Category Archives: books
Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror
edited by Laurie Lamson
Many writing tutorials promise exercises and prompts, but fall short on delivery. The Now Write! series, however, offers multiple applicable exercises for each chapter of instruction. Dozens of contributors give their best practices to get you writing better and more often. Some of these writers are pretentious and their snobbery jumps off the page within the first few sentences of their article, but if the reader can see through the author’s ego, the exercises are still worth the time.
That said, there are some very helpful chapters in Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Jessica Page Morrell’s “The Villain’s Handbook” is a primer for creating memorable monsters. Janice Hardy’s “So, What Do You Know? Deepening Your World Building Through Point of View” helps you get to know not only your characters but the world they live in, which helps you inform your audience through the character’s point of view. Jay Lake’s “Flashing Yourself” is great for warm-up writing to get your creativity flowing.
The resources in Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror are particularly helpful to young writers still trying to find their place in the world, but also serve as good reminders to those who have been writing for decades.
Purchase Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror edited by Laurie Lamson or explore other titles in the Now Write! series.
Tales From The Deadball Era
by Mark S. Halfon
Potomac Books, 2014
The basics of the game of baseball will never change. There will always be a pitcher throwing a ball to a batter whose goal is to hit the ball into play, reach base, and eventually score a run. But the way those basics are approached and the equipment used in the execution has changed vastly. Mark S. Halfon takes readers of Tales From The Deadball Era back to a much different game featuring some of the all-time greats like Ty Cobb and Cy Young. Though their names are still huge today, Halfon examines the obstacles they overcame to achieve greatness.
During the first two decades of the twentieth century, pitchers had many advantages over hitters. Dirty, lopsided baseballs were hard to hit because they were hard to see; they were hard to hit far because of the way they were manufactured. The dimensions of the ballparks were so vast that a batted ball rarely went over the fence; most home runs were inside-the-park incidents. Spit balls and emery balls and other “freak” pitches were allowed. Batters adjusted the way they approached the plate, choking up on a heavier bat to give them a better chance of hitting the ball where they wanted to hit it.
Cheating and gambling were not only commonplace, such activities were often condoned so long as it was done for the benefit of the team. Attitudes changed eventually, evidenced by the handling of the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal of 1919. Speaking of the “Black Sox,” the author debunks many of the myths that have been passed down through the years by researching the news stories of that time, shedding light on some of the misconceptions of how baseball was perceived in the aftermath.
Baseball was a tougher game during the deadball era, one that would surprise and confuse and possibly appall fans of the modern game. Halfon transports his readers back to that time, giving them an inside look at the minds of the baseball legends of that day. Tales From The Deadball Era is highly recommended for baseball history buffs.
by Denise Jaden
New World Library, 2014
Books about writing are a dime a dozen, and all contain essentially the same information: identifying your characters, your setting, and your theme; formulating your plot and your scenes; bringing that all together to write a cohesive novel. The first half of Denise Jaden’s Fast Fiction is essentially just that, perhaps using some different words and ideas to get the point across, but the point ends up being the same. However, Jaden ends the first half of her instruction manual on novel writing with a challenge that may be familiar to those who have participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): write your goal down in writing, with a start date and end date, along with either daily word counts or time commitments.
The true value of Jaden’s Fast Fiction, however, is found in the second half of the book. The book is named Fast Fiction because it designed to help one write the first draft of a novel fast—fifty thousand words in thirty days, or approximately 2000 words each day. Daily encouragement, with prompts for those times that the creativity isn’t quite flowing or the writing seems dry. Each day is filled with motivation and inspiration, a little push to keep you going, and a reminder of where you should be in your story.
Fast Fictionis an essential part for every writer’s arsenal, one that can be used anew with each literary project. I will begin writing my novel using Jaden’s guidance, and I encourage you to do the same.
