Review: “The Chronicles of Riddick”

It’s probably no surprise that “Pitch Black” is one of my favorite movies of all times. Believe it or not, it’s also one of my wife’s favorite movies. (I still can’t quite get my head around that one.) We had never gotten around to seeing the sequel, “The Chronicles of Riddick”, until last week. It was … okay. I kind of figure the studio’s conversation with David Twohy, went something like this:

Studio: Hey, David Twohy, that movie “Pitch Black” was popular and cool! Here is ten times more money to make the sequel!
David Twohy: Hey thanks studio! Now I can buy all kinds of special effects and CGI! Woo-hoo!
David Twohy: Uh-oh, I spent all my money on special effects and CGI and now I don’t have anything left for a script! Now what?!?!?!
Vin Diesel: Let’s raid Shakespeare.

“The Chronicles of Riddick” put my wife to sleep in about 30 minutes, which is actually pretty good for a SF film. It’s too bad she didn’t stay awake longer because “CoR” actually improves as it goes along (the friends we watched it with may disagree with me) and would likely benefit from a repeat viewing (the friends we watched it with may REALLY disagree with me). As noted above, it’s got some Shakespearean elements (think “Macbeth” in space) and some Biblical elements (which are spoiler-ish, so I won’t reveal what they are). Unfortunately, the bad guys suffer from a Borg-ish “assimilate or die” look and mentality. If your villains are going to channel the Borg, they’d better be scarier than the Borg, and these folks aren’t. Plus they have bad haircuts.

Anyway, the bottom line is: Don’t go in expecting another “Pitch Black” and you won’t be (too) disappointed.

The “Good Old Days”

Remember when we didn’t have things like

  • Vaccines
  • Visible minorities
  • The Internet
  • Cable television
  • Air Travel
  • Antibiotics
  • Civil Rights
  • Feminism
  • Labor laws
  • Environmental protection

Well now you can relive those glorious days with Reminisce Magazine!


Yes, this magazine actually does have a web site, although it would seem more appropriate for it to communicate via telegram.

“Reminisce” accepts submissions of true stories from the 30s through the 60s.  If I’m reading their submission guidelines correctly, they don’t pay anything, but if you send them something really good they might send you back a ’57 Chevy model bank that you can use to store coins that you find in your plastic-covered naugahyde-upholstered couch.  (Of course, many times I’ve gotten “paid” in copies rather than currency, so I’m not one to talk.)

Here’s my true story from the 60s:

First, I was born.  Then I lay around and slept a lot.  Then it was 1970.  The end.

Mmm, probably not worth a ’57 Chevy model bank …

Underground with the Mouthless Girl

Back when I wrote mostly horror, I accumulated quite a collection of reference books of ghosts, spirits, and various and sundry monsters. (This was before we could just hop on the Internets and pull information out of the worldwide series of tubes.) One of my favorite reference books was The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, which listed literally hundreds of ghouls and beasties from around the world. “Underground with the Mouthless Girl” is about a rather nasty ghost from India called a churel, which is the restless spirit of a woman who died in childbirth. “Underground with the Mouthless Girl” appeared in “The Earwig Flesh Factory” from Eraserhead Press in the summer of 2000.

This story is not particularly gory, but I’ve always considered it one of the most creepy and unsettling things I ever wrote. You have been warned.

The girl catches Michael Osborne’s eye as he comes out of the men’s room. She’s sitting on a tall stool at the end of the bar, with one long, impossibly shapely leg extended toward the floor, like a dancer doing a pirouette. Silky black hair flows over her shapely neck and shoulders with the grace of a waterfall, concealing what her scanty red summer dress would otherwise reveal.

Osborne slides onto the stool next to her; it is inexplicably unoccupied on this noisy, crowded night. She looks at him and smiles. Her skin has a lustrous walnut sheen that goes perfectly with her jet hair. Her eyes are wide and dark and shaped like some exotic nut. For a moment Osborne finds himself speechless.

“Hello,” she says.

Osborne finds his voice before he begins to stutter or babble. “Hi. I’m Michael. You can call me Mike.”

“I’m Madhur.” She has a slight Indian accent. Aren’t they the ones who do all that kinky Kama Sutra stuff? “You can call me …” She looks him up and down. “… anytime.”

