by Nostalgia Ventures, on sale at Half-Price Books.  Along with Doc Savage, Nostalgia Ventures has reprinted other well-known pulp heroes such as The Shadow and The Avenger:

Cold Death, published under the pen name of Kenneth Robeson in 1936, was actually written by Laurence Donovan.  However, the name "Laurence Donovan" may have been yet another psuedonym for an obscure writer, who disappeared from the pulp scene after World War II.

In this story, a nefarious villain known as "Var" has developed a freezing ray and begins terrorizing New York City.  Doc Savage and his five team mates set out to stop him, utilizing both their scientific know-how and their fists.

Cold Death, along with other Nostalgia Ventures reprints of Doc Savage earn 4-5 star ratings by a handful of reviewers on  This was the first Doc Savage story I've read, and while I love action and adventure stories, I had trouble enjoying this one.  Written in typical "pulp-style," Doc Savage is a true-blue hero--who has no character flaws whatsoever.  Reading stories about such do-gooders is great fun, if you're a kid.  Adults, however, tend to have a more jaded, or even cynical view of the world, so it can be more difficult to "step back" and enjoy such a story.

Back in the '70's I use to see the Bantam Books reprints of Doc Savage in the bookstores, but I never bought any of them.  Therefore, I don't have any nostalgic, emotional connection with The Man of Bronze, like I do with any of the comic-book heroes I use to read about.  (And still do).

Had I read any Doc Savage's amazing exploits when I was a teenager, I'd be more favorably inclined towards Doc and his associates.  For now, I'll forgo assigning any "stellar ratings," until I get around to reading more of The Man of  Bronze's adventures.

This book also includes the story, The South Pole Terror, which I'll set aside for now, along with two short biographies on Laurence Donovan and Lester Dent.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spock Beams Down to Seattle

The actor Leonard Nimoy, forever known as 1st Officer Spock in Star Trek, will be attending The Emerald City ComiCon in Seattle this weekend.

Here's a short interview from the Seattle Times:

Information about The Emerald City ComiCon can be found here:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Putting the Chariot Before the Horse

(Above image:  Judith Calls for the Attack.  From the Apocrypha Online)

I invite you to check out a new website, by my friend and fellow PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) member, Robin Cohn: 

Robin's site serves as the platform for her debut novel, Judith:  Wise Woman of Bethulia

The book is about the biblical heroine Judith, who manages to beguile her way into the camp of the Assyrian army beseiging her town and kill its commanding general, Holofernes.  She makes her way through the siege lines with Holofernes's head and once back in Bethulia, organizes a counter attack, that drives the Assyrian army from the field.

Sounds like a cool story to me!  Although, I don't remember Sister Callista, or any of the other nuns at St. John's, mentioning this story during our religious education classes...

Anyway, if you think this story sounds half as cool as I do, then you may even want to buy the book.

Oh yes, the book. 

Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until Robin's manuscript is actually published...

Now, before you accuse Robin of putting her chariot before the horse, let me say this:

Welcome to the world of 21st Century publishing.

As I mentioned earlier, Robin's website serves as her platform--or foundation--for the novel she's finished writing.  In this way agents and editors will be able to examine Robin's credentials, her writing and her marketing strategy.  In the meantime, Robin will be publishing a Biblical Women Week by Week newsletter, which readers can sign up for.

Gone are the days where a writer could live the life of a recluse like J.D. Salinger.

Robin, of course isn't the first author to start off this way.  The movie Julie and Julia is based, in part, on Julie Powell's blog Julie and  Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, that landed her a book deal, which then led to the movie.

Robin's website is easy to navigate and contains all the information anyone would need to get to know the author better.  I was most impressed with Robin's extensive bibliography.  The 43 subdivisions within this section is a good indicator to an agent, editor or historical fiction fan, that the story of Judith is well researched.

In fact, as an "embarassing" aside, I own only 3 of the 40 books listed under Warfare in Ancient Near East. 

So when Robin's book hits the shelves, then it will be time to gird thy loins and head to the nearest bookstore!  (Or, click "Buy," when your boss isn't looking over your shoulder).

Monday, March 8, 2010

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

The Hurt Locker put the hurt on the competition at last night's Academy Awards, including James Cameron's sci-fi magnum opus, Avatar:

Why didn't Avatar's ticket sales translate into Academy Gold?  Here's some comments from Yahoo! Movies' Oscar Blog:

I watched the Academy Awards last night for the first time since Return of the King, made-off with 11 Oscars in 2003:

In the intervening years, I thought the awards ceremonies and the movies the Motion Picture Academy nominated, well, sucked.  This year seemed different.  The Academy nominated movies people actually went to go see

As to the awards program itself, I thought it was rather enjoyable.  True, the humor at times was a bit clunky.  But, I thought the Steve Martin-Alec Baldwin duet did a good job of entertaining the masses with their comedy routine.  Despite their efforts, the ceremony wasn't without it's weird moments, like the "Lady Kanye" incident:

And I thought Sandy Powell's attitude for winning her 3rd Oscar for Best Costumes in The Young Victoria, was condenscending at best.

