Book Review: Grey Cat Blues by J.D. Cowan

J.D. Cowan has finally answered the question of how to distill the sensibilities of a 1950s gang movie with interstellar, quasi-dystopian sci-fi, an 8- or 16-bit era beat ’em up, and dash of rockabilly music.

It doesn’t matter that no one specifically asked that question. All that matters is that we now know the result: Grey Cat Blues.

This is a really fun book that packs a lot into its pages. Imagine The Outsiders meets Double Dragon (complete with the game’s post-apocalyptic storyline) on a forgotten, colonized rain-covered planet straight out of a film noir.

Two-Tone is an ex-member of the Jet Boys, one of the most formidable gangs in Cordova City on the planet Achaea. On the wrong side of 25, Two-Tone tries to live a normal life with a normal office job, his violent past behind him. Until one day he gets a call from his old gang buddy A-Rail to come and have a few drinks. This is where things go haywire.

See, Cordova City is but one of many cities on Achaea, walled off from each other with little contact between them. Gangs are bad enough, but the weird mud-men who attack Two-Tone are something entirely different. They take A-Rail, and somehow Two-Tone ends up back in his apartment. Just a weird night out, right? Not to Two-Tone. There’s no way he’s going to leave his pal at the mercies of those mud-covered freaks. Armed with his chain and a sense of right and wrong–and aided by a mysterious woman who seems to know his phone number–Two-Tone is off on his mission of revenge, which might even include getting the gang back together. And who’s that mysterious dame hanging out at the warehouse where the shadowy mobster Sarpedon, Two-Tone’s target, is holed up?

If this sounds like your thing, I highly recommend Grey Cat Blues. It’s not just the plot which is entertaining–action-packed, full of heart, and hints of a larger world on Achaea–but Cowan’s style. He nails the tone, mixing high technology with sensibilities out of a 1940s hard-boiled crime story. The fights are brisk, the tough-guy patter is spot on, each character has memorable speech patterns and personality ticks, and the mystery keeps you engrossed until the conclusion, which arrives sooner than I would’ve expected.

This is not to say Grey Cat Blues felt rushed. I just wanted it to go on longer.

Continue reading “Book Review: Grey Cat Blues by J.D. Cowan”

An Undisciplined Writer

Did you know that Walter B. Gibson, creator of the wildly popular character The Shadow and prolific author of hundreds of stories and novels, one time typed so much his wife was forced to intervene because he broke his damn fingers typing?

Damn.

I learned this on my buddy JimFear138’s most recent podcast, where he talked to another friend of mine, Rawle Nyanzi, about all things genre (and why genre doesn’t really matter these days; check out J.D. Cowan’s recent post about this if you’re interested in the premise).

Anyway, the point is that these guys in the 20s, 30s, and that general era wrote fast. And they produced quality.

This, of course, translates into money. You can see why guys like Nick Cole and Jason Anspach have been so successful with their Galaxy’s Edge series, both with the fans and financially.

Information like this, of course, has the tendency to produce self-reflection, and I realize one vital fact about myself: I am a very undisciplined writer.

Seriously. I don’t really enjoy the actual act of writing. Maybe it’s because I don’t like sitting still for that long. I don’t think it’s necessarily a focus thing, because given the right objective, I can be occupied for hours.

And writing can be like that, when I get into a groove. It’s just that getting into said groove can be a challenge.

This gets me wondering if it’s a free time issue: Free time is so limited, as it is for most of us, that I almost have a checklist of things I’d like to do–work out, read, check some website I’m fond of–before I get to the writing, which can sometimes feel like work. So I’m scheduling writing time–I keep this blog going, after all, I’ve written several novels, and I’m getting others ready for publication–but I can’t shake that I could be doing more with my time.

Is it a balance issue, then? What if I wrote to the exclusion of other things I like to do with my time? I know what would happen: I’;d feel as guilty as I would if I, say, worked out to the exclusion of my writing and other things that interest me.

And then I look to my heroes in writing the way I looked to my heroes in music, and realize I don’t measure up.

For example, when I tried to make a go as a musician, I’d look to my idols like Frank Zappa, Prince,and David Bowie, how ridiculously prolific they were, and get sort of depressed by my own inadequacy.

Likewise, looking at guys like Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the aforementioned Walter B. Gibson, I start to fall into the same trap.

