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Friday, July 4, 2014

Book review: A CURIOUS MAN: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert 'Believe It Or Not' Ripley

From a poor, inept, buck-toothed boy who loved to draw, to one of the highest paid cartoonists in history—and in 1936, one of the highest paid men in America—Leroy Ripley traveled a long way, in both miles and fortune, from his birth in the small town of Santa Rosa, CA.

Born in 1890 and called Roy by family and his few friends—he didn't add the Robert until later—Ripley never fit in as a child and dropped out of high school. At one of the many lucky turns that peppered his life, he got hired to draw 'a cartoon a day' for the San Francisco Press Democrat at eighteen, in the days when photos were too expensive. But it wasn't until he moved to New York and his cartoon 'Champs and Chumps' morphed into the soon-to-be world famous 'Believe It Or Not' that his fame skyrocketed.

Ripley traveled extensively, racking up visits to an impressive 200+ countries, and spent all his time looking for oddities, both human and otherwise. He drew and wrote about them, collected artifacts relating to them, and never got over his gee-whiz, small-town-boy fascination for them.

Author Neal Thompson's biography is a clear-eyed investigation of one of the most interesting men of the early 20th century. Ripley the man was as unusual as some of his finds. His fascination with the uncommon, the strange and the bizarre resonated in his own life. He lived for over fifteen years in a single-room apartment in the New York Racket Club—he once beat a nationally-ranked champion at the sport—even while his empire grew. Then, when he decided he really should unpack the crates of artifacts he'd been collecting on his travels, he bought his own island, complete with mansion, to showcase them. The Odditoriums followed next, plus radio shows and even television, and his catchphrase, 'Believe It…or Not' entered the language.

Well written and meticulously researched, THE CURIOUS MAN is a fascinating description of this odd and child-like man who had such an enormous influence on travel, reporting, comics and more. I highly recommend it.
A CURIOUS MAN: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert 'Believe It Or Not' Ripley
by Neal Thompson   Three Rivers Press. ISBN: 978-0-7704-3622-3

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Novellas Are the New Black...or Are Sequels?

I like writing novellas. They're long enough to explore characterization and plot, without being so long that they bog down midway. Writing in the 17-40K range gives you room to move around, room to really get inside the minds of your characters. And a novella can be read in far less time than a 100K novel, with just as much pleasure, at least to me. Sure, you can feel a little short-changed, a bit of 'but what happens to them next?' when you invest in characters, but that's what sequels are for.

Ah, sequels. When I was a kid, I wasn't familiar with the glory of sequels. I read anything that fell into my hands, everything in the school library and that ultimate pleasure: books for birthdays and holidays. But when I left these characters, I left them. They were gone, and the only way I could visit with them again was to reread the book. Not something I ever balked at, certainly, but sometimes you just want to know more about 'em, right?

So, I read THE TIME TRADERS by wonderful, awesome, amazing Andre Norton. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Then I found GALACTIC DERELICT. Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay! The same characters were in both! Gordon Ashe and Ross Murdock were there, doing their time-travel stuff, only this time they were in space too! Sequels…the Universe's gift to rabid readers. I love sequels! And prequels! And 'stories set in the same universe'!

Bringing me back to novellas. The bloated word count in a lot of modern science fiction and fantasy ranges well over 100K. Back in the 50s and 60s, books in these genres came in at a leaner, meaner 50-60K. I like writing in that range myself. But I never knew I'd enjoy writing novellas as much as I do.

My friend, brilliant writer J. Kirsch, aka Jon, has recently begun a fabulous series of novellas which began with THE PRINCESS WHO WOULDN'T DIE. It's free for a while, so go get it and read it now. Go ahead: I'll wait.

Now that you're back and all full of Princess goodness, did you notice the length of Naji's story? Under 16K and still, you got a full, clear, exciting, great story. And Jon is working on a sequel too, so try to hold down your impatience. If you can, mwhahahaha…

I've got a steampunk novella coming out soon from Pulp Literature called BLACKTHORNE AND ROSE: AGENTS OF D.I.R.E. And, guess what? I'm working on a sequel.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer sale at Smashwords!

