Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Narrative Alchemy Of Professional Sports

In the landscape of modern entertainment, professional sports is a huge black sheep. It doesn't look anything like cinema, television, literature, music, etc. and yet it's so popular. It's the manifestation of competitive nature in mankind. Sports used to keep the soldiers in shape in between wars. In Ancient Greece, there was wrestling, pancrase, boxing, track and field, disc throwing. Every discipline had for goal to keep the soldiers sharp for the next chapter of history they would write. If sports survived so well and kept a such a dominant place in the cultural landscape, it's because they have more in common with other forms of entertainment than they seem to have. Professional sports are at their best whenever they have great storylines. If you identify with your team as much as you identify with your favorite characters, you will tune in.

Let me give you an example. Last year, I renewed with one of my muses, basket-ball. I played in my high school team and I used to be the biggest fan of the Orlando Magic. Those were the years where Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway were owning the courts like Starsky and Hutch. The big, sympathetic lug was bullying the smaller built adversaries under the rim and Penny was his dream accomplice. He was smart, quick and drove the defensive completely mad. But Shaq had to sign with the Lakers and break my heart. He chose money and the fame of Los Angeles over the boys. "Business decision" Shaq said. Of course, it was a business decision to let your army without its general. He became a traitor to me. After he left, the Magic were never the same. They had a decent core of players with Penny, Darrell Armstrong and Rony Seikaly, but they missed the center piece of their offense. The big, sympathetic lug under the rim. He was gone looking for his shadow in Los Angeles.

They took years to get over Shaq's desertion. When you had glory, it's difficult to go back to square one. They signed free agents like Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, but both to very little success. McGrady was a good scorer  but not a leader and Hill spent most of his Magic tenure on the injured list. It's not before 2004, when they drafted Dwight Howard with the first pick overall that they found a suitable replacement for Shaq. He was smaller, but strong and more versatile. Howard is a gentle leader. He's a man of faith and a very respectful player on the court. He lead the Magic to respectability again, but like during the Shaq era, they were missing that special something that would transform them into a championship winning team. They kept high hopes in guys like Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis, who are gifted enough, but loved to look at themselves playing the game rather than to just play the game.

But I am very enthusiastic for next season. 2010-2011 was a bit of a scramble, but it's looking bright for the future. They made two transaction last year, during mid-season and despite being a long shot, I think they got things right. They booted Vince Carter to Phoenix and reacquired Turkish forward Hedo Turkoglu, who's a quiet player, at his best when he doesn't have to take the center stage. He's an enigmatic player, but give him enough shadow to creep in and he'll start being efficient again. The true genius move though is that they traded Rashard Lewis to the Washington Wizards, for the wild and emotional Gilbert Arenas. I love the guy. He is a madman on the court and he loves to play ball. Washington had to get rid of him after a firearm scandal (don't worry, he didn't shoot anyone), but he was a fan favorite there. He was a dangerous player, but like one of my friends said in an NBA conversation, he never learned to be a winning scorer.

That's where I think the sport will get great and go beyond the court. Arenas is crazy and for the longest time, he was his own man in Washington. But now, things are different. He got support and he's pinched in between two incredible, more cool headed players in Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu. They will take time to know and trust each other on the court, but if they can get to know each other enough, Arenas might fuel Howard and Turkoglu's fire and those two might just give him enough focus to transform him into the inspirational player the Magic so badly needs. How's that for a storyline? I don't know about you, but I could write a whole novel about this story. And it's just one team. A lot has already been said about LeBron James' glorious choking in the NBA finals (Nathan Bransford wrote a great article on this) and on Dirk Nowitzki's improbable rise to the occasion. The NBA is the best breeding ground for storylines right now. That's how you need to watch sports. With your mind, but with your heart also. Because sometimes it is better than fiction.

Too Many Kings At The Jester's Court

The other day, I was minding my own business and looking to add people to my Goodreads friends, hoping to enlarge my readership and find more people to discuss with. That's when I got struck by a troubling fact. Over a Goodreads scan that lasted about forty-five minutes, I found more Goodreads Authors than I found actual readers. Being one of those scrambling, debuting scrawlers myself (although my Goodreads account is not reflecting that fact), I cannot help but being alarmed. The center stage is jam packed with performers, but where is the audience?

To be relevant in the game, a writer needs what? About a thousand readers? Five thousands to be considered successful (I'm talking sales here). It's not that there aren't good writers that have trouble selling, but if the ratio comes down from 1000:1 to 1:1, I can see trouble on the way*. Of course, many factors can explain that issue. I don't think Goodreads itself is to blame. It's a social networking tool like the others. It's geared towards readers but it's just a reflection about how internet users are into fiction. Not that much. Without the alarming number of writers on Goodreads, I'd say the number of people on Goodreads is a good indicator of the prorata of population that enjoys reading. Facebook, by far the most successful social networking site is #2 on Alexa** with about 700 millions users while Goodreads is #1173. I'd esteem that would give them around 700 000 members, maybe?***

To me, this is a symptoms of the ePublishing/self-publishing revolution. It's a gold rush like any other. Every frustrated poets and their mother are taking their chance at it, to finally see their masterpiece of a first draft of a first novel be published. Real writers (I'm not including myself in that statement) have to share the social networking sphere with those people and most of the time, you will not hear the real writers so much because they have an audience already. There are real writers on Goodreads also. Not everybody that has been published had the success they wished and Goodreads is a way like many others to promote yourself (and it works quite well. People over there talk to each other with an open mind). Hence the traffic jam of creative talent. I feel that the writers have stepped ahead of the readers in this revolution. The book stores are still crammed full with people ****. And yet every writer is jumping into the e/self publishing revolution like their would be in the Pacific Ocean. By the time readers catch up, a lot of them will have left already.

A lot of people jump into writing as a self-validation move. They want to be like their favorite writers, tell the same kind of stories. Shit, I started this whole thing while reading Dennis Lehane myself. But after browsing the legion of writers on Goodreads, I understand the value of a reader. You can't be a king without a kingdom to rule. You can't put a crown of your head and start talking in the royal we if nobody gives it value. Then you'd be a jester and not a king. Readers and especially the readers that spread the word about your work on the public place, are the bricks and mortar to your palace. Right now, readers are still being introduced to eBooks and the majority of them are still undecided on whether they should buy a Kindle, a Nook or a Kobo. Those who have chosen are still on Amazon, befuddled by the new possibilities. It might be a good thing for some Goodreads Authors to come down from their wooden thrones and mingle a little bit. Readers for your self-published book might not be the easy commodity your thought it was.

* Yeah, I'm quoting CCR here.

** A web traffic tool, reputable because it is used to base web marketing campaigns.

*** Not a scientific statement.

**** At least those in Montreal are.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Perks Of Being A Book Blogger

Look what the cat dragged in. An angry mailman has thrown this on my porch this morning*.I'm not gonna lie, I'm excited about this. Josh Stallings' first novel has got a lot of hype since its release. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Dead End Follies was starting to get profitable. Of course, this is petty money. On a monthly basis, it's enough for one fast food and a half. The true perk is the books. I am starting to get a good number of books through the mail and via agents, because Dead End Follies can now provide decent exposure for starting writers AND other writers that I deem interesting. This, my friends, is very cool.

It's not even the immediate gratification of receiving free stuff or having killer books to read. It's about influence. Having a say in how things will play out in the greater scheme, no matter how small it is. Because once you have an audience and once you are heard, you have a power that goes beyond basic free will and it's enthralling. It's by helping other writers getting their name out there that you can help building a cool scene for the genre you love (and in my case, write), so that it can be viable to write whatever you feel like writing about. I am going to squeeze BEAUTIFUL, NAKED AND DEAD in my TBR pile as high as I can and so I can give you guys my opinion of Josh Stallings and his flagship protagonist Moses McGuire**

In case you wondered, the answer is yes. Those are my feet.

* In case you don't know, we had a postal service strike. But we also happen to have a fascist government that ordered them back to work, so that people could receive their bills.

