Drifting Book Dunes: an Intro

 Welcome to what I hope will be an occasional ongoing series.  First, an introduction:

Hello.  My name is Derek Goodman, and I am a book hoarder.

(Hi Derek)

Please understand that when I say I'm a book hoarder, I don't just mean I have a lot of books.  I mean it in the truest sense of the term, where I have a pathological need to accumulate any and all books I can, regardless of whether or not I would ever read them.  The fact that I don't have a lot of money to spend on them is mostly what keeps my library at a manageable size, but that's just forced me to be thrifty and tricksy with my bibliomaniac ways.  I'll find large amounts of books at thrift stores, rummage sales, library sales, occasional estate sales or auctions, or in lots of unwanted books for sale cheap on Ebay.  My friends, knowing my obsession, will sometimes gift me with large boxes of all the books they no longer want because they know I'll give them a good home.  

The problem is, all most of these books tend to do is take up space.  I have limited shelf space, so they often find themselves heaped on any and every available flat surface.  I usually refer to these as my Drifting Book Dunes.  People who don't tend them like I do don't realize that they do actually drift, since I'll dig through them looking for something specific and they tend to migrate as the piles shift around my needs.

So they're doing fascinating things, but they're not doing what they're supposed to do, which is be read.

This series of posts will be my attempt to remedy that.  I mostly read speculative fiction, including sci-fi, fantasy and horror, as well as the occasional literary novel and, on the rare occasions when the mood strikes me, a mystery.  For this series I will be going out of that comfort zone and attempting to read the stuff I normally wouldn't.  My hope is that I can highlight some obscure works that are hiding deep within my collection, but I also hope to expand my horizons a little bit.  I will stick mostly to fiction, but who knows?  Some non-fiction will likely creep in.

I'll post the first proper part of this series soon, where I will discuss the reboot of a certain famous detective...

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Phantom Writers

 I've been doing some research for a blog post I was planning on doing this weekend, but I've run into an interesting mystery.  I've already placed a call for help on Facebook, but I've had only limited success.  So is there anyone out there who can tell me who ghostwrote the first ten or so Nancy Drew Files books from the mid-80s?  All I've been able to find so far is that mystery writer Nancy Bush wrote numbers 13, 21, 35, and 46, but I was really hoping to find who wrote numbers 1 and 10.

Please feel free to post a comment if you have any insight.

Playing in a Sandbox the Size of the Sahara

One question I get asked a lot in interviews or at conventions is what my writing process is like.  Do I use an outline, or do I just wing it?  For the most part, I wing it, but I always have to add the caveat that it depends on the story.  I prefer winging it, because I like to be surprised as I go.  I often don't know how a story or novel will end until I'm almost there.  The big exception, however, is with the Apocalypse Shift series.  

The AS series didn't start out as something large and unwieldy.  The first time I created the OneStop Mart along with Caleb and Gloria was in the story "The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop."  It was merely something that struck my fancy at the time.  I wrote it and figured I'd be done with it.  But as I was finishing up the story, I knew this was a setting that could be used for plenty more adventures.  So I did one more story set in the AS universe, "The Power Pastry."  I enjoyed writing that one too, and eventually wrote two more fragments set in that universe.  I didn't finish these fragments right away, and I figured that was the end of it.

I was very wrong.

The first of these fragments kept plaguing me.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to do that story, but I couldn't quite get the shape of it right.  The fragment at first seemed to me like it might be a novella, then very briefly I started working on it as a comic book script.  Neither of those shapes really worked.  Then I got it in my head that if I wanted to get anywhere in my career in writing I would need to write a novel.  This fragment seemed like it would perfect for that, and I got to writing.  This then became The Apocalypse Shift.

That was supposed to be the end of it.  Really.

The problem was that when I decided to make TAS a novel, I knew it could no longer work within the confines of the OneStop.  Stories that take place just in the one store may be fine, but a novel length story would have been bogged down by the static location.  So I kept the store as a very key location, but I had the characters get out and give me a chance to explore the rest of the bizarre neighborhood that is the Hill.  I created other businesses, more characters, and many hints of a larger history.  And with every one of these additions, I realized that I was creating new ways to tell stories in the universe.  But for all those new potential stories, I came up with one specific idea that I thought was really cool and wanted to tell more than any other.  This idea had a problem, though, in that I knew it wouldn't work unless it was one of the last chronological stories in the AS universe.

I knew that if I wanted to get to that last story (one that really couldn't be done as one of the shorts.  It had to be a novel.)  I would have to have an idea of what came before it.  In short, I would have to do something I never ever do with my fiction: I would need to outline it.  And that's where I am right now.  I have the whole shape of the Apocalypse Shift series, or at least the basics.  In order to get from the original TAS novel to the last one, I had to figure out what would happen in every novel in between.  The universe is broad enough that I can tell many other stories in it, but I have certain stories that must be told in between to make everything tie together.  All in all, current plans for the series put it at five total novels, enough shorts and novellas to fill three Tales From the Apocalypse Shift companion books, and one possible spinoff series.  I've built myself a sandbox to play in, but it's so big I'm having trouble seeing where it ends.  It's daunting, but it's also fun.

In the end, isn't that all that matters?

In Double Space, No One Can Here You Whine

 Quickly popping in to pick on a rant that's been going around the writersphere.  Over here, Farhad Manjoo complains about people who use the traditional keyboarding method of putting double spaces after a period:


I roll my eyes at this, but someone else has responded to it far better than I can:


I say only this: My name is Derek, and I put double spaces after a period (Everyone responds with "Hi Derek").  And I can quit any time I want!  Really!  I just don't want to!  Putting double spaces after periods is simply the only way I can deal with the pain *sniff*.

Various Writing Updatery

 Just some random bits of writing updatery this week.

-This came out a while ago, but I realize that I never mentioned here that The Scroll of Anubis, edited by T. Patrick Rooney and Kody Boye is now available for purchase and it includes a story by me.

Here's a complete table of contents:

The Lockwood Collection by Mary Rajotte
Amunet by Rhiannon Frater
The Companion of Jacob Bleek by Jeffrey Scott Sims
The Rise of Terefini by John McCuaig
Let Justice Be Done by Alva J. Roberts
White Cloud‘s Return by Janett L. Grady
Family Under Wraps by David Bernstein 
Styx and Stones by Malachy Coney
Kiss of Death by Jessy Marie Roberts 
The Jaws of the Jackal by Patrick Rutigliano 
Caves of Gold by Jim Bernheimer 
The Cat and the Baron Megan R. Englehardt 
The Legacy of Seshet by Jameson T. Caine
The Dry Man by Amanda C. Davis
Amun‘s Curse by Carey Burns
Beneath the Floorboards by Robert Essig 
The Book of Osiris by Charles Kyffhausen 
Cat‘s Cradle by Anna M. Lowther 
Balam by Megan Bamford 
Mistress of the Scarab by Miles Booth 
Egypt, PA by Wayne Goodchild 
The Lurker in the Depths by Michael C. Lea
The Desecrators by Paul A. Freeman
Pharoh‘s Best Friend by Adam Blomquist
The Eternal Resurrection by M.S Gardner 
Calixite‘s Curse by Deborah Walker 
Abu Timsaah by Zachary Thomas Tyler
The Pyramids of Rock Lake by Derek J. Goodman
The Curse of Djer by T. Patrick Rooney

Anyone looking to get a copy can purchase one at Amazon here:

-The website Rise Reviews has posted a mostly positive review of the the anthology Things We Are Not, including some nice things said about my story "As Wide as the Sky, and Twice as Explosive."  Reading the review is a little weird for me, as the reviewer obviously got from my story some things I didn't completely intend, but as writer Jay Lake always says the story belongs to the reader.  If you give a story to five different people, they might as well be reading five different stories since they will all be filtering it through their own personal views.  The review can be found here:

-I did an interview just the other day for the local cable station where I discussed my books.  I'll post that here when it is available on Youtube.

-And last but not least, I figure some people out there might be happy to know that after nearly a year of not working on it, I'm back to writing Old Clerks Don't Die, They Slay Away, the next book in the Apocalypse Shift series.  Currently I'm about a fifth of the way through the first draft.  I'll post more info as I keep working on it.

Not Quite a New Year's Resolution

 I hate the idea of New Year's resolutions.  I mean, if there's something really important you want to do or change in your life, declaring so on what is basically an arbitrary day shouldn't really matter.  But I have recently gotten to thinking about things people mean to do with their lives (mostly this has been because this week was the three year anniversary of my dad's death, and my father often had big ideas that he never bothered to follow through on), and several friends of mine have recently mentioned having bucket lists (you know, a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket).  I got to wondering what I would put on my bucket list, and realized there wouldn't really be enough to actually make a list.  I have a tendency to actually do what I think is important because I may never have that chance again.  It also occurred to me that, being the bibliophile I am, any attempt at a bucket list would inevitably just be a list of books I want to read.

There's been this app floating around on Facebook recently called the BBC Book List Challenge, where it has a list of books that supposedly everyone should read and you have to check off the ones you've gotten around to.  Out of the hundred books on the list, I was able to check off 26.  That's not too bad, but the problem with the list is that it's so obviously someone else's idea of what's essential.  I can certainly see why most of the books are on the list are there, but some of the "classics" are ones I just can't bring myself to care about (sorry, Jane Austen) while others just seem to be on the list because they're popular (putting The Da Vinci Code on the same list as Shakespeare is pretty funny, though.)  I got to wondering what my own essential list would look like, and eventually put that idea together with my thoughts on a bucket list.  Why not make a reading bucket list? I thought.