All my books, novellas and short stories are free at Smashwords for the month of July! Go, splurge, binge read--you won't even hate yourself in the morning!

Click here to go to my author page. Scroll down and see all my stuff. Did I mention FREE?

Go know you want to!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

What's Your Favorite Heinlein?

I know. It's one of those either/or questions. Either you don't like Robert Anson Heinlein, or his work, or both, at which point you may as well stop reading now, or you like all his books and were vastly influenced by his work in an infinite number of ways. Guess which camp I fall into?
Right now, I'm reading volume two of William Patterson's brilliant biography of Heinlein. It's taking a while, as I have to go reread books he mentions, with a new outlook on what was happening when RAH wrote them.
My favorite Heinlein is generally the one I'm (re)reading at any given moment. I cut my teeth on his juveniles, and I'm especially fond of TUNNEL IN THE SKY and HAVE SPACE SUIT-WILL TRAVEL, though BETWEEN PLANETS is especially good as well because, really, who could not love that delicious Venusian dragon, Sir Isaac Newton? Who reappeared, by the way, in THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST. Huzzah!
Currently, I'm rereading THE PUPPET MASTERS for the gazillionth time. Not a juvenile by any means, though it came out during the 1950s when most of his boys' books were published. A dark invasion story, later ripped off reimagined by lots of other authors, but none of them have, to me, quite matched RAH's particular vision. The movie based on it—though, really, lots of other movies have been based on it in so many, many ways—which was released in 1994 and starred Donald Sutherland, eminently drool-worthy, Eric Thal and Julie Warner, was a pale reimagining of the book.
Quick aside: why has there never been a good movie based on a Heinlein work? No, not STARSHIP TROOPERS, though I loved its take-no-bug-prisoners attitude.
 In THE PUPPET MASTERS, the Earth is invaded by slugs from Titan—or were they?—who attach themselves to humans by some delightfully squishy means and totally control their actions, though the humans are aware and screaming silently for help inside. A stalwart secret agent, working for the Old Man and his super secret agency, gets involved in the slug fight, falls in love with another agent, and deals with daddy issues, all while fighting this nasty invasion. The USA gets swarmed, and we don't even want to mention those behind the Iron Curtain—or, as Sam-the-agent asks in the book 'How would we know?' when the discussion of whether they were invaded as well comes up.
To me, the book succeeds on so many levels. Danger, adventure, sex, violence, pain, joy, love, hate, fear. Read it yourself if you don't believe me. Every time I read it, I find new things to like about it.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Englishmen rule! So never stop dreaming....

When I had just turned twelve, I ran across an old book of my dad's called THE MASK OF FU MANCHU by Sax Rohmer. Apparently, my dad loved the book enough to, well, we'll say he liberated it from the public library, for the card was still in the back. At that time, I would read anything which fell into my hands—a habit which has continued to the present day, I'm happy to say. 

I can still remember how awesome the book was—adventure, excitement, danger, the mystery of Egypt, stalwart, brave and handsome Englishmen, brilliant criminals, a plot to steal ancient treasures—who wouldn't have loved it? The scenes where our heroes were staying at the Mena House Hotel, which sat on the Giza plateau in full view of the pyramids—THE the pyramids—made a special impression on me. I wanted to see it all. And more importantly, I wanted to write books full of adventure and danger and excitement—and handsome Englishmen.  

Flash forward thirty years. My lifelong love of all things Egyptian is fulfilled, at least partially, by sixteen days there. Ah, Luxor and the Temple of Karnak! Ah, the Valley of the Kings—I missed seeing Boris Karloff's Imhotep but he was probably just out of town. Ah, Abu Simbel, and a cruise down the Nile.  

And then, and then, the absolute culmination of a lifetime of dreams. I'm staying at…wait for it…the Mena House Hotel. Me. A country girl from South Carolina.  

But during the entire trip, I kept feeling that something was wrong, and I couldn't figure out what. I wanted to tell someone I was here, in the spot I'd dreamed of being for so long. But who? I'd told everyone I knew, believe me. Who, oh who else could possibly be missing the important information? 