Ask More, Get More
by Michael Alden
Emerald Book Company, 2014
If you suffer from insomnia, you have probably seen Michael Alden on an late-night television infomercial. He is the CEO and founder of Blue Vase Marketing, LLC, and is a wealthy man despite his upbringing as a poor kid in a poor neighborhood. Alden’s success came from a determination to ask more of himself from a young age, and through the pages of Ask More, Get More he encourages his readers to do the same, claiming to teach “how to earn more, save more, and live more…just by asking.”
Ask More, Get More is not a get-rich-quick scheme, nor is it a proponent of mooching off the government with no view to self-sufficiency. Rather, the book attempts to instill in the reader a determination to receive better things by doing better things. Taking advantage of the opportunities—mostly created by each individual—and asking for more of yourself in each situation. Alden tells several motivational stories from his own life, including his own failures and shortcomings. Rather than making excuses for those times that he did not immediately succeed, he takes responsibility and encourages others to prepare for bumps in the road.
Ask More, Get More is a motivational book that is full of not-so-common sense that will help you get more out of yourself and others that work with you, no matter what your lot in life. If this is something that appeals to you, I will do what the book suggests and ask if you would consider purchasing it by clicking on the “purchase” link below.
Sit & Solve Baseball Crosswords
by David J. Kahn
Puzzlewright Press, 2014
Spring training is underway and the regular season is right around the corner; baseball is on the minds of millions of fans across the country. Crossword puzzles are a great way to exercise one’s mind, and with David J. Kahn’s new series of baseball crossword puzzles, one can exercise his mind while thinking about baseball at the same time!
The forty-two never-before-published puzzles in Sit & Solve Baseball Crosswords range from medium to difficult, with an emphasis on America’s pastime. If you know who the name of the Hall of Famer with the .331 batting average, or the 1988 NL MVP, or the last player to wear uniform #42, then you can take a crack at some of these puzzles. There are general knowledge questions as well, but the baseball historian will surely be able to figure out even the most obscure non-baseball clues by filling in the answers he is sure of.
While the are not all easy, they are all fun. Sit & Solve Baseball Crosswords would make a great gift for any baseball fan, one sure to keep them entertained for hours.
At The Old Ballgame: Stories from Baseball’s Golden Era
edited by Jeff Silverman
Lyons Press, 2014
As a fan of baseball history, I love to immerse myself in books about the players and teams of the past. Rarely, though, do I see a book that goes all the way back to the turn of the twentieth century. At The Old Ballgame, edited by Jeff Silverman, does just that. Silverman presents a number of stories, poems, and articles from 1867-1921, both fictional tales and actual accounts of games.
On the fictional side, you can’t get any better than “Casey At The Bat,” the epic poem penned by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, and Grantland Rice’s sequel, “Casey’s Revenge.” Ring Lardner’s satirical “My Roomy” is also included, and I found myself laughing several times as the author claimed he would be happy to sign for the coming season as long as he could pick his own roommate.
The historical pieces are fascinating as well, a snapshot of different aspects of the game. Christy Mathewson writes about jinxes. Grover Cleveland Alexander explains his performance in the 1915 World Series. Candy Cummings describes his discovery of the curveball. A Chicago reporter opines that the 1919 World Series was won fair-and-square, despite the rumors.
There will be a great deal written and talked about this world’s series. There will be a lot of inside stuff that never will be printed, but the truth will remain that the team which was the hardest working, which fought hardest, and which stuck together to the end won. The team which excelled in mechanical skill, which had the ability, individually, to win, was beaten.
Twenty-two old-time pieces gives us a glimpse into the game as it was played during simpler times. At The Old Ballgame is perfect for baseball lovers of all ages.
The Ax Murders of Saxtown
by Nicholas J. C. Pistor
Lyons Press, 2014
Nothing titillates the imagination more than unsolved crime, and the more gruesome the better. In 1874, a terrible event occurred to a German family in Saxtown, Illinois—a heinous murder that took out not only the adults, but two very small children. With no witnesses and no reliable evidence, investigators were forced to rely on suspicion to formulate theories and make arrests. They were unable, however, to obtain a confession, and the case has remained unsolved for over a century.