Just who is picking up who, anyway?

Continue reading “Underground with the Mouthless Girl”

Free Software for Writers: Celtx

By now you’ve probably gathered that I write short stories and novels.  Although publishers tend to put formatting restrictions on the submission of these types of manuscripts, the restrictions are usually easy to meet:  Double-spaced, flush left, courier font, wide margins.  Other types of manuscripts–screenplays, for instance–have much more specific requirements.  Although you can try to implement the required format in a word processor, it’s much easier to use software specifically designed for that purpose.  Enter Celtx.

Celtx bills itself as “the world’s first fully integrated solution for media pre-production and collaboration”.  In addition to its screenplay formatting ability, it contains facilities for defining characters, storyboarding, index-carding, and production scheduling, as well tracking props, wardrobes, sets, and cast members.  It even permits collaboration with other users.  I only used Celtx briefly, when I thought I might dabble in screenwriting (an experiment that didn’t last long), but I found it easy and intuitive to use.  Even non-screenplay writers might like it for its organizational power.  I don’t do index-carding or outlining (tried it once and the end result bore no resemblance to the outline), but many authors do.

Celtx is available for Linux, OS X, and that other operating system whose name I can’t remember at the moment.

As a side note, writers who are interested in learning more about Celtx (and about Linux in general) might want to check out episodes 93 and 94 of the Linux Reality podcast.  Episode #93 is an interview with a writer (not me) who uses Linux, and episode #94 is a rundown by another writer who uses Linux (also not me) of various Linux applications that are of value to authors, including OpenOffice and Celtx.

Thanks and happy writing!

“Night Watchman” Review

I stumbled across an Epinions review of Night Watchman today. I was surprised to see this, given that Night Watchman came out over five years ago, but it’s nice to know people are still reading if after all these years. (Yes, it’s a recent review … 1/26/08.) Although the review is not unalloyed praise (3 out of 5 stars), it is positive overall, and raises some valid points that I would probably address if I were rewriting the book now. Still, I think Night Watchman does hold up pretty well for a novel that I wrote when I was about 23 years old. (Never you mind how old I am now.) You can visit the reviewer’s Epinions page here and his home page here.

Long Before Dawn is an even older* book than Night Watchman; I started working on that shortly after getting married, and finished it at the ripe old age of 22. But since Dawn was never published, I’ve had the opportunity to go back and “improve” it a couple of times since completing it. I think that this most recent set of revisions, done to get it ready for Lulu publication, has tightened up the plot and characterizations significantly. We’ll see if the readers (all ten of them) agree!

*In fact, Long Before Dawn is so old**, I originally wrote it using the MS-DOS program PC-Write. PC-Write couldn’t handle a document that long, so I had to split it into three or four files for editing. Ahhh, good times …

**And Long Before Dawn isn’t even my oldest book; there’s one more, older still, called Three Detectives, that I actually had an agent working on for a while. He was never able to sell it, unfortunately. This is a (you guessed it) detective novel, set in Utica, NY, that I wrote after a marathon Nero Wolfe reading session. Perhaps it will see the light of Lulu some day, but I doubt it.

After The Vampires, The Dragon

Although I’m still putting the finishing touches on Long Before Dawn, I’ve already started formatting my next book, Dragon Stones, a fantasy novel about (yes) a vengeance-obsessed dragon. This book was originally slated to be released by the publisher who had put out one of my earlier books, but after waiting seven months for the contract, I’ve decided to withdraw Dragon Stones and release it myself. The quality of the product was a strong factor in this decision.

Side note: I have nothing but good things to say about my editor, who tried hard to get the contracts together for me. Sorry, Karen — maybe we can work together on a project in the future.

To everyone who’s been wanting to read one of my books but was afraid to crack open Crows or Night Watchman, let me just advise that Long Before Dawn is not the book you’ve been waiting for. Dragon Stones is.

It’s Getting There

I’m currently finishing up the Lulu edition of Long Before Dawn. The formatting is just about finished; I think the finished result is looking pretty good. More to the point, so does my wife, and she’s picky. (She won’t actually read the book, because it’s full of nasty gory stuff, but she will comment on fonts, margins, graphics, etc.) I have the latest print edition coming to me; my plan is to read through it as if I were an actual reader, and if I don’t find anything wrong, I will release it for sale. I’m planning to take advantage of Lulu’s ISBN service and make the book available through and other book sellers, so we’ll see how that goes.

Although the book is not yet available, you can get a sneak peek at the cover. In the PDF file, it’s laid out Back Cover/Spine/Front Cover, as if you had put the book face-down on a table in front of you. The photo on the back was taken in a small cave at Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, San Diego; the photo on the front is a shot of the moon from our backyard. I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with the blurb on the back of the book, so I do invite comments on how to make it catchier. (As I said previously, self-promotion: Not my strong point.) I realize you might have to actually read the book to know how to plug it on the back, but this way is more of a challenge. 😉

Game-In-Progress Review: Siren

So I just started playing “Siren” again. This is a survival horror game for the PS2, but with a twist: Instead of mowing down armies of zombies or whatever, you mostly have to sneak around and avoid getting noticed, because if you do, you get killed really fast. (This probably makes it much more like what would really happen if in fact one found oneself in a landscape dominated by ghouls and monsters. See also “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead“.) Don’t get me wrong — I love the “Silent Hill” series, for instance. But after the first play-through of Silent Hill 3, once I got my hands on what amounted to a light saber, I was hacking even the most fearsome creatures into Jack Link’s beef jerky. That doesn’t happen in “Siren”. EVER.

What does happen is something called “sightjacking”, where you have the ability to tune into the vision of the monsters that are stalking you, allowing you to  see what they see. I can assure you, it’s quite unnerving to sightjack some axe-wielding zombie thing (called “Shibito” in Siren) and realize that it’s looking at the back of your head. The game is quite difficult, even on the early levels, as there are very few clues to help you out, the map doesn’t show you where the hell you are on it (which is sadly typical of real-world maps, but almost unheard of in video game maps), and there always seems to be at least one Shibito sitting in a tower with a rifle just waiting to go all Charles Whitman on you as soon as you pop your head up from behind that fern you’re cowering under. Still, I’m having fun with it so far.

One interesting thing about this game is that all the characters look like they wandered in from a Godzilla movie (no, the real ones, not the one with Matthew Broderick), but they talk like they just got off the boat from Liverpool. I’m not sure who decided to dub Japanese characters with British accents, but the effect is, um, interesting, and more than a little jarring. I’d rather have seen subtitles, but maybe that’s just me.

“Siren” is not a new game. I got it for Christmas in 2005 and am just getting around to playing it now. So it’s not state-of-the-art, but if you like a game to freak you out, you could do worse than to dig this one out of the cutout bin. My preliminary rating is that this game would not put my wife to sleep at all, because she would be afraid that some Shibito might come up behind her and whack her with a shovel.

Free Software For Writers: Scribus

So you’ve written your book and have either self-published it or gotten it published by a small press (because if your book is being put out by Random House or Tor or HaperCollins, you certainly aren’t reading this), and now you want to publicize it. This is of course going to be your own job, because the publisher isn’t going to do it for you. Some simple ways to make a nice display include making little handouts, colorful bookmarks, or other promotional material that can be easily handed out to or taken away by people who may be interested in your work.

It’s possible, of course, to do brochures, bookmarks, signs, etc., in a word processing program or a publishing application like Microsoft Publisher; it’s even possible to misuse presentation software, such as PowerPoint, for this purpose. However, this is a blurb about open source software, and I’m going to point you in the direction of Scribus. Scribus is page layout software that lets you design a document to your exact standards, positioning each item precisely on the screen. You have exact control over every element of your document in a way that is difficult or impossible to achieve with regular word processors. I’ve used it to create bookmarks with excerpts from various of my books and stories, as well as a small display card for Night Watchman. (Crows was still out of print at the time so I didn’t make a card for it.) This can be a simple way for you to enhance a small store display or signing. Scribus can also be used to create PDF files, including forms that can be filled out.

I wouldn’t really recommend taking advice from me about self-promotion, because I’m not at all good at it, but even I can hand bookmarks to people. Nobody wants to accidentally start reading five pages ahead of where they left off.

Scribus is available for Windows, Macintosh, and (of course) Linux.