** To be quite frank, I have about three or four books in the Dead End Follies Official TBR, but I have to keep you guessing a little bit.

Book Review : Gregory Miller - The Uncanny Valley: Tales From A Lost Town (2011)

Country: USA

Genre: Flash Fiction/Horror (for lack of a better word)

Pages: 137

Here's an interesting little oddity. The Uncanny Valley: Tales From A Lost Town is a very compact anthology of short stories that single theme, a strange city in Pennsylvania. There are thirty-three stories stored in a very few pages, which makes the form as interesting as the content. Gregory Miller has crafted a nice, elaborate business card for himself with that anthology. It's not too engaging to read and yet, it's more focused and thorough than a few links to online stories. Better yet? It's been blurbed by Mr. Ray Bradbury himself. I was on the fence about reading it, but the words from a writer I respect so much tipped the scales for me. Did the content held up to the spectacular presentation stunt? Somewhat.

There are two kind of stories in Gregory Miller's anthology. The first kind is about singular/disturbed people and the second kind is about supernatural events.Without hesitation, I can tell you that the stories about singular/disturbed folks are the most interesting to me. The White Dove is the first story of the anthology and one of the best. It's about an old couple, who got caught up by time, routine and the fundamental differences in their personalities. Their problems culminate at the ceremony for the renewal of their vows, organized by the wife, Gertrude. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but it's quite the spectacular ending to years of piled up frustration. Miller has a knack for bringing up visual scenes with just the right pace. The White Dove is going to stay with me for a while. It has the right amount of humanity and unexplainable blood shed. It's very strong.

But the point of The Uncanny Valley is that it's a supernatural place. It's haunted by ghosts or some kind of presence that weights on the people. It's a dangerous ground for writers because you need to find just the right level of exposition you need not to fall in the folklore or the middle grade story. Some of Miller's stories hold well to that and are genuinely creepy. Don't Tell and Miss Jenning's Family will leave you disturbed. Some other stories like Mittens' Last Catch are JUST a little too overexposed to work properly. Horror is a harsh mistress for writers and despite having a very bold approach, Gregory Miller gets burned as much as he succeeds. The high number of stories plays in his advantage, because it's easy to forget a bad one, but there are a few stories in there that made me feel like reading from photocopies pages on a ninth grade school desk. Four or five out of thirty three, not a bad average.

It's not easy to judge Gregory Miller's literary talent with The Uncanny Valley. It reads like an anthology of very early stuff, of a green but very promising writer. Miller deals with the bizarre in a very unique way and bring the Uncanny Valley to life, despite a few hitches in the road. It's a short, easy read for a summer afternoon, but it will leave you with a strange feeling that Miller had more to show than that. Personally, I can't wait to read longer stories and to see him explore the supernatural with darker tones. If you stumble upon The Uncanny Valley, give it a try. It's short, cheap and Gregory Miller deserved to be read. If you're not a fan of the genre, he might not convince you, but he's a name to look out for.

Movie Review : The Adjustment Bureau (2011)



Recognizable Faces:

Matt Damon
Emily Blunt
John Slattery
"The Amazing" Terence Stamp
Jon Turner

Directed By:

George Nolfi

This movie has very little to do with the Philip K. Dick short story it is based on. You know the Hollywood saying "loosely based on"? This is a textbook case. In fact, I think the studio used Dick's name to deliberately to promote the movie first and foremost. There is an evident conceptual resemblance with "The Adjustment Team", but George Nolfi's film is simply another story told with the same problematic. A team of "world regulators" named "The Adjustment Bureau" are responsible for keeping people on path with "the plan" that's been set for them. Nobody knows their existence, but they are there. They make you forget your keys, spill your coffee and bump your toes, so that your life goes as they planned. But since they are only humans with special hats, they are prone to mistakes just like everybody else. When the stakes are high, it's also very probable that somebody drops the ball. And they did.

The Bureau had this very special client named David Norris (Damon), a politician who they are keeping under tight surveillance. But one of the Bureau's elements named Harry (Anthony Mackie) falls asleep on the job (apparently because he suffers from existential fatigue) and Norris is walking away from the plan. Of course, it's all because of a woman. David met Elise (Emily Blunt) in the male bathroom after a crippling defeat during his run for New York Senate. She inspires him to do the most genuine, populist speech and his popularity skyrockets in the polls. That was all part of the plan. What wasn't, was that he would meet Elise again, a woman who could satisfy his needs and quench his thirst for political success. But he does because some guy was sleeping on the job. And David will risk everything for the love of his life, because he has found someone worth fighting for.

Yeah, I know. Corny. Fortunately, the love story between David and Elise (who falls prey to every cliché in the genre) kind of takes the back seat. The confrontation in between David and the superbly cast members of the Bureau makes the bulk of the movie. John Slattery (Mad Men's Roger Sterling) and the legendary badass Terence Stamp are doing an amazing job at being terrifying bureaucrats. This part is very faithful to the philosophical principles behind Philip K. Dick's writing, about life being the illusion of free will and a constant battle in between self-determination and a giant, faceless formatting machine. There is the mandatory hilarious Philip-K-Dick-goes-to-the-movies scene where Matt Damon runs away from a team of unidentified men, dressed in black, through a series of office. I laughed out loud and nobody in the living room knew why, but watch other movies based on a PKD story (except maybe Bladerunner, who was done exceptionally well) and they all have a scene like this. It embodies the paranoia in his writing.

Since George Nolfi drifted so far away from Philip K. Dick's story (who packed way more of a visual style) and opted for a minimalist approach to his supernatural moments (a series of doors that bend the space-time continuum, coincidences happening when the Bureau members are around), it's hard not to compare it to movies like Inception, who played much on scene structure and symbolism. And that's where The Adjustment Bureau falls a little short. It's so far from Philip K. Dick's original story that it's borrowing so many ideas that the original content feels a little loss. The distribution is strong and the overall philosophy is following Philip K. Dick's ideas, but The Adjustment Bureau is a movie that is lost in Hollywood.  It doesn't have a strong identity and it's falling for clichés more often than not. Interesting viewing for the fans of Philip K. Dick (like me), but you won't be aching for many more viewings. I don't see The Adjustment Bureau being added to many DVD/Blu-Ray collections in a near future.

SCORE: 71%

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Classic Novels Redesigned For The Polish Market

Polish people have the bad habit of making wacky posters for American movies. They redesign them into and turn them into things that don't make any sense. The Photoshop bullies over at Flavorwire made the interesting exercise of redesigning classic novels into classic Polish...things where you don't know what the fuck is going on. What's the novel I posted a photo of? Damn right, it's Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. It didn't get much love when it was published a few days ago. So I thought I'd share the love for weird Eastern European design.

To see all the designs made, click here

The Road We Dreamed And The Road We Take

During the last few months, Cracked columnists have started writing some pretty serious stuff. Don't worry, it's still a very funny web site. But sometimes the clowns are the wisest people. It was first Dan O'Brien who wrote Five Things They Never Told Us in March. Two weeks ago, John Cheese wrote Five Reasons Life Actually Does Get Better in answer to the "it gets better" campaign against bullying. Last but to least, the caustic Wayne Gladstone followed up this week with Five Reasons Life Is Better After Age 30. I invite you all to read these articles in your downtime. They are illustrating a point you can only get through the passage of time. Maturity is not seriousness, it's not understanding, passivity, acceptance or any of that bullshit. It's getting to know who you are.

Groucho Marx once said: "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member".

As of lately, I always thought this was a self-depreciating retort. I'm starting to see more to it. Maybe there's not. Maybe it's just a display of wits, but I came to forge an understanding of that quote. I don't do things to belong to clubs. If you do something because you want to belong to a group of people, you don't do it for the love of it anymore. If you're golfing because you want in on a country club, you don't care about golfing anymore and therefore, true golfers shouldn't care about being members of a country club as long as they can spend the most time on the green. If it means having to fulfill club obligation well, I'm pretty sure they'll be looking to golf elsewhere.