Author Nicholas J. C. Pistor, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, digs into the history of the Stelzriede murder in The Ax Murders of Saxtown. He paints a picture of the crime scene, the bloodied bodies, and the mob awaiting justice on the property outside. The prominent figures are profiled, both on the side of the law (educator Isaiah Thomas, Sheriff James W. Hughes) and under the cloud of suspicion (George Schneider, George Killian, and others). Pistor gets no closer to the truth today than Thomas and Hughes did in the nineteenth century, but gives a very detailed account of the various theories surrounding the case.
For those who enjoy tales of true crime and unsolved mysteries, The Ax Murders of Saxtown is a good read.
Today, I took my youngest son to the Blue Manatee Bookstore in Cincinnati to meet one of his favorite authors, Dan Gutman. Gutman has written hundreds of books, and is currently on tour to promote Genius Files 4: From Texas With Love (which will be available everywhere tomorrow). The books that first got Derek (and myself) interested in Gutman come from the Baseball Card Adventures Series, and feature players such as Shoeless Joe Jackson, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams. In the photo below, you can see Gutman signing Ted & Me for Derek.
So far, there are eleven books in the Baseball Card Adventures series. Unfortunately, there will be only one more. Gutman is currently researching and writing Willie & Me, a book set in 1951. Baseball fans will remember that is the year of “The Shot Hear ‘Round The World,” the famous home run hit by Bobby Thomson to clinch the NL Pennant for the New York Giants. “Willie” in the book’s title refers to Willie Mays. This will be the first time Gutman has used a living ballplayer as a title character in the series.
Derek got two books signed; his copy of Ted & Me and the new Genius Files book, which was made available a day early to those in attendance. Gutman is a very personable guy, and a great writer. If you have elementary school children, or you enjoy good fictional books about baseball, grab a Dan Gutman book from your local library.
The Who’s Who of Doctor Who
by Cameron K. McEwan
Race Point Publishing, 2014
Doctor Who is still going strong after fifty years, but to enjoy the program and all it has to offer one has to understand the characters and how they relate to each other. And with fifty years worth of characters, there is a lot to learn. The Who’s Who of Doctor Who is a handy reference to do just that. Character sketches of each of the Doctor’s incarnations, his companions, his friends and his foes give readers an understanding of the people on the screen. No, not the actors—their names are never even mentioned by the author—but the actual characters, presented to the reader as real people.
Photographs are abundant inside the pages of The Who’s Who of Doctor Who, as are illustrations by Andrew Skilleter, who was associated with the program from 1979 through 1995. This is not the first time his Doctor Who artwork has appeared in book form; in 1995 Blacklight: The Art of Andrew Skilleter was published showcasing his artistic appreciation for the BBC franchise.
Author Cameron K. McEwan is no novice either, but the mastermind behind Blogtor Who, one of the best DW fan sites on the internet. The Who’s Who of Doctor Who is well researched and well written and is perfect for new DW fans as well as old fans that are a bit rusty on the classic series.
Wrigley Field: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Chicago Cubs
by Ira Berkow
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014
If Les Krantz’s book (posted yesterday) is a leadoff hitter for books about Wrigley Field’s centennial, Ira Berkow’s volume is the cleanup slugger. From the foreword by pitcher Kerry Wood to the forty pages of “Wrigley Memories” by players, politicians, and other celebrities, and all the history in between, Berkow has delivered the definitive word on the history of the Cubs’ park.
Wrigley Field: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Chicago Cubs will not leave you wanting for photographs, as nearly every page features images of Cubs greats from throughout the years. Interviews with Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Greg Maddux, Don Zimmer and more are weaved into the text creating a narrative that blends the views from the pressbox with the dugout. The lion’s share of this volume is dedicated to the baseball team, with just a small section near the end—six pages to be exact—delving into the football and hockey events held at Wrigley.