I haven't seen The Hurt Locker yet, but I've heard from several military folks that parts of the movie's depiction of operations "downrange" is BS.  While I don't doubt that, I have yet to see a Hollywood war movie that doesn't have a trace element of hokyness.  What I do like is the fact that such a movie, honoring our men and women in uniform, did so well even against Cameron's box-office smash.

But Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman awarded Best Director for The Hurt Locker, wasn't the only woman who made Oscar history last night. Sandra Bullock is the first actor to win both a Razzie and an Oscar in the same year.

Here's an article from Starpulse:

I did see The Blind Side and thought Sandra Bullock's performance desrved an Oscar.  I'm glad the Academy agreed with me.  Her "performance" at both the Academy Awards and the Razzies enshrined her reputation as Hollywood's classiest and most down-to-earth celebrity.

As far as the "end credits," the show left some folks bewildered and others hurt.  Here are some answers to the ongoing Oscar buzz:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2010 Winter Olympic Games: Men's 5000 M Relay (Short Track)

Above:  Members of Team USA.

The "push-off," where members exchange positions.  This can be a confusing race to watch because there are 5 teams with 4 members each.  Those not racing are still skating around within the course's boundaries.  So there's 20 bodies in continious motion on the ice.

And the winners are:

A wide shot of the winning teams and their flag-waving fans:

Team USA and Team Korea doing their victory laps:

Apolo Ohno (with the unzipped uniform) and Charles Hamelin (with helmet # 207) head back to the locker room.

From left to right:  Team USA, Team Canada and Team Korea on the awards podium.

For the second time this evening "O Canada!" echoes throughout the Pacific Colesium.

Team Canada posing for the photographers.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2010 Winter Olympic Games: The Women's 1000 Meter Speed Skating (Short Track)

Above, Katherine Reutter waves as she's introduced to the crowds.

The semifinal start.

And the winners are:

Reutter and Park hug their coaches.

Wang Meng and team mate perform their victory lap.

Katherine Reutter waves the Stars & Stripes.

Katherine Reutter waves to the cheering crowd.

Wang Meng waves after receiving her Gold Medal.

"March of the Volunteers," China's national anthem plays in the Pacific Coliseum.

Wang Meng invites her fellow Olympians on to the top podium.

2010 Winter Olympic Games: The Men's 500 Meter Speed Skating (Short Track)

The only events my wife and I were able to attend during our short jaunt to Vancouver, were the short track speed skating races, which were held in the Pacific Coliseum.  The races alternated between the Men's 500 Meter & Women's 1000 Meter, from quaterfinals, through the semi-finals and--finally--the final race. 

Note:  The awards ceremonies for each race were conducted at the end of the evening but are presented at the end of this post.

Above, Apolo Ohno prepares for the 500 M semifinal.

The semifinal start:

Wipe out at the finish line!

And the winners are:

Apolo Ohno was faulted and disqualified for the finish line pile-up.

Charles Hamelin hugs his girl (fiancee? wife? domestic partner?).

Hamelin & Tremblay do their victory lap, while waving to the cheering Canadian crowd.

From left to right: Tremblay, Hamelin and Sung on the podium.

"O Canada!" echoes throughout the coliseum.

Hamelin invites his fellow Olympians to the top podium.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Last-Minute Trip to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, BC

Two weeks ago, my wife and I decided to make a "run for the border" and see some of the Winter Olympic Games.  We left Friday morning (26 Feb) and arrived at our hotel before noon.  Check-in wasn't until 3 PM, so we made our way to downtown Vancouver to check out the Olympic sights and activities.  Above is the Olympic Rings in Burrard Inlet.

The Olympic Cauldron on the waterfront.  We had to wait in line to get a view from the observation deck.  The above picture, though, was taken at the street level, viewed through the chain-link fence.  This photo turned out better than the ones we waited over 30 minutes to get!

As an amature military historian and wargamer, I must have a 6th sense for finding militaristic things and places.  During our walking tour we stumbled across the Beatty Street Drill Hall, headquarters of the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own).

In the picture above I'm standing next to a Canadian-built RAM tank.  I never heard of this tank until now.  Based on the American M3 (Lee), it was used primarily for crew training in the UK.  Wikipedia has some of the details on this Canadian armored vehicle:

Above is my new Facebook Profile Picture, standing next to a more familiar Sherman tank.

Standing next to an armored vehcile, while getting rained on, certainly reminds me of my active-duty days.

Duke of Connaught's Own website:

Meanwhile, "Canadian Olympic Fever" proved to be contagious.  Even pets weren't immune.