We can get pretty damn abstract about it. You can join a writing club and talk about it on a daily basis, then you don't like writing as much as talking about it. The guy that writes in his basement like a furious madman, as long as he keeps smart about it and has beta readers, he's most likely to bypass the cafe poets. Because he's writing. "Doing" is a notion that takes value for me as I grow older. You need to find a special balance in between intellectual pursuits and mindlessness to just do stuff properly. In martial arts for example, cerebral fighters are often disadvantaged if they can't control the pace, because they need an extra second to plan their offensive. The "doers" made the cerebral effort in the gym and during the fight, everything comes out naturally because they don't need to think about it.

I grow up and see a crossroad. There's the road I dreamed and the road I take. If I decide to make my dreams reality, they won't be dreams anymore and they will lose their sacred character. They will become a part of your life and you will be too busy to work at them, rather then talk about them with a "special group" of people who "understand". I know it's a little ironic that I'm talking about it right now, but I'm also working at making my dreams a reality. Blogging is just one aspect of it. And I'm convinced I'm taking the right fork in the road. I life my life inside a tornado right now, but I'm glad to be too busy to belong to any special club.

Top Ten Bookish Sites

Top Ten Tuesday is a blogging activity hosted by The Broke And The Bookish. They've been outdoing themselves lately for their weekly topic and I have to admit this one's ingenious. The top ten bookish web sites  will allow readers to share links about their favorite sites and this helps promote reading big time. I salute you, BnB girls. You'll notice I left fellow book bloggers out of the equation. It's too easy to name ten blog and get away with it. My top ten here targets resources for readers.

1-Goodreads: This one's a no brainer. Goodreads is a reader's haven. It's tighly run and organized in a way that you can find fellow readers and writers that share your tastes without busting your balls too much. We have a discussion group over there.

2-Amazon: I don't care if you think I'm a fascist, Amazon is great. You can find most books at a cheap price over there, whether they are rare or out of print or whatever. The Kindle Store was also a great invention that democratized the publishing industry. Readers can try authors out without ruining themselves.

3-Librivox: All right, they might not have the burning hot novelties. But I like Librivox a lot better than Audible for audiobooks. You don't have to pay suspicious monthly fees (that are almost twice what Netflix charges). They do a great job and I try to pick audiobooks from there whenever I can.

4-Huffington Post Books: Shit's happening over there. The Post is one of the best bookish actualities web site. It's a little chaotic, there's some yelling matches in the comments sections going on, but it generates a lot of publicity for good writers.

5-The Rumpus Books: I love The Rumpus. It's a smaller, more streamlined version of The Huffington Post. They have amazing interviews with writers that deserve more recognition and they have this column called The Last Book I Loved which is always enlightening.

6-Smashwords: The next best thing to Amazon's Kindle Store when it comes to digging out new writers. It's a bit of a labyrinth of strange (and mostly bad) books, but once you get the hang or indie gold-digging, there are treasures at your reach.

7-Half Price Books: I'm not the biggest used book buyer, but these guys are great at what they do. Literature should be affordable and books should keep moving, at least until they get into appreciative hands. HPB keeps books cheap and the readers busy for a cheap price.

8-Charlie Rose: Charlie Rose talks to a lot of people. He loves to talk with writers. His web site is crammed full of interviews with the most important literary figures of the twentieth century: David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Hunter S. Thompson, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, etc.

9-McSweeney's: The content is not always interesting, but Dave Eggers' bunch are terrific at pushing new writers and to promote off-beat literature. If I'm looking to step outside my comfort zone, McSweeney's a great place. I doubt Adam Levin would have got any push without Eggers' help.

10-Paul D. Brazill's You Would Say That, Wouldn't You?: Tired of reading the same crime writers over and over? Then you should drop by Paulie's place, it's THE hot spot for new mystery/crime fiction. The man (who's a badass writer himself) knows what's going on in the scene. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review : J.D Salinger - The Catcher In The Rye (1951)

Country: USA

Genres: Literary/Drama

Pages: 214

I am happy to announce you that I am not a Salinger virgin anymore. Over the course of three days last week, I have read Catcher In The Rye, one of the most polarizing books among readers. The main reason behind that debate is that it's being taught in many high schools. This is also why I picked it up. It's my high school classic choice in Sarah's Back To The Classics 2011 reading challenge. Since I went to school in French, I figured out that expanding my horizons and reading what the anglophones read back then would work better for this particular challenge. Reading Catcher In The Rye, it's understandable why it's such a wide spread high school read. It's written in an easy language, deals with issues that most youth faces to some extent and it has a certain depth. But don't get me wrong, Holden Caufield is not your typical teenager. He's got some serious issues under the hood.

Growing up sucks. I don't care what you might think, but my teenage years were not the time of my life. Alienation, isolation. fear and anger were my daily breakfast. I was not saved by sports, intellect or any kind of allegoric muse. Holden Caufield is living a similar situation. He cannot make any senses of the future that's planned for him, flunks his classes and gets into trouble with other students (and other human beings in general) because they aren't the people he wishes them to be. So he runs away (sort of) to New York, to put a little distance in between him and the rigorous academic lifestyle while the news of his expulsion is broken to his parents. He's being expelled from the fourth school in a row, for poor academic performances. Holden goes out in the world and experiments for himself what will become once he'll be on his own. He does have a revelation once he's there, but not the one he expected.

What struck me about Holden Caufield is how maladapted to social life he is. His body has grown but his mind has remained childish. He thinks and does incredibly childish things and whenever things start to go wrong or that an effort is required out of him, he will come up for an excuse that a four years old could have come up with. Whenever he has to confront somebody, he deflects the situation and pretends a headache, depression, fatigue, etc. A young child will do that. But since the world J.D Salinger created is so alienating and people are so recluse on themselves, their needs and their hopes, everybody is letting Holden slide with this kind of abnormal behavior. His parents are virtually absent from the novel, except when mentioned by other characters. The only future he talks about is highly metaphorical and once again brings back the childhood issues.

It's pretty clear what Catcher In The Rye is about, but I don't agree with Salinger. Losing your innocence doesn't necessarily means that you acknowledged your place in the world and let go of your childhood. Plenty of adults remain little Holden Caufields to a lesser extents and the example Salinger brings out in Holden might scare and offend a lot of readers, but it's also very actual. I know a lot of people who keep denying adversity and make their window of hope and expectations smaller and smaller every time they get hammered with hardships. But I still disagree. Losing your innocence doesn't mean you have to give up on dreaming. Reality requires real work, selflessness, perseverance and patience. Catcher In The Rye was quite the entertaining read, but it requires some distance and reflection. I am also sure that it's best read if you've already went through it and identified with Holden Caufield back in the past. It's a novel that has the power to trigger a lot of discussions about the meaning of being adult, responsible and how to engage in real life while keeping your inner self alive.

High School Classic

Movie Review : Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008)



Recognizable Faces:

The ill-fated Bagby family

Directed By:

Kurt Kuenne

Dear Zachary is not a documentary as much as it is a cinematographic essay. It's a film of opinion about the awful streak of events that hit Andrew Bagby, a gentle soul who shared nothing but love during his shortened time on Earth. Don't expect it to have any kind of objectivity, but I believe that certain documentaries are allowed that. If the facts speak for themselves and the situation needs to be exposed, taking sides is the only way to make a statement that is loud enough. Andrew Bagby was murdered for no valid reason. He got shot multiple times and left on a parking lot because he scrambled to find balance and happiness in his life. The filmmaker Kurt Kuenne was one of Bagby's best friends and Dear Zachary is his tormented send-off. 

Andrew Bagby was a decent guy. He wasn't very good looking, but he had the charisma of a few and a gift for earning people's trust. He was the kind of guy you wanted as a best man for your wedding (by the way, there's a lot of wedding footage of Andrew, because he was a best man of choice). A bad breakup in the pursuit of his dream (being a doctor) lead him to Newfoundland, Canada and into the arms of Shirley Turner, man eater and professional psycho. She was twelve years his elder and freaked a lot of people out, whenever Andrew brought her to a wedding or a social gathering of some sort. Something was clearly off with her, but when your self-esteem is down at the bottom of your shoes, you don't see that. So Andrew persevered through this doomed relationship and things got really hairy when he moved out of Newfoundland to do his internships. So he got himself killed. By Shirley.

Not that is was every proved in court, but Shirley Turner was a very dangerous, volatile individual and all signs pointed to her. The man lived in a peaceful world before she arrived. But here's the kicker. Turner gets arrested and charged of the murder but, uh-oh...she's four months pregnant of Bagby's son. Being a wicked manipulator and all, she played that card in court and walked on bail. Andrew's parents, David and Kathleen fought this stupid decision from the Canadian judiciary system, got her locked up again and gained the custody of Zachary when he was born. But that was only the beginning of the second act of their nightmare. Shirley Turner wrote to the very judge that put her in jail to complain and received in answer, a detail explanation of how to make an appeal. She did and a judge granted her freedom, again. And full custody of her kid, stating that she saw no immediate threats to the population in her. Yeah, she was an accused murderer with a history of going mental on her boyfriends. But that judge didn't bother to check anything.

At the end of 2011, I should conduct an award for the most depressing documentaries that makes you lose faith in humanity. Dear Zachary might just be the great winner of this ceremony to happen. The Canadian judiciary system (MY judiciary system) has blundered BIG TIME with the Bagby family. Ultimately, Shirley Turner is the culprit behind all this violence, but laziness and half-assed work have put this family in greater risk and exposed them to an unbelievable amount of stress. David and Kathleen Bagby are the true heroes in this story, even if they are the victims. They kept fighting through the unbelievable injustices that were perpetrated on them and even through the pain and the loss, they still stand proud. It's going to tear your poor little viewer heart out, but their struggle cannot be forgotten. Dear Zachary is a tremendous example of why blind faith in institution can be fatal. Watch it at your own risk. It's hard, but I can't see how it can disappoint you.

SCORE: 85%

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ten Great Writers In A Nutshell

It happened to the best of us. You're caught in a literary discussion or debate and the exchanges turn around a writers you've never read before. Even worse, you never heard his/her name prior to the conversation. Then you're forced to lie and remain as vague as your intellect allow you to: "Oh yeah, sure. I read him but it was a long time ago. For a class". Or even better, you're forging your lies out of what the others are saying: "Of course the orange bicyle. It was a great, moving symbol of hope. I cried a little". Well, let me do my part here and give you the run down on ten writers I know well. Not every writer has a great scope of subjects. Some can be great and talk about the same (similar) themes all the time and still be awesome.

Philip K. Dick: Young urban professional (that may or may not be on hallucinogenic drugs) is being chased through corporate offices by corporate looking thugs. Nobody knows why any of this happens as everybody is just trying to do their damn jobs. Reality and the protagonist both take a savage beating in the process.

Prime Examples: Minority Report, Paycheck, The Adjustment Team, The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch

Stephen King: Struggling, middle-aged caucasian writer is starting to seriously trip balls because of loneliness and multiple writing related issues. Or because of life in general. Serious violence and scares ensues, that may be inflicted to the protagonist or inflicted by him. The bottom line is that you don't fuck with what you don't know, because you really might not win.

 Prime Examples: The Shining, Bag Of Bones, Misery

Ernest Hemingway: There are two general Hemingway storylines that I am aware of. First is young man with balls of steele does whatever needs to be done during a conflict of some sort. That, even if everybody pisses on their responsibilities. There is also the young, idealist writer gets increasingly drunk and frustrated because of his friends.

Prime Examples: (1) For Whom The Bell Tolls, Farewell To Arms and (2) The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast

Dennis Lehane: Gritty Boston criminals and normal gritty Boston people gets involved into a gritty crime and something extremely gritty happens. Their sensitivies can be hurt in the process and things are felt deep in the chest. The characters of Lehane (at least his leads) are tough guys with a good heart. And his bad guys have no soul.

Prime Examples: The complete Patrick Kenzie/Angelo Gennaro series. Mystic River

H.P Lovecraft: Poor hilbilly nutjob sees aliens in his backyard or is getting talked to by the voices of ancient gods. Theres also the poor nerdy nutjob that stumbles upon forbidden knowledge and happens to lose his goddamned mind. Unspeakable sights, extra-terrestrial activities and scary secrets about the origins of mankind are on the program every time.

Prime Examples: Every story he wrote in his life.

Jonathan Franzen: If family sucks to you, it just means you have to try harder. It doesn`t matter if it`s everybody that hates you or the opposite. If YOU try harder, it might stop sucking for a bit.

Prime Examples: Strong Motion, The Corrections

Alexandre Dumas: Somebody with a pure heart is getting fucked over by somebody evil and obsessed by power and money. Pure hearted protagonist suffers and/or runs for his life for about five hundred pages and then, there is hell to be paid. And Dumas doesn`t fuck around with retribution.

Prime Examples: The Three Musketeers, The Count Of Monte Cristo

Haruki Murakami: Middle aged, working class man is depressed about the state of his life. Then, he will be assaulted by his memories and/or the past is some kind of way. The depressed protagonist will then have a weird, but efficient midlife crisis and will see his life become more fulfilling. Sometimes, nothing happens at all.

Prime Examples: Norwegian Wood or South Of The Border, West Of The Sun

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Extremely rich people are extremely depressed and sometimes remember when they were poor, because things used to be so much easier then. They drink and they treat each other like shit. They may or may not be clinically depressed.

Prime Examples: The Great Gatsby, Tender Is The Night, Various Short Stories

Anthony Neil Smith: A morally questionnable individual is trying to make a new life for himself. Unfortunately for him, past comes back in physical or psychological form and then all hell breaks loose. Acts of extreme violence are committed because somebody wasn`t satisfied when the protagonist was missing in action.

Prime Examples: The Drummer, Yellow Medicine, Hogdoggin`

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Turnips Of Michael Bay

In 1996, Michael Bay directed a decent movie about Alcatraz, called The Rock. The storyline was a little wacky, but Sean Connery, Ed Harris and David Morse did a decent job at keeping it afloat and somehow, Bay gave us an interesting feeling of the place through the experience of John Patrick Mason (Connery), a long time prisoner. It was...well...decent. But my interest in Michael Bay stopped soon after that. Unfortunately for the Occidental world though, Michael Bay's interest with Michael Bay started growing exponentially larger. In 2011, the man is sitting on top of a mountain of money and does whatever the fuck he feels like with it. That includes very bad action movies that magically break box-office records every summer.  

Fifteen years after his one decent movie, Michael Bay's wasteland includes the legendary bad Pearl Harbor, the corny Armageddon(sorry if some of you liked it, I didn't) and the very fucking terrible trilogy of movies about the Transformers, who are one of the many of my childhood memories that is being raped by Hollywood nowadays. Watching a Michael Bay movie feels like eating turnips for me. It's bland, yet it doesn't taste very good, it's hard to eat and you can't wait until it's over. Once it's done, you feel like you have wasted your time eating something that didn't really mattered. But what's so bad about Michael Bay's movies? They are those dirty, boyish action movies that everybody loves, right? If not, why would it gross three hundred millions on the box-office at every release. If it makes so much money, it must be good right? So what if an action movie isn't smart or witty. Bay is about explosions and crass fun. Isn't it?

That's where I disagree with the people who patronize Michael Bay's movies.