While the year is still young and many more will be published, it is difficult to imagine that a more in-depth book about Wrigley Field’s first 100 years will be released. Berkow truly hits it out of the park with Wrigley Field: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Chicago Cubs. This is a book that every baseball fan must own.
Wrigley Field: The Centennial
by Les Krantz
Triumph Books, 2013
192 pages, plus a 42-minute DVD
The Chicago Cubs’ home ballpark is turning 100 years old this year, and along with a centennial celebration numerous merchandisers will be looking to cash in with memorabilia to mark the occasion. A number of books on Wrigley Field will appear in bookstores, and some have already gone on sale; among them is Triumph Books’ Wrigley Field: The Centennial by Les Krantz, released a few months ago. This particular release comes with a bonus DVD documentary narrated by Lou Boudreau Jr. and Ron Santo Jr.
All of the major events are covered in the book, from Lou Gehrig’s high school home run to Babe Ruth’s called shot, the rivalry between the Chicago Bears and Sammy Baugh’s Washington Redskins, Stan Musial’s 3000th hit, highlights of Gale Sayers exploits on the gridiron, Harry Caray in the booth, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, and of course, Steve Bartman. In addition to team highlights, several individual players are given a brief biography throughout the book, such as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Andre Dawson. Wrigley Field: The Centennial is an informative book that serves as a good primer for those just discovering the wonders of the Friendly Confines.
The accompanying DVD features something no book can: moving pictures. It’s always a pleasure to see footage of baseball greats from other eras, and there is no shortage of vintage video here. The narration is a bit dry and the dialogue sounds forced, which is disappointing coming from the sons of two legends. But if you can overlook that shortcoming (or if you have a mute button on your remote control), the DVD is a nice bonus.
There will be plenty of competition for Wrigley Field fanatics from other publishers, but Les Krantz does a good job leading off the 100-year celebration with Wrigley Field: The Centennial. Cubs fans and baseball history buffs will enjoy this offering.
You Can Change Your Life
by Rob Yeung
Pan Macmillan, 2013
As the new year approaches, the minds of many turn to resolutions: breaking bad habits and making positive changes. By the time March rolls around, however, many of those resolutions have been broken. Year after year, resolution after resolution, failures mount. How can one stick to those personal promises and actually change his behavior? Author Rob Yeung offers what he calls “easy steps to getting what you want” in his latest book, You Can Change Your Life.
Even with “easy steps,” the journey to change is difficult. Yeung, a psychologist, acknowledges the difficulty, but argues that by changing one behavior at a time rather than tackling an entire list (as many attempt at the beginning of the year), success is more likely. Yeung presents several studies, self-tests, and other helps to guide the reader towards the change he desires. Included after the main text is “The Change Manifesto” and “Motivation Toolkit” to help one stay on track.
If you are serious about making a resolutions that stick, implementing the suggestions in Yeung’s You Can Change Your Life could help immensely.
Doctor Who: A History
by Alan Kistler
Lyons Press, 2013
Fifty years is a long time, especially when it comes to television. For a program to last that long—through changes in cast and culture—is quite a feat. Doctor Who debuted in November, 1963, and enjoys more popularity now—fifty years later—than ever before. Children and adults adore the program, and it is finally more than just a cult hit in America.
Comic book historian Alan Kistler examines the classic British program from its very genesis, including the original pitch and evolution of the premise and characters. Each of the first eleven personalities to take on the role of The Doctor are profiled, with background information on the actors and the mannerisms they brought to the role. Special attention is given to the companions and other supporting characters, and of course the TARDIS. The behind-the-scenes players, from Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert to Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, are given their proper due.
From beginning to end, this is a comprehensive look at one of the most beloved television shows in history. Any fan will absolutely love Doctor Who: A History.