Then it hit me. The one person I really, really, REALLY wanted to know where I was…was me. Twelve-year-old me. The little girl who had fallen in love with adventure and Egypt and the Mena House Hotel. Okay, yes, and handsome Englishmen. I wanted her to know, "We made it, kid. We got here. We grabbed for that dream and we caught it at last." 

Yes, there is a point to my rambling, and it has to do, not with travel to distant lands, but to writing. Writing is hard. Promotion is harder still, and rejection is just another word for intense agony. And some days, a writer would rather be doing almost anything else. That's when it's important to remember that kid in you who first read books, loved books and then got excited about the glorious, the amazing, the astonishing idea of actually writing books.  

That kid is still inside you, waiting for acknowledgement. Tell her. Tell her, "Yes, we did it. We're writers. And it's thanks to you and your dreams." 

And handsome Englishmen, of course.


(This post first appeared in a slightly different version at Writers on the Move)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

If you're ever able to attend an Artists U presentation, get thee there in a hurry!

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the ArtistsU/SC at Chapman Cultural Center in Spartanburg, SC. And let me tell you: it was awesomeness of the first water. There were all sorts of artists there at the conference: glass blowers, painters, sculptors, weavers, musicians, poets, writers. It was a conglomerate of phantasmagoria, a veritable treasure trove of aptitude. The entire room buzzed and glittered with talent, all so bright I considered keeping my sunglasses on.

Yes, I did have the passing wonderment of the typical insecure writer: just what the heck am I doing here? When did K.G. McAbee become an ARTIST? Doesn't she just write stories about zombies and monsters and the kick-assiest, smart-assiest women?

But one of the many things I learned at the conference was that all you other writers and artists are just as insecure and intimidated as I am. It's like a great big fancy club of the overwhelmed and apprehensive. How cool is that? Well, not cool exactly, but how reassuring and comfy.

Some of the things we discussed at the ArtistsU initiative:

1. Time management, as in making time for your art, whatever it may be.

2. Balancing your life, so that work/family/play/art all get their fair due.

3. That artists are workaholics. Wow! That was certainly eye-opening for me. I've always thought of myself as lazy, and I tend to beat myself up if I'm not producing massive amounts of words. Every. Single. Day. Seems that's not the most productive way to be. Who knew?

4. Strategic planning can help you reach your goals. Accomplish small steps, but don't be afraid to dream big.

5. Don't think you have to do everything. Find someone who likes to do—and is better at—what you hate to do.

And all sorts of other wonderful, useful, interesting ideas to try.

If you're interested in learning more, visit and click on Get the Book. You can download a free copy of MAKING YOUR LIFE AS AN ARTIST by the brilliant Andrew Simonet, which is an excellent compendium of all the information covered in the conference. Did I mention free? Go get it now!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Reginald Pantry: A Zombie Chronicle

Recently, my friend the brilliant writer and artist J.A. Johnson approached me with an impossible-to-resist offer: collaborate with him on a zombie novella.

And not just any novella, mind you! Nope, this was the opportunity to co-write a story based on an album by the indie rock band The Gifted Children. J.A. had already done the hard work: he'd roughed in a plot and, as all of us know, plots are not my strong point, me being a serious and dyed-in-the-wool-seat-of-my-pants writer. So going into a story with a plot already in place was certainly a plus.

And the musical tracks by The Gifted Children were eerie, creepy, strange; they'd been created, in fact, as a soundtrack for an imaginary zombie movie.

J.A. and I named our alternate chapters after the track titles. The end result, the complete package as it were, has a variety of interesting bonuses:

1. Links to the music, so the reader can hear what inspired us.
3. Deleted scenes.
5. An alternate ending.
7. Interviews with the band and the authors.
9. A 'from-music-to-words' page.
11. Alternate cover images.
13. Band and author pictures.
15. End credits, just as if it were indeed the zombie movie it was intended to be.

[Note: I like odd numbers; so sue me.]

So be on the lookout for the soon-to-be-released THE REGINALD PANTRY: A ZOMBIE CHRONICLE! In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here's a teaser trailer.

And here's the cover art, also by J.A. Johnson, who continues to amaze me with both his writing and artistic skills: