Month: October 2016

Scott Brick is Stalking Me

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You may have never seen the guy pictured above, but if you listen to audiobooks you’ve probably heard him. At least I have, because every audiobook I buy happens to be narrated by Scott Brick.

I picked up a book from the Dune series. It was narrated by Scott Brick. I downloaded John Carter of Mars; it was narrated by Scott Brick. I purchased Spark by John Twelve Hawks; it was voiced by Scott Brick. Every Clive Cussler book I’ve listened to is read by Scott Brick.

I’m not complaining. He’s a great narrator and he’s got a good handle on accents. He reads very deliberately and I never have any difficulty understanding him. It just seems weird to me that out of the thousands of audio books available, he is always reading the ones I want to listen to.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure Fiction

 

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Free PulpWork Press Halloween Special

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So, for the last five years, I and my fellow authors at PulpWork Press have been contributing to a collection of weird Yuletide tales called the PulpWork Press Christmas Special which, for five days prior to Christmas, we give away for free.

This year, in order to change things up a bit, we went with a Halloween theme and from the 25th to the 29th of October you can download a free Kindle copy at no charge.

This year’s Special includes great stories from Tom Deja, Josh Reynolds, Dale Glaser, and Rob Mancebo. And you might be able to tell by the wonderful cover art by MD Jackson that I’ve got a Gantlet Brother story in there as well.

Mentats of Dune & Breaking the Rules of Writing

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This series of books by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson is intriguing to me because of all the writerly ‘rules’ it violates, yet still makes for an engaging story.

One common rule that writers hear frequently is SHOW, DON’T TELL. Mentats of Dune, like the other books of this series, spends a lot of time with ruminating characters, who tell the readers the background story via their thoughts–and there is an immense amount of background. Also, there are so many characters that the characters will ruminate again on some of the same background and events as they have in previous chapter, but this kind of works because you’ll probably have forgotten some of the material by the time you get to that character again.

I think what makes this rumination technique, which is suspiciously close to an information dump, work, is that the characters are often plotting against each other, so it is interesting for the reader to see their devious machinations as they develop. The thoughts of most characters, excepting the robot Erasmus, whose chapters can be tedious, are able to keep me interested.

Another writer’s rule that these books frequently break is that writer’s should keep the action immediate and AVOID PASSIVE WORDS like “had”. Herbert and Anderson frequently drop into the past and tell US the character “had” done this or “had” done that instead of keeping it more immediate. For some reason this rule violation doesn’t seem to deter from the story.

In noticing a couple of these broken writer rules I started to think about writer’s rules that I frequently violate.

  1. ONLY USE THE WORD “SAID” FOR ATTRIBUTIONS. This is something I hear all the time, and I think it’s baloney. Yes, I use lots of “said”s, but I like to vary the attributions to keep them from being too dull. I’ll also use “asked”, “questioned”, “screamed”, “called”, “shouted”, “cried” or anything else I deem appropriate. However, I do try to avoid the overuse of adverbs in attributions (though I am certainly not entirely opposed to them), and I also try to avoid the too-clever Swiftian attributions (as in Tom Swift) that might seem silly, like ‘”You find it Very Large?said Mr. Podsnap, spaciously’ or ‘”Be careful with that chainsaw,” Tom said off-handedly or “Your canine is marvelous,” he said doggedly. And though I do enjoy annomination and a good pundigrion, these sort of attributions, which contain a pun of some sort, might be appropriate in a comedic piece, but probably detract from a reader’s willing suspension of disbelief in most stories.
  2. KEEP SENTENCES SHORT AND SIMPLE. Short sentences have their uses, however the constant rhythm of unvaryingly brief sentences grates on me. I like sentences with texture and intricacy. Are they harder to write and appropriately punctuate? Yes, but they are infinitely more interesting.
  3. LIMIT THE USE OF ADJECTIVES. I never understood this rule. Did I mention I like texture in sentences? Adjectives add both color and texture. My sentences are full of adjectives and evocative verbs. Once I received an email from a reviewer who kindly declined to read my book because the sample he read contained “dense and descriptive prose” and he preferred lean and concise prose. Fair enough; he knows what he likes. I know what I like, as well, and I find too many lean and concise sentences dry and boring. My opinion is not a popular one.

My point is that though writers need to understand the rules, not every rule is sacrosanct, and slavishly following every rule is unlikely to make for better or more interesting literature.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure Fiction

 

What I’m Reading: Spark by John Twelve Hawks

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The bio of John Twelve Hawks informs us that this name is a pseudonym and that Mr. Twelve Hawks lives off the grid–presumably to stay out of Big Brother’s all seeing eye.

And that seems to be the overriding theme that Twelve Hawks explores between his Traveler trilogy and this (thus far) stand alone book, Spark, about an assassin who feels no emotion, and which takes place under a slightly futuristic backdrop where government can track nearly everything you do and record your every conversation.

And I say slightly futuristic, because when it comes to government surveillance these books aren’t that far fetched. Currently the US government, without a search warrant, sifts through millions of emails looking for keywords and puts constitutionalists on lists of likely terrorists. Your cell phone is a tracking device you voluntarily carry with you at all times, and can likely be turned on remotely so that others can listen to your conversations even when you aren’t on the phone, and vehicles with OnStar can be remotely shut off.

Probably , I’ll get put on a watch list for writing a blog post critical of the omnipresent Orwellian government surveillance.

Twelve Hawk’s books are the modern version of Orwell’s 1984, except more fun to read.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure Fiction

Weird Worlds of Joel Jenkins 3

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My latest books has now on the virtual newsstand–also known as Amazon–and can be purchased in Kindle or print format.

A description of its weird and wonderful contents lies below:

Experimental Nazi sonic weapons drive a gigantic snake to madness, and a werewolf tracks a group of slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. A plague of zombies sweeps the North American continent while a skateboarder and his girlfriend flee into Mexico and find a desperate group of survivors trying to raise a zeppelin and escape the flesh-hungry hordes.

Perverse cults perform rites to bring horrific and demonic entities through the outer voids to reign in blood and fire upon the Earth. Risking the enmity of the gods, the Greek hero Diomedes gathers strange artifacts from distant lands so that the Trojans might be defeated. On a bet, four musketeers picnic on the bastions of St. Gervais and uncover an evil beyond their imaginings.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure Fiction

What I’m Reading: Gilgamesh

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This Sumerian epic, dating back to 2,100 BC, and discovered in the city of Nineveh (the same people that the biblical prophet Jonah hated so fiercely and wouldn’t preach repentance to until he was swallowed by a whale) runs about 2,000 lines.

By contrast, Homer’s Iliad is thought to date back to 760 BC and contains almost 15,700 lines.

In the beginning we are introduced to Enkidu who is a wild man created by the gods to balance out the proud, haughty, and tyrannical Gilgamesh. Enkidu lives in the wild with the beasts of the fields, eating grass and drinking from the pools with them. Those who see Enkidu fear him and send to the king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, for help.

Instead of going to confront the wild man, Enkidu, himself, Gilgamesh sends the High Priestess of Ishtar to seduce him. This is where things get surprisingly racy. Though the heroes of the Iliad are no saints, their seductions aren’t described in quite so much detail as in Gilgamesh.

Having tamed Gilgamesh with her lovemaking, in a session we are told lasts seven days, the High Priestess of Ishtar brings Enkidu to Uruk, where he meets the hero of this epic, who is about to take someone else’s bride on her wedding night–because, we are told, he does this with all the brides before their husbands have the opportunity.

Enkidu is so enraged to hear people saying that Gilgamesh is the most powerful warrior alive that he attacks Gilgamesh and they crash through walls in their fight, which eventually Gilgamesh wins. After this they become fast friends and there is no more mention of Gilgamesh’s depredations and tyranny. Whether this means he was cured of this by his friendship with Enkidu or whether this doesn’t matter to the story any longer, the reader is left to surmise.

Maybe, Gilgamesh did become a better man (or demi-god), because he later is able to reject the advances of the goddess Ishtar, citing a long litany of her former lovers, sometimes graphically, and what fates became them when she tired of them. This does show some increase in wisdom and self control.

Later, when Gilgamesh and Enkidu set off to battle the fearsome Humbaba of the Cedar Forest, we are regaled with the fact that they carry axes no normal mortal could bear–each weighing two hundred pounds. Also, we learn that fully caparisoned they are carrying six hundred pounds of armor and weaponry.

One more interesting thing about this tale is that Gilgamesh later encounters a Noah-like character named Utnapishtim, who relates the story of the earth being flooded and taking an ark of creatures onto the deluge and sending out a dove looking for dry land.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure Fiction

What I’m Reading: Lost Empire by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood

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Truth is, to try to catch up on shelves of unread books, I’ve been maximizing my reading time by listening to books while in transit and while working. And though I am still a far cry from making it through my backlog of books, I have been making considerable headway. This year I’ve managed to read and/or listen to seventy books and attempted eleven others which I abandoned at some point, because I wasn’t enjoying them or found the content unsuitable.

This second book in the Fargo Adventure series takes place in a modern setting, but as the first novel, incorporates a wealth of background historical material. After reading the first book in the series I felt that the male protagonist, Sam Fargo, was perhaps a little too interchangeable with Dirk Pitt–if he had settled down and had an engineering degree–and perhaps there is still an element of that, but it seemed to me that he began developing more a character of his own in this book, and I wasn’t jarred out of the narrative, thinking: “That’s exactly what Dirk Pitt would say!”

It’s easy to be critical of Cussler because he often draws on the same wells of nautically inspired adventure, lost ships and historical secrets that are uncovered by his intrepid heroes, and he and his literary co-conspirators have written 72 books on variations of themes.

However, I love reading about lost ships and lost civilizations, and I love reading a good adventure novel. It’s part of the pulp tradition to pump out book after book to satisfy the cravings of the insatiable reader, and Cussler and friends do a great job of it. Even the least entertaining of Cussler’s books (this statement is open to revision because I’m a good twenty books short of having read all of them yet) is more entertaining than 99.9% of all fiction being published today. In order to find concurrent fiction in the same entertainment league you’d need to pick up a Dillon novel by Derrick Ferguson or a Royal Occultist novel by Josh Reynolds and sadly, both are rather obscure in comparison to Cussler.

Cussler has the advantage of being a brand name and though readers might be critical of the sameness, it is that familiarity that draws people back to his novels time and again.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure Fiction