Alternative Movie Posters
by Matthew Chojnacki
Schiffer Books, 2013
Hollywood ain’t what it used to be, and neither are the film posters hanging in movie theaters to promote new movies. But movie fans are a creative bunch, and a passionate bunch, and creativity and passion are combined with talent there is no limit to what can be accomplished. Look at all the fantastic fan films for Star Wars and Batman and countless other fictional worlds that are produced purely for fun. Similarly, artists have professed their love for movies by creating print film advertisements that exceed the quality of what you see on the theater walls. Matthew Chojnacki has collected examples of some of the best in Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground.
There is no shortage of variety in these posters. Some have a distinct 1970s VHS boxart feel to them, such as Justin Osbourn’s send-up for Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon on page 198. Others are styled after comic books, like Adam Limbert’s illustration for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy on page 130, or present a more sinister atmosphere than the film itself, such as Bobby O’Herlihy’s Ghostbusters on page 80. My personal favorite is from Garbage Pail Kids/Cereal Killers artist Joe Simko; he captured the essence of Killer Klowns from Outer Space on page 132.
The book itself is nicely done. The artwork is prominently displayed on the 8 ½ by 11 page, and there is room at the bottom of each page for tidbits about the artists’ influences and favorite films. Many of the artists’ websites are also listed in the book and can be contacted for commissions. Alternative Movie Posters would make an excellent gift for any film buff and is one of the most enjoyable art books I have seen this year.
The Art of Movie Storyboards
by Fionnuala Halligan
Ilex Press, 2013
Films can be considered art on so many levels. There is, of course, the movie as a whole, the individual parts of the movie (from the acting to the set to the cinematography), and the advertising posters for the movie. But before any of that can be considered art, you have to start with something more primitive: the movie storyboards. Film critic Fionnuala Halligan has collected a wide variety of storyboards in The Art of Movie Storyboards: Visualising the Action of the World’s Greatest Films. The sketches are often rough representations of the final product, but the extent to which they are used by directors and actors show how important they are to what we eventually see on the big screen.
Movies represented here include Gone With The Wind, Psycho, The Birds, Rebel Without A Cause, West Side Story, Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and many more. Some are instantly recognizable, while others require a bit more imagination. These are, however, all original storyboards, some illustrated by legends of the craft, others anonymous works that contributed to the greatest movies ever made.
Halligan writes in the preface, “Although storyboards are, by their very nature, quick and disposable, they are very much an art form, one which goes much deeper than the strip: they work at a very profound level of the filmmaking process.” She does a fantastic job of collecting them for posterity in this volume. The Art of Movie Storyboards would be a fine addition to any filmmaker’s library.
Rewrite: A Step-By-Step Guide To Strengthen Structure, Characters, And Drama In Your Screenplay, 2nd edition
by Paul Chitlik
Michael Wiese Productions, 2013
Writing is tough. A writer has to be patient and resilient to sit down and stare at a blank screen and then fill it with words that someone else will want to read. A writer has to want to write, and to share what he has written. Writing is tough.
But rewriting is tougher. Rewriting requires a person to take what they have created, kill it, and then try to bring it back to life. The author of Rewrite: A Step-By-Step Guide To Strengthen Structure, Characters, And Drama In Your Screenplay, 2nd edition is Paul Chitlik, a clinical assistant professor in screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television. Chitlik takes conventional wisdom and organizes it in a neat, step-by-step manner for the reader with exercises designed to make one’s first draft more presentable.
The information contained within the pages of Rewrite can be gleaned from other sources, but here it is presented all in one place. If the exercises are followed chapter-by-chapter, the reader should come away with a better second draft by the end of the book.
Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany
by Jovanka Vuckovic
Ilex Press, 2013
A brilliant crash course on all things macabre, Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany covers everything from music to movies to history in short form. Impossible to go in-depth on any subject in such a small space, author Jovanka Vuckovic introduces a slew of topics for readers to research further on their own as they delve into the wonderful world of horror.