So that's what this is.  I'm not making any promises that I will read all these this year, but these are books that I'm going to do my damnedest to read before I die.  I started off the list by taking some of the ones from the Book List Challenge that I really did feel like I should read, then added ones I either feel ashamed that I haven't read or really think I would regret not having read by my death bed.  The list ends up being a little eclectic (again with the weird and funny by putting The Zombie Survival Guide on the same list as Hamlet), but it's my damned list, after all, and I can put on it whatever I feel belongs there.

So my Reading Bucket List, in no particular order (except that it amuses me to put the first two books back to back):

-The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
-The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
-A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
-Hamlet by William Shakespeare
-Double Star by Robert Heinlein
-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
-The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
-The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough
-The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
-Watership Down by Richard Adams
-The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick
-On the Road by Jack Kerouac
-I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
-The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
-Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison
-Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
-Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
-The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I'm Probably Preaching to the Choir Here

 When picking up my copy of Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King yesterday, I thought about something I had seen posted lately on some horror forum or another.  If you're visiting this blog then there's a fair chance you know me from something horror related, which means you're probably familiar with Mr. King.  After all, he is the father of modern horror as we know it (yes, I know H.P. Lovecraft could also be given that title, but King was the one who brought it out in the open for everyone to see, and then showed everybody that horrors could exist quite easily in their quiet little mundane worlds).  But the comment I saw mentioned how much of King's work was out there, and how it was impossible for any one person to read it all.

Considering that I have read it all, I found that odd.

Well, okay, not all of it. I still haven't gotten a copy of Faithful, the book he co-wrote about the Boston Red Sox (mostly because I'm not a sports fan) or Blockade Billy, since I haven't been able to find any copies in my area (I'll probably have to break down soon and order it).  I've also missed any number of limited editions of his work over the years because of their expense, but most of that is readily available in cheaper versions. I also haven't gotten to some of his newer stories.  But every single other thing the man has published, I have read.  I didn't think that was much of a feat until I looked up how many books he's released and found the number to be well over sixty.  That's insane, and also overwhelming.  I see now why someone wouldn't want to try reading it all.  When I started reading him, that number was a much easier twenty-five to thirty.  I first picked him up at a very impressionable time in my life, and I wouldn't be a writer today if it wasn't for his influence.  But yes, it's hard to keep up.  So I decided to go over some my personal favorite highlights (and a few lowlights) here.  All of this is purely my opinion, and your mileage may vary.

The Essentials - Books Everyone Should Give a Shot
- Salem's Lot (1975)- Mr. King's reinvention of the vampire novel. Although his earlier Carrie also dealt with a small town, the small town here became a sort of template for everything King would write in the future as well as countless imitators.
The Shining (1977)- A winter caretaker at a haunted hotel slowly goes crazy and torments his family. I've reread this one several times and I still feel it holds up.  It's also one of the best ones when it comes to delivering the chills.
The Stand (1978, uncut version 1990)- Stephen destroys the whole world and has a blast doing it.  If given a choice, read the uncut version instead of the original edit.  This one is epic and sometimes unpredictable.
Different Seasons (1982)- A collection of four novellas which is almost perfect.  One novella, "The Breathing Method," is nothing special, but everything else in the collection is pure gold and, in a rare fashion, does not involve much horror or the supernatural.  "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is an unforgettable piece about the human spirit, and "The Body" (which was turned into the movie Stand by Me) is a poignant story about that moment in our childhood where we finally realize that, yes, we really will die some day.  The fourth novella, "Apt Pupil," is also well worth the read.
Misery (1987)- A writer is taken hostage by his "number one fan."  In my opinion Annie Wilkes is one of the best villains in literature.

Also Worth Reading - For the Real Horror Fans
- Carrie (1974)- King's first novel about a telekinetic teenage girl.  In rereading it I have been able to see that it was definitely written by a man still figuring out his craft, but many images of the books still resonate today.
- "Children of the Corn," available in Night Shift (1978)- Please forget the god-awful movie franchise based on this story.  The story itself has some great atmosphere and is overall still pretty creepy.
- The Dead Zone (1979)- As with King's best books, this one works mostly because we feel like the main character could be any one of us.  He's an everyguy with more power than he wants, and he has to make tough decisions that would make any of us freeze up.
- Pet Semetary (1983)- The book that Mr. King himself thinks is his scariest.  I don't know if I'd say that, but whereas most of his books have a redemptive quality in the end, this one shows just how low an average guy can go when he can't let go.
- It (1986)- Another one of King's patented doorstop horror epics.  This one, about the unspeakable creature that hides beneath a town and comes up every thirty years to wreak havoc, is one of my all time personal favorites but tends to bog down other readers.
- Danse Macabre (1981) and On Writing (2000)- Both these books are non-fiction, but all horror fans should read the first one and all aspiring writers should read the second one.  King mixes a lot of fascinating autobiographical moments into them, but it's his thoughts on horror and writing that are the most entertaining.

Lesser-Known Gems - For After You've Developed a Taste
- The Eyes of the Dragon (1987)- A rare departure for King into sword-and-sorcery type fantasy.  This is a rather quick read, and quite enjoyable.
- Gerald's Game (1992)- This one might not be for the squeamish. A bondage game between a husband and wife goes horribly wrong, leaving the woman chained up and alone where no one can find her.  Despite the fact that very little actually happens, this one goes along at a brisk pace and manages to be genuinely unsettling.
- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)- Another very quick read, one that could very well be done in one sitting.  A young girl gets lost in the forest and has to rely only on her wits and an imaginary version of her baseball hero Tom Gordon.  If this one had been released in today's publishing climate, it probably would have been marketed as a young adult novel, and like many YA novels it appeals to adults just as much.
- "1408," available in Everything's Eventual (2002)- Kind does a haunted hotel again, and makes it just as scary as The Shining.  For best effect, I suggest experiencing this story for the first time by listening to the audio version from audiobook Blood and Smoke, but I don't know how readily available that is anymore.
- From a Buick 8 (2002)- A strange car gets left for Pennsylvania state troopers to impound, but bizarre things tend to happen around it.  I've always liked the slight departure this one shows from King's other books, where he tries to over-explain what's going on.  The theme of this one is "sometimes, you just aren't going to get the answers."

Not So Much - Only For the Truly Dedicated King Fans
- Firestarter (1980)- The story of a young girl with the power to start fires with her mind, this one is kind of a mess.  Even taking into account that King has never been big into hard science in his books, the science used in here can sometimes get pretty ridiculous.
- The Tommyknockers (1988)- King takes his "strange things happening in a small town" formula and runs with it in fifty billion different directions, leaving the book almost incoherent.  He admitted in On Writing that this book was written during the worst days of his drug abuse, and that the end result could have seriously used an editor's touch.
- Cell (2006)- Cell phones make everyone talking on them turn into 28 Days Later-style rage zombies.  I love Stephen King to death, but I have no clue how the fuck this book ever seemed like a good idea.  Often times it reads like The Stand, but with all the good parts taken out.

Tis the Season for Yet Another Best-Of List

 Yep, it's that time of year where people break out all those year's-best lists, and I'm not going to be an exception.  So I'm posting the best books I've read this year, but these are not necessarily the best that came out this year.  My free reading time has been shorter than usual this last year, and even when I have more time I can't keep up with all the books coming out.  This, then, is just the best books I've read this year.  As you'll notice, some of these are older.  In the case of the first one, many decades older.

6.) The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein

I know sci-fi fans may shun me for this, but I've never read much Heinlein.  My first effort was Stranger in a Strange Land, and when I couldn't get into that I simply assumed Heinlein wasn't for me and didn't bother with any of his other books for years.  The I gave him another try with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and became hooked.  Since then I've been slowly working my way through his stuff.  This book may seem like a strange choice for my best reads of the year, but out of the Heinlein works I read this year this is one that felt like it had the most charm.  It's somewhat dated, and is basically just a boy's adventure novel, but I grew to love the episodic adventures of the Family Stone and found myself rather depressed when the book was over.  This book just made me feel like a kid again, and I kind of wish I had read it while I was growing up.

5.) As the World Dies: The First Days by Rhiannon Frater

I'm not just including this book because I know Rhiannon.  I know a bunch of writers, but this one stood out enough to be included as one of the best things I read all year.  At first you may be tempted to dismiss this as yet another zombie apocalypse, been there done that.  Except this one has something key that many books in the zombie genre tend to miss: dead-on characterization.  It's also one of the rare zombie novels with strong female characters.  Rhiannon's writing style also flows very smoothly, making this one read very quickly.  The self published edition is no longer available, but the new Tor addition will be available some time in 2011.

4.) Under the Dome by Stephen King

I've heard that some people don't necessarily agree with me on this one, but I don't care.  King has been writing so many books for so long that it's inevitable that he would release a few stinkers, but lately it had seemed like the stinkers were outnumbering the gems.  This book was the return to form I had been hoping for from him.  This book, large enough to be a murder weapon, had the sort of epic feel and quirky cast of characters I had been missing from Mister King, and I was even able to deal with the ending (something King is notorious for fumbling).  It felt like I was finally reading the same writer I had fallen in love with as a teenager.

3.) The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

I've always loved reading Scalzi's highly entertaining blog, but it wasn't until recently that I finally got around to reading his fiction.  While I've enjoyed all the books I've picked up from him so far, this one stands out.  The opening chapter is one of the best