To me, the most effective period for action movies was the eighties. So many great franchises were born on that decade, Hollywood executives are still busy giving them CPR and trying to milk the last dollars out of them. Let's make a comparative study about why Rambo was a great franchise and why Transformers sucked. On the first hand, you have what is probably my favorite action franchise, next to Dirty Harry. What do I like about Rambo? It's a series that consists mainly in one-man-army John Rambo killing the shit out of some anonymous foreigners for obscure military reasons he usually disagrees with. The glue that makes it stick together and make it work is John Rambo himself. The man suffers from acute PTSD and can barely function in society. He is a killing machine with a slurred speech (thanks to Sly Stallone for that). I wouldn't trust him around my kids, my dog or just to house-sit for a week-end. He's fucking crazy and it's the spectacle of him, sinking deeper into mindless violence as he tears a skinny, yet vicious looking Asian man in pieces, that's befuddling. There's a sadistic pleasure, a catharsis in watching Rambo movies.

Then on the other hand, you have Sam Witwicky (the not-so-great Shia LaBeouf) who is the hero of a film adaptation of a series about giant robots, kicking the shit out of each other. So he's your male lead and the sexy female lead is Mikaela Banes (played by Megan Fox). I admit I have only watched the first movie of the trilogy, but the two horny teenagers have absolutely nothing to do with the conflict that is going on, except that by a terrible fluke, they hold a very sacred artifact. So they are running from one scene to the other, trying to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, leaving all the space to Michael Bay's special effects. And here's what I think is the heart of the problem. Cinema, at least in the Hollywoodian perspective, is a narrative art. In Transformers, there's a moral choice, two sexy leads and a shitload of explosions and robots fighting each others. We're far from the hilarious, over-the-top, slapstick gore of John Rambo. There is nothing to feed on, but long scenes where a lot of stuff gets destroyed. But hey, Megan Fox is hot, right? Right?

And I'm not saying that action movies need to be complex. But here's the catch. Action movies of the eighties turned into such successful franchises because they had strong characters that spat hilarious catch phrases. They were easy to mold action figures and other promotional products from and they appealed to a demographic of young men who laughed at them out loud, but looked up to them somehow. They were meaningful characters, no matter how thin the story is. Now ask anybody to describe you Sam Witwicky as a characters and the most common answer will be "Who?", followed by "Hem...he's a teenager? I guess". Could have Transformers been better? Of course. In the cartoon, all the robots have distinctive personalities and they would have made a great movie if they took the center stage and were given a little more soul than they have. But since they have generated so much fucking money out of nostalgia feeling and summer hype, it's doubtful that they ever will.

I'm not going to watch Transformers: Dark Of The Moon this summer. I invite you to do the same.

Book Review : Robert Penn Warren - All The King's Men (1946)

Country: USA

Genre: Literary/Drama

Pages: 661

This is another Pulitzer Prize winner and one of those books everybody name drops when you talk about southern literature. It's THAT book who finishes a conversation, but nobody had ever read. You know? "I love southern writers, they are so unique. Faulkner was so great...and...and...Flannery O'Connor too. And All The King's Men was terrific". I love going to work on this kind of book and knowing actually what I talk about when its title shows up in a conversation. As far as the content is in question, Robert Penn Warren's magnus opus holds up and managed to keep me at its mercy for a whopping six hundred and sixty pages. Although, there's something about this novel that kept bugging me and throwing me out of the loop. Its form is split in between a very classic (somewhat too classic) narration and a weird, very modern (at the time) idea to put all the chapters in a chronologically scrambled order. I wouldn't mind either of them, but considering the length of the novel and the fact that they were both used by Warren made it for a frustrating puzzle sometimes.

The narrator is this guy named Jack Burden. He is the quintessential intellectual man, a history student becoming newspaper columnist and soon enough, aide to Governor Willie Stark, a fascinating, charismatic figure to him. All The King's Men is his story, intertwined with the political history of Willie Stark. In fact, due to an incident he will get pushed to provoke by his boss (that's how he describes Stark as soon as he gets hired, "the boss") will somehow strangely make his life and the political headline one and the same*. He will undergo a transformation from being the typical observing intellectual type (you know, the guy that judges everything from a distance) to being somebody directly implicated in history and acknowledging the importance of his time and place. 

It's a really ambitious book, that I can give Robert Penn Warren. That's a perk and a problem of All The King's Men. Since he prefers a very highly thematic approach to a chronological or even a situational one. Let me explain. It's one of those life-and-times-of novel. And that's exactly what you get, but instead of going in a chronological order, you keep skipping to important periods in Jack's life, like he was having a series of very long flashbacks. Time is an important theme in All The King's Men and it shows in all kinds of ways. Sometimes, the action will slow down to an unbelievable point where all there is on the page is a description of people masticating or a description of a face that moves. Warren keeps alternating in between long, lifetime-sized time frames and this sort of micro-management. Sometimes it's hard to adjust and you're left wondering what the fuck you're reading. All The King's Men has the pacing of a  free jazz tune.

But if you take a step away from it, you can't help but appreciate the scope of Robert Penn Warren's ideas. Novels that carry so many intellectual preoccupations such as time and history are rarely that packed with action and suspense and often consist of a dude, sitting on a rock, thinking about his life. Seeing Jack Burden tearing himself free from the world of ideas has something exhilarating. The non-chronological approach of Warren to his novel also underlines his idea that the moment is fabricated from your past and is somewhat dictating the future. All The King's Men is an intense gym class for your brain (and sometimes it shows in the stylistic choices of its writer) but it feels very rewarding to go through the trials of Jack Burden's life with him. It's very worthy of the Pulitzer Prize it got, but it's not for everyone. It's not the straightforward portrait of a crooked politician that people think it is. It's the life of a complicated intellectual who gets very involved in state politics. Definitively not everybody's cup of tea.

*I know I sound apocryphal here, but if I wouldn't I'd give you a huge spoiler.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pantera - Psycho Holiday

I have an interesting history with that song. I grew up around this very negative girl who kept whining about everything and nothing. "I can't wait to leave this shitty place" is something I heard a lot during my teenage years. I used to live in a very small, isolated town, so the word when you were fourteen was to scram as quick as you could. Of course most people ended up staying, but that's beside the point. So that girl left town a year before me and pretty much told everybody to go fuck themselves for three months before that. She went out with a bang.

But small towns being what they are, you can't escape them until you try really hard for a long period of time. We had news of this girl about one month after she left and she was doing a whole lot of weird stuff. The thing is, she joined some friends in a college out of town that were already there and having a new social life. You know how this is, when you leave for college you always prefer hanging out with new people. So girl kinda fell in the proverbial Rabbit Hole of solitude, sadness and the occasional alcohol soaked Saturdays and did some really spooky stuff to get some attention.  Anyway, things turned out well for her as she ended up really living town. She lives in Montreal now and I meet her sometimes in the subway. I pretend I don't recognize her and I mumble Psycho Holiday.

Pantera - Psycho Holiday

Empty and sweating
Head lying in your hands
Shaking in the corner
Done too much alcohol
Gotta get away from it all
'Cause it feels my blood is freezing
My self insanity has taken its toll
Frustration has taken its control

Now I'm far from home
Spending time alone
It's time to set my demons free
Been put to the test
My mind laid to rest
I'm on a psycho holiday

Shot down on sight
You are the target of attention
One woman here another there
You can't please all the people all the time
Can't tell the strangers
From the friends you know
Frustration has taken it's control

Now you're far from home
Spending time alone
It's time to set your demons free
Been put through the test
Your mind laid to rest
You're on a psycho holiday

I'm strapped in for life
Is this where I lived
Or where I died
You want my money
You take my space
My mind is telling me
To leave this place
My self insanity has taken its toll
Frustration has taken its control

Now you're far from home
Spending time alone
It's time to set your demons free
Been put through the test
Your mind laid to rest
You're on a psycho holiday

The Dead End Follies Goodreads Group

I know what you're thinking. Right now, what goes through your mind sounds like this: "Ben, you poor schmuck. This is another empty marketing trick that won't lead you anywhere. It's a waste of time". Well, if you bear with me for a second, there is a point behind this. At least on paper. Think of it as mix of an after-party lounge and a Kumite Pit. Whenever it's in the comments section or on Twitter, it's not an ideal setting for an extended discussion. For example, I had this tremendous discussion on Twitter the other day with Beth from Bookworm Meets Bookworm and Catherine from Zeteticat as whether booze, testosterone of pure, power-tripping stupidity had got the photographic representation of Anthony Weiner's penis on an unsuspecting woman's cell phone. It's hard to say whatever you have to say about it within a hundred and forty characters. So on Goodreads we go.

I invite you all to start discussions on the group and get to know the others. Invite your friends and all. I also invite the writers who read this blog (I know about ten or fifteen who do) to come and promote their stuff in the group. There are plenty of good writers around and I'm always glad to help good literature get the recognition it deserves.That said, I reserve myself the right to bump any discussion promoting self-published Christian YA Paranormal Urban Fantasy Romance because it's not what this site is about. If you read Dead End Follies, you know this. If you don't, I take for granted that you don't read the blog and you're trying to use the Goodreads group to squeeze a sale or two. So that's it. Whenever the discussion needs a comfortable setting for lengthy exchanges, I would be glad to see you all discuss together in the Dead End Follies Goodreads Group.

Literary Blog Hop Part 19 - The Edukators

The Literary Blog Hop is a blogging activity hosted by the girls of The Blue Bookcase. This are unconditionally awesome and you should pay them a visit. You should also participate to the hop, which becomes more rich and complex with every edition. This week's prompt is...

Should literature have a social, political, or any other type of agenda? Does having a clear agenda enhance or detract from its literary value?

This is a trapped question as the answer doesn't lie in a clear yes or no. Yet, the answer is C, both of these answers are correct. Every book teaches in the sense that every book is trying to answer a difficult existential question and then can be read in a political/social regard. It's never "just a story". There is always a larger message planted by the writer and to me, the fun of literature is to decipher what it is. But you all know my stance on this already. Here's what I have to add this week about this though.

To have efficient, yet not overbearing political/social content, a novel has to bury his purpose to a certain extent. For example, you never want to hang out with the person who tried too much. The nut job who's climbing on podiums and yelling out loud is always a little startling. A writer like Ayn Rand often drowns her narrative in a political concern and alienates readers that are not already convinced. To me, a novel must be like the cool cat you want to hang out with. That guy/girl that acts and lives in a meaningful manner. A novel must make you want to change your life before giving you a political discourse. At least that's the way I see it.

Spitting ideas and ready-made formulas might make you look intelligent, but it's not going to change anything. The eternal Kurt Vonnegut once said: "Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia". The once great Chuck Palahniuk did just that when he wrote Fight Club. The story was narrated from a first person point of view and talked directly to a single interlocutor. That's where the power of literature comes into play. It might seem silly to try to convince one person instead of a million, but if your novel in convincing enough it will go change a million people, one person at the time. It's a highly philosophical novel that reached to millions of young men and ended up being a game changer in today's society. It gave young men around the globe (and maybe young girls too, but it struck me as being man lit.) the will to be responsible for their own destiny and I like to think it contributed to the end of this Generation X/Slacker thing*.

I say every novel has a political/social agenda, whether the writer is conscious or not about it. It can both enhance of detract from its literary value.To be efficient, it cannot be totally upfront with its claims. Even George Orwell's 1984 hit under the belt a little bit. There is no and there will not be a totalitarian government that will reinvent language. But there IS a very successful show named Big Brother on television and a generation of viewers so detached from their history that they don't even know where the term comes from. Orwell made everything literal and understandable, but you have to go a little beyond what is offered on the page to understand that it's not an upfront dictatorial government that Orwell warned about, but censorship and the alienation from one's culture and history through language. Of course, the novel goes further than that, but you get the point.

Literature is political, but not overly political. Don't let the screaming fools confuse you.

*Notice I don't make claims here, because I don't have empirical evidence. Nobody does because literature is not an exact science...Hell, it's not even a science to begin with.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Idle Hands Are The Devil's Playground...

...I know, I know. Hear this. There was a terrible line at the cafeteria today. About fifteen people. So like an idiot I told myself  "Oh, let's walk under the sun, go pick up Winter's Bone from Indigo". I rewatched the movie last week-end and thought I should read the book and learn a thing or two. Then I went to the store and they were having a sale and next thing I know, I get out of there with four books. I figured out I had the money (it wasn't very expensive anyway), the time and the dedication to plow through this before my Amazon order is even shipped (which will happen by the second third of July). In the immortal words of Cole Phelps, let's see what we got.

Jim Thompson - The Getaway: THE Jim Thompson I wanted to read. For once, it was on the shelves so I picked it up faster than my shadow. It seems like a wanted commodity around here. That or they don't renew their Jim Thompson stock very often.

Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games: That was THE free book. I figured out I should get out of my comfort zone and get an opinion on this whopping best-seller. I am curious to know what does it bring to young readers. With a heroine named Katnip, it's already a good sign.

Daniel Woodrell - Winter's Bone: I got the edition with the shitty, movie tie-in cover but hey, beggars cannot be choosers. After re-watching the movie last week-end, I decided to buy the novel because I think Daniel Woodrell has a few things to teach me.

Duane Swierczynski - Fun & Games: I know Duane. We chit-chat on Twitter here and there. Since I have failed to win Fun & Games in Do Some Damage's short story contest so I thought I'd check it out anyway. The man had prime display on the first floor of Indigo. That's kind of huge. 

Free Rant About Summer Bookish Excitement

You know what's TRULY great about being a book blogger? I do some things only because I can. And here's a caffeine-fueled rant about something I just feel like sharing right now. I am dying to read Megan Abbott's latest novel, The End Of Everything. I pre-ordered it already. The funny thing about that is that I have never read any of her novels before. Even when I specifically looked for her stuff in New York, I didn't find any (OK, there aren't many book stores in Manhattan). There's just something about this cover, this title and this blurb that's calling me. It happens rarely but whenever it does, resistance is futile. Here's what the blurb says:

Thirteen-year old Lizzie Hood and her next door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable. They are best friends who swap bathing suits and field-hockey sticks, and share everything that's happened to them. Together they live in the shadow of Evie's glamorous older sister Dusty, who provides a window on the exotic, intoxicating possibilities of their own teenage horizons. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Evie's big-hearted father, is the world's most perfect place.

And then, one afternoon, Evie disappears.

There are many reasons why I go bonkers with anticipation over this. First, Megan Abbott is renowned as one of the best noir writers alive. The fact that she writes a book about innocence and suburban life is promising that something will go unspeakably wrong. Noir is often about people who are already broken in little pieces, but the prospective that there is something left to break is making me pathologically curious. And you know? I'm sure Lizzie's dreams and innocence won't be broken into pieces, but rather shattered into tiny little jagged splints.

The second reason is the freakin' title. The End Of Everything. Since I have first read it two months ago, I keep mumbling Cradle Of Filth's greatest success, From The Cradle To The Enslave. The chorus goes like this: 

This is the end of everything
Hear the growing chora that a new dawn shall bring

It's a song about the friggin' apocalypse. Put that, next to a suburban settings and the innocence of a thirteen years old going down the drain and you have nuclear fission on pages. The words are extremely strong. The End Of Everything. Means that the world as you know it is about to end. I don't know anything about Lizzie Hood, but I already like her. And I will read her adventures with great enthusiasm next month. And you should do the same. I'm sure it's going to own.

Talking of adventures and awesome titles, I have stumbled upon The Adventures Of Cash Laramie And Gideon Miles by Edward A. Grainger. That's about the most convincing title for a Western novel since like...ever? If I lived in the Far West, I would wholeheartedly trust men named Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles to work for me. But since it's an eBook, I'll have to buy a Kindle before I read it, something I'm already thinking about. But the title alone makes me want to read a western. Any western. 

Now excuse me as I go running and screaming down the hallway in frenzied excitement, McCauley Caulkin style. By noon, coffee should have worn off and my boss will find me sleeping over my desk, wondering what the fuck is going on.

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Being A Book Blogger

Happy birthday, Broke And Bookish. For this special week, they are hosting a very special Top Ten Tuesday that will require a little thinking outside the box (you see the oh-so-smart pun here?) Here are the top ten reasons why I love being a book blogger.

1-I obviously read more. It's always more fun when you have an audience. If you run a book-oriented blog like I do, you try to maintain a certain number of book reviews a month. That leads you to read more and find strategies to read more effectively. If I maintain my rhythm, I will read about seventy books this year, which is about twenty books more than last year. 

2-I gain perspective on what I do. I used to knock down books like beers on a good night at the bar. Now that I have to write about it, I'm getting more out of my readings. Or at least, I think I do. I used to barely understand some books, so now that I write few paragraphs about them, I must get something more from them. As small as it is. A tiny edge.

3-I meet great people. Blogging is a community based activity. No matter how nice you blog is, if you stay in your corner, you won't get as much traffic as if you're mingling with the others. I have met great bloggers whom I trade suggestions with and I even tapped into a community of writers that do the same genre than I do, so I can help promote their stuff.

4-The buzz. That's one of the great intangibles of book blogging. Literature is such a complete maze of different writers from different countries, writing different genres and being from different eras, it's hard to keep track of what's going on. If you use the blogosphere properly, you'll be keeping track of literary actualities and you'll be able to keep up with what's hot.

5-The ARCs. Yeah, they ARE fun. I'm not going to lie and pretend I'm a holier-than-thou butthole who does this for the sake of literature alone. They are fun, glamorous and very good for your blog. Reviewing a book who's about to come out means a lot of traffic for the next week and some street cred for you. If your review is about right, more people will base their choices on your opinion and you will gain influence.

6-It keeps me writing. That was the whole plan in the beginning. Start up a blog and keep writing everyday. Turn it into a nasty habit, like smoking. Two years later, I think it is safe to call Dead End Follies a great success on a personal level. I can count on my hands, the days in a year where I don't write.

7-The business aspect. It's a never-ending struggle, but it's been twenty-one months now and it's STARTING to get profitable. The brand is starting to get some recognition and I'm starting to get a few bucks from Google. It's petty convenience story money, but it's extremely rewarding to receive only a dime for something you put so much effort in.

8-It's a democratic industry. eBooks, bloggers and Amazon are changing the face of literature. If you're starting up a blog and you put decent effort into it, you're going to be a part of the game. You're going to dive in the publishing industry and start getting a better understand of how it works. Running a successful book blog has now a little weight with publishers.

9-It keeps the fractal experience of literature going strong. Whenever you feel like you've read everything from a certain writer you like, hit the blogosphere and research him. You will find fifteen writers he hung out with, twelve writers he hated and fifty-seven writers who are influenced by him. Then BOOM, you have eighty-four more writers to read. A few years of solid reading.

10-It's just a very educational thing. Book blogs aren't only about book reviews. You learn a ton of things about writers and about where they come from. Like, for example I didn't know what A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway was about and I had no intention to read it until I read some background on it. I ended up reviewing the damn thing  this month. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Off-Road Riding And A Typewriter

It's been a while since I have posted about my own writing. I have grown increasingly self-conscious about that, since so many people do it and don't know what the hell they're talking about. But many people who do, post on their writing whenever they feel the need and those posts/articles/essays/whatever are often more helpful than generic theory on writing fiction (that can be good too, but in moderate dose). I have started writing and sending some short stories like I wanted to. If you remember The Night I Almost Got Married, it's getting some love today over at Do Some Damage. I'm not sure whether I won or not, but it's beside the point. I am also working on another story, who will might get published this fall, but since it's still in the words, I'm going to keep quiet for now. Another bigger one is in the works, but this is a long shot. Writing short stories is a difficult challenge, but it's rewarding and educative to finish and shop some stuff.

Art can take you to strange places sometimes. The more you get a grasp on what you do, the more you realize you don't understand much. Doing the Ten Rules To Write Noir turned out to be something positive not only for the blog and for the guest writers, but for me as well. That series gave me a foothold in a small community of noir writers and reading, understanding what they do helped me understand my own writing better. By comparing their stories to mine I came to understand what worked and what didn't. I have this weird compulsion to wrap things up, that I think comes from my academic background. That is choking the life out of my characters sometimes.

I have fourteen chapters of Solace written and yet, those strong and haunting images I have in my mind were not on paper, because they didn't with the structure I imposed to my story for no good reason. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good stuff on paper but those strong scenes I first wanted in there are still unwritten. So I changed my strategy. I'm writing all those scenes now. I'm going to insert them into the story because they are why I started writing that goddamned novel in the beginning. I have already 3000 words and I esteem I'll end up with 10 000 words to mix and match. The rest will grow from it. I have rarely written more than a thousand words a day before, so three thousand in less than three hours kind of speaks for itself. That exercise led me to another discovery about writing, this one a lot more philosophical.

I think I now understand what "listening to your characters" mean. Unless you're the Mary Sue type, creating a character means you create an independent being with his own desires and need. Those needs aren't yours and to understand what they are you need to stop and listen to them. I always thought my characters were a little flat, but when I stopped and started listening to them for a bit, all those gritty, visceral and violent scenes came up to me. Some very minor characters also took the center stage and demanded more attention, because they had more to offer my story. It's weird and it's hard to keep track of everything, but I think I have finally found a personal method to write. Something that works for me and might not work at all for somebody else. That's leveling up Pokemon-Style right there. This writing thing is leading me to funny place indeed. I started it two years ago (not Solace, just writing in general) now, as a way to keep my head above the water and now I'm deep in the woods, playing Indiana Jones. 

Book Review : Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips - Criminal Vol. 5: The Sinners (2010)

Country: USA

Genre: Graphic Novel/Noir

Pages: 144

Criminal is a personal project of Marvel veteran writer Ed Brubaker. Its many chapters: Coward, Lawless, The Dead And The Dying, Bad Night and The Sinners are the stories of the thugs and criminals that live in Center City. It's a place where you shouldn't raise kids if you don't want them to hit the street by the time they're twelve. The Sinners is the second part of Tracy Lawless' story. The ex-solider has been working at making peace with his troubled past in Lawless, but now he has to work off his family's debt to local mobster Sebastian Hyde. There was indeed a feeling of unfinished business by the end of Lawless and The Sinners presented an interesting challenge for both Ed Brubaker and his character. Now that Tracy Lawless was back in town for good, could things get even worse?

One of the most original characters in Lawless was the loan sharking priest. Men of God often have otherworldly concern (I don't know like, any priest...ever?) or they enjoy the world they live in too much (think Reverend Childe in The Bastard Hand). It's rare to see a minister of the cult being into something cold and cruel like loan sharking. Well, as The Sinners start, that guy's dead. He got shot in the face point blank in what looks to be a gangland execution. But criminals are falling like flies all over the city and mastermind Sebastian Hyde doesn't know what the hell is going on. No other gang seems to be moving in, so he sends Tracy Lawless (who proved to be an unreliable hitman so far) to sort this thing out. And of course, these ghost executions were more than meets the eye.

I don't know about this. I felt that Lawless was good, but that it played safe a little. Within the noir sandbox. It didn't try to push my buttons. I expected The Sinners to push the envelope a little further, but it didn't. Once again, it went playing in a very crowded sandbox, the divine retribution stories. This happened quite a lot before and reading it over again in Criminal somewhat pulled the plug for me. Once again, it's done very well. The characters are strong, the setting in great (the Chinatown parts are amazing) but it's all been done so many times before. Aspects of noir have often been used for comic books. Batman being the quintessential example. I have a limited knowledge about comic, but Criminal is the first full-fledged classic hardboiled/noir story I have seen in a comic book. Was that meant to be an introduction? Or was it meant for Ed Brubaker to be a first swipe at the genre before moving to more serious things? Not sure.

The Sinners isn't a bad read per se, but it's not challenging or surprising in any way. I find that using God as a justification for that whole justice Vs law duality is a bit of an easy way out. Anything BUT God would make it completely unique. Clint Eastwood's Sudden Impact and Dexter are good examples of this. It's even more disappointing because Ed Brubaker used the Church in a very twisted way in Lawless, but the fact that it's the second adventure of Tracy Lawless and that it's less enticing than the first one kind of left me on my appetite. Criminal Vol. 5 - The Sinners does some things very well and has difficulty not falling in cliché plot twists for some others. You should still read it though. Especially if you've read Lawless first. One good reason? It has the most exhilarating, most satisfying last panel. And that's pretty much the biggest surprise of the whole series and it leaves you yelling a big, fat, dirty :"YEAH". Rare are the stories who have an ending that lives up to it, but The Sinners does. It's your average noir sundae with a succulent cherry on top.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Radio Radio - Dekshoo

Here is a nice Sunday beat for you. It's local product and 200% original. Don't worry if you can't understand what Radio Radio rap about, it's a strange mix of French and English spoken by the francophone people of the Atlantic Canada. These three guys are getting gradually popular and since the release of their third album Belmundo Regal, they are burning down the house everywhere they go. They were surprise guests to a show Josie and I went last night and their completely highjacked the scene. Festive beats, great stage presence and most important , they leave politics in the locker room. It's been a while in French Canada since we had people who would make music that would be just fun to hear. These guys are doing it just right. No lyrics (it's not necessary), just a killer song...and did I mention the video kicked ass?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ten Rules To Write Noir - Interlude (ft. Elmore Leonard)

Ten Rules To Write Noir takes a little break before its final edition. During this break, let's see what Elmore Leonard thinks about it. The video quality is somewhat disappointing, but the message is what's important no? The man wrote novels like Swag, Get Shorty and The Hunted. He has quite a few interesting (and unique) things to add to what has already been said about the subject.

Book Review : Matthew McBride - Frank Sinatra In A Blender (2011)

Country: USA

Genre: Crime/Noir

Pages: 225 (517 KB)

If you want to order Frank Sinatra In A Blender (which I strongly suggest you do), you can go there.

Forget everything you know about crime fiction. Forget what you thought you know about P.Is, drunks and violence in literature. Nothing can prepare you for Frank Sinatra In A Blender. Matthew McBride's first novel is an assault on your senses and on human morals in general. He is an offensive writer that skilfully depicts the worst in mankind and yet, does it with a sense of humor that will leave you disturbed for many years, but not depressed. It is only available as an eBook so far, but I would tell you that it's the best reason yet to buy an eReader. If you thought Guy Ritchie's gangsters were tough guys, guess again. If you thought you needed a stomach to watch Takashi Miike's movies, you might want to reconsider that. Nothing can prepare you for Nick Valentine and the underworld of St-Louis.

If I'm referring to film directors a lot, it's because McBride's style is very visual. That's the beauty of it. Frank Sinatra In A Blender's plot is very simple. I would go as far as saying it's paper thin. But it doesn't matter, because it holds up spectacularly well. Two idiots rob a St-Louis credit union with a bakery truck. Of course, it goes wrong and the money starts changing hands at an increasing speed. That's all there is. Burning hot money, and a cast of joyous, trigger-happy psychos, hell-bent on getting their hands on it. Throw into this Nick Valentine, private investigator and functioning alcoholic, and you get a very entertaining story about how shitty people can get whenever money is involved. They make something that should have been SO simple, very complicated.

Frank Sinatra In A Blender is all about its cast. Nick Valentine has to be the very best drunk I have ever read about. Not only is he the funniest guy, but his drunken behavior has a very subtle, realistic touch. It's half-way in between performance and lack of inhibition. But don't let that fool you, he's quite apt around weapons and has the trust of both law enforcement and local thugs. Joe Parker, English Sid Godwin and Johnny No Nuts are also a fun bunch, but they are just demented enough to make you fear them. Matthew McBride keeps switching his point of view throughout the novel, from first person for Valentine, to third person when the heist is involved on a larger case. I found it brilliant, because it gave a life to the money everybody was after. It became the second main character, like a very elusive siren.

I didn't find anything to compare Frank Sinatra In A Blender to, but I didn't find anything to dislike about it. Everything is off and defies the rules, but everything works. The point of view constantly switches from first to third person, the tone of the novel drastically switches from humorous to dark (and disturbingly humorous) about a hundred pages in. It's just short and bulky enough to hold the road and climax into that unspeakable ending. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but it's disturbing as all hell and completely free. A good, swift kick in the nuts to finish the two hundred pages beating McBride puts you through. Frank Sinatra In A Blender will offend the well-thinking, get religious fundamentalist to undergo therapy for many years and will leave you permanently scarred. To me, that's literature at it's best. A good novel is supposed to stay with you and Frank Sinatra In A Blender packs enough punch for that. Read this and let Matthew McBride work his number on your mind.

Movie Review : Restrepo (2010)



Recognizable Faces:

The Battle Company 2nd Of The 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade

Directed By:

Tim Hetherington
Sebastian Junger

Every single argument I ever had about the war on terror ended up like this - "Who are you to know, Ben? Do you have intel from within the government? If they are over there, I'm sure there is a very good reason". I cannot answer anything to that, because I never went to war, to see for myself. I'm sure I would step on a landmine after three to four minutes anyway. Thanks to the kind and courageous cast of Restrepo and the nutcases at National Geographic, there is now a documentary that presents one of the rawest war experiences. Tim Hetherington and Sebastien Junger follow the terrifying journey of American soldiers in the Kornegal valley, a place identified as the most dangerous deployment in Afghanistan. After viewing Restrepo, I'd say it's only a place where American soldiers are not welcome.

What the movie does best is to show the tremendous gap in between the American plan and the life in Kornegal valley. There are wonderful scenes where Captain Dan Kearney is discussing with the village elders about the plans to construct a road through the valley. He promises economic wealth and a better future, but you can see it doesn't make any sense to them. The people of Kornegal valley live simply and despite having a rough go, they don't know anything else. Imagine a New York executive making his way to the south, telling the fine people of Louisiana they're going to change the way they live for the distant promise of economic wealth. It doesn't make sense. They just live differently. Of course, there's no war going on in Louisiana. But I stand by my example. The U.S Army left the Kornegal valley in April of 2010. It's a good thing, I don't think they could have ever changed it.

Another beautiful scene that exposes the non-sense of war happens when they kick start the Rock Avalanche mission. The goal was to debunk some Taliban out of their hideout, but after a series of air strikes, they realized that they had bombed families. Dan Kearney interrogates this man, who just got his house bombed and his daughters injured. He wants to know about the Taliban positioning. That man didn't speak my language, lived according to traditions that I don't know and looked just alien to me. But the anger on his face was so pure and intense. What he said basically (according to the translator) was: "You bombed my house, you maimed my daughters, why in the blue fuck would I help you". War makes sense from a bird's eye view, but when you zoom in, it's a different story. Restrepo is as close as it gets to the everyday grind of war.

The field footage is often cut with interviews of the surviving soldiers of O.P Restrepo (a camp named after a the charismatic soldier Juan Restrepo, who got killed in combat). None of them is happy and none of them, except maybe for Dan Kearney are convinced they did something right. And even then, you often see doubt in the Captain's eyes. Private Miguel Cortez is the only one smiling through the interview process, but his smile is one of the saddest things I've ever seen. It's like a twitch, a memento from a better time than now. There is no real climax to Restrepo, no real over-the-top emotional moments, but this actually works FOR the movie. It displays war as something violent and chaotic, but it doesn't dramatize it in any way. That's a ballsy move from the filmmakers because it requires the viewer a lot of focus if there's no straight narrative to follow. But it works out because Restrepo sheds some light on a reality that was never presented like this. War at its purest, most ruthless form. Hats off National Geographic, this is a grinding experience.

SCORE: 93%