But the important things to remember are that these guys did this for a living, and they weren’t getting paid the big bucks (or having the massive TV/movie deals) the way guys do today. So they had to write to pay the bills.

Me? I’m doing this solely for the love of it . . . for the time being.

Stephen King and Dean Koontz are two super-rich authors I can think of off the top of my head who pumped out tons of books in their heyday, even when they’d already received financial success. I can’t help think of guys like George R. R. Martin, though, who acts as though he actually hates writing.

Enough musing! What to do about it? Here are some things that work for me, both physically and psychologically. I hope they help! Continue reading “An Undisciplined Writer”

Casablanca: What a Damn Near Perfect Movie Can Teach About Writing

My wife and I watched the 1942 classic Casablancaa few nights ago. It had been over a dozen years since I had seen it, and it was the first time for my wife. All I have to say is that the movie is classic for a reason, and that it gets better with each viewing.

And what struck me were the lessons this movie provides about novel writing. Sure, it’s a different art than screenwriting, but several techniques translate very well across the mediums. Here are the ones that struck me.

I won’t give away the plot here, since this isn’t a movie review per se, and because I want you to watch it in a pristine, unspoiled state. But there may be mild spoilers, so don’t get mad at me if you keep reading! Continue reading Casablanca: What a Damn Near Perfect Movie Can Teach About Writing”

Reset: Chapter 37: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (2)

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Eyewitnesses report that Joseph Gallagher, eighteen, of Lowell, Massachusetts, burst into Logan Airport’s Terminal B running with his arms outstretched and shouting “ALLAHU AKBAR!” Other witnesses stated that Mr. Gallagher also let out a high-pitched ululation some likened to a cry of pain. Onlookers initially thought him to be a run-of-the-mill crazy person and didn’t react, mainly because very few travelers were aware of what typically followed shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” or what it even meant. However, most seemed well aware of the meaning of his next words and how they tended to affect those traveling by air.

“Bombs!” he is reported to have yelled. “Bombs on the planes! For the Glory of Allah, we will blow up your planes!”

Mr. Gallagher streaked around lines of passengers, focusing on the American Airlines service desk.

“We will fly planes into buildings! All across the country! I won’t tell you which ones! Allahu Akbar!” And he continued shrieking.

Mr. Gallagher dashed through the security line, pushing several customers and knocking over a guard who was manning the metal detector. He made it as far as Gate 23 before being tackled by two uniformed security guards and one concerned citizen.

The rest of what happened never made it to the general public, beyond vague assertions that a major terror plot was thwarted in the nick of time, thanks in large part to the Federal Aviation Administration showing great wisdom in grounding all flights nationwide. Shortly after Mr. Gallagher’s arrest, one Mohammad Atta, an Egyptian national, was arrested at Logan International Airport along with nine other accomplices.

At Dulles International Airport in Virginia, five men were arrested.

At Newark International Airport in New Jersey, authorities captured four.

None of the nineteen would-be hijackers had ever heard of Joseph Gallagher of Lowell, Massachusetts. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 37: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (2)”

Reset: Chapter 36: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (1)

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Nick Christakos spent Tuesday morning sitting alone in his dorm room, staring at the television. Six turned to seven, seven turned to eight, and eight turned to nine. Nothing.

Nothing.

Nick relaxed, surprised by how much his body hurt. He had clenched himself like a fist and had sweat through his t-shirt.

Nothing.

But why?

* * *

When Joe didn’t come back Sunday night, Nick had figured he had spent the night with that Gwendolyn chick. When he called her, she wouldn’t say any more except that Joe was really mad at him. No surprises there.

He checked with Jonesy and Carlos. Nothing. Same with Game and Quinn.

Amy told him he should call the cops, but Nick didn’t. He couldn’t. What would he say? That his time-traveling companion was going to stop the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States and left without so much as a hug and a kiss? They’d be right back where they started.

He even called Zack Henderson. Miracle of miracles, Zack picked up the phone. He was terse, but not rude. “He came by, yeah,” said Zack. “He was pretty steamed.” But Zack had no idea where Joe might have gone.

So Nick waited, spending his time, as usual, with Amy. Things were going great in that department. They clicked; Nick literally felt a click when he started talking to her at Zeta Zeta Nu. Love was a beautiful thing. She was the whole reason for this adventure, the Helen that launched him back in time. Now he would be happy, would maybe finally have the courage to get some help and work through his issues without resorting to hookers and blow (though those things had been fun for a time).

Joe had to be on campus. He had to. He had no car, besides. What was he going to do? Thwart the attacks himself?

Sunday night rolled around, and still no Joe. Nick waited.

When Nick sat in class on Monday, listening to Delino drone on about how Bush was single-handedly destroying the Earth, he began to worry. Amy had noticed it, insisting that they go to the police.

The jig was up. It would be too suspicious if he did nothing about his missing friend. So they went to the Hollister PD, bypassing the campus cops who tended to stick to parking violations, and reported Joe missing. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 36: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (1)”

Reset: Chapter 35: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (4)

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Joe stood in front of Zack’s door knocking loudly, a plastic bag full of NHU shirts and a jacket clutched in his other hand. He’d give it a five count, and if Zack didn’t answer–

Two seconds later, the door widened a crack and out popped Zack’s head. Anger flashed on his face, his mouth open with a rude word chambered and ready to fire, until he saw the source of the interruption. “What’s wrong?!” he said, his eyes wide.

“Hi Zack. Got a minute?” Through the crack in the door he could see a very attractive, very naked co-ed covering herself with a sheet.

“Uh, that’s, uh . . .” Zack flushed. He lowered his voice and spoke close to Joe’s ear. “I didn’t, um, we . . . you know, I didn’t–”

Joe held up a hand. “I’m not your father, Zack. I just wanted to say thanks for everything.”

“What’re you thanking me for?”

“What’s the problem?” called the girl.

Zack turned. Joe noticed he had no shirt on. “One second.”

“I can get going . . . .”

“No!” Zack stepped out, wearing nothing but his boxers. Joe admired his hard, muscular body, eighteen and already built like an action figure. “I don’t know what you got going on, man, but I’m going with you.”

“Not so loud,” said Joe, flapping a hand like the words were real and he could bat them away. “And no you’re not.”

“Come on, we’re in this together. Let me just get dressed and we’ll talk, get our plan straight–”

“No talking, Zack. That’s the point. I didn’t come here to talk.” He put a hand on Zack’s upper arm, resisting the urge to squeeze just to see how hard the muscle was. “I’ve messed things up enough without dragging anybody else further into it.”

“Come on, that’s not fair.”

“No!” He said it dad-stern, one of the few advantages of being a thirty-something trapped in the body of a teen–it lent him a certain gravitas unattainable for most college-aged boys.

Zack clammed up with an audible snap. Joe went on: “I came here just to say thanks, and to see you before . . . in case . . . you know. I figured I owe you that much.”

“The only thing you owe me is letting me help you.”

The door crept slightly open. “What’s going on?” said the girl, peeking into the hallway.

“Hi,” said Joe. “He’ll be with you in a second.” He caught a glimpse of the girl’s lovely mocha body and quickly turned away, feeling like a dirty old man.

“Shut the door,” said Zack. “Please.” The girl did as asked.

“You’ve got more than enough on your plate, Zack,” said Joe.

Zack waved a hand over his shoulder. “I don’t care about any of this, man. I care about saving those people. I couldn’t forgive myself if I just let it happen and did nothing.”

“You won’t have to. This isn’t your fight. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, blank pages waiting to be filled. Play football–”

“I don’t care about that.”

“Play football,” said Joe, “get your degree, do all the things you never got a chance to do before you . . .

“Died,” said Zack softly. “You can say it: before I died.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 35: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (4)”

Reset: Chapter 34: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (3)

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The dream was shocking. Audacious. Like it had come from the devil himself, designed to scare the foolish mortal to death in his sleep.

He was on an airplane, sitting with the other passengers, frightened but docile. He heard the shouts, the chanting–“Allahu Akbar!” and the ululating cries of victory. Some laughter, but mostly screams. The woman next to him started to talk; her mouth moved but Joe only heard sounds like drums emanating from her blurred face.

And then out of the window he could see, growing bigger, the North Tower, the plane drawn to it like it had gravity, inviting the impact the way a catcher calls the winning pitch. Put ‘er there, buddy boy. He can’t hit the ones that come in hard and fast.

Hard and fast . . .

He awoke before impact, jerking upright and gasping the way he thought only happened in movies. The buzzing in his brain began anew, the telltale sign of that cognitive dissonance born of the impossible. Something else that should be impossible was the woman in the bed next to him. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 34: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (3)”