Articles include “Men, Women, and Chainsaws,” “Attack of the Fifties ‘B’ Movie,” and “On the Origin of Horror Fiction, the Castle of Otranto.” There are also brief profiles of H.P. Lovecraft, Vincent Price, and Dario Argento, and overviews of the franchises A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. Vuckovic includes several lists—“Five Famous Graveyard Poems,” “10 Must-See Fifties Horror Films,” and “10 Best Horror Movie Taglines”—and quotes from horror’s heavy hitters like Guillermo del Toro and Mary Shelley.
A bit of organization—either chronological or alphabetical—could have made it even valuable, but it is short enough that topics of interest can easily be found (not to mention there is a handy index at the end). Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany is a fantastic primer, highly recommended for anyone just getting into horror.
Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories To Watch Before You Die
by Graeme Burk & Robert Smith?
ECW Press, 2013
Doctor Who is an institution, a television program that transcends television. Its immense popularity increases with each regeneration, but at fifty years old it is a daunting task to immerse one’s self into the entirety of the universe. Authors Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? seek to help the newcomers to Doctor Who lore in Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories To Watch Before You Die. With so many of these stories available on DVD (check your local library) or Netflix, it’s quite simple to catch up on the most important events of the Doctor’s television run.
Though the front cover only shows silhouettes of Tom Baker, David Tennant, and Matt Smith, all of the incarnations of the Doctor are represented in the book. Burk and Smith? examine each of these stories with a critical eye that a true fan should appreciate. They do not hide their love for the characters, yet are not afraid to point out shortcomings in the writing or acting in particular episodes. This is a book written for fans by fans, and the passion of the authors is evident.
An important volume for fans of both the classic and the new series, if you want an in-depth discussion of Doctor Who episodes throughout the decades, Who’s 50 is definitely your go-to guide.
The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper
by James Carnac
If it be true, this volume that purports to be written by Jack the Ripper himself is a historical document without equal in recent times. If fiction, it is a fascinating piece that allows the reader to follow the killer’s supposed footsteps, creating a compelling backstory and interesting postscript. The book is divided into three parts: the first detailing James Carnac’s youth, the second recounting the “Whitechapel atrocities” and the reason for the his abrupt retirement, and the final part laying out an interesting series of events that allegedly occurred four decades after the final Ripper slaying.
There is some question as to whether this Carnac person ever existed, and if he did, if these events are a truthful telling of his life or simply taking credit for another’s crimes through careful research. Paul Begg, a noted student of Jack the Ripper, doubts the veracity of the third part of the manuscript if not the entire work.
In truth, we will likely never know the true identity of Jack the Ripper, be it this Carnac character or some other suspect previously examined. But The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper is a gripping read, regardless of the truth of its contents.
Writing The Horror Movie
by Marc Blake and Sara Bailey
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013
From Dracula to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees to Hannibal Lecter, the iconic characters of horror seem to pervade pop culture more than any other genre. This time of year inspires countless aspiring screenwriters to start their own project, to create their own monster, to dream of giving birth to the next horror icon. Understanding any genre is necessary for success, and authors Marc Blake and Sara Bailey give future filmmakers a foundation in fright in Writing The Horror Movie.
Blake and Bailey examine many the most popular horror movies, their characters and structure, demonstrating what makes them work. The books starts slow, but it pays to stick with it past the first couple of chapters. The chapters on the five tropes, creating the nemesis, the three acts and cross-genres are especially insightful. The inclusion of a handful of writing exercises in chapter 14 almost seem to be an afterthought; exercises at the end of each chapter would have been more beneficial. Despite this shortcoming, Writing The Horror Movie is full of useful information and inspiration.
If the horror movie marathons this Halloween season have motivated you to finally focus on your scary screenplay, Writing The Horror Movie is an excellent book to help you through the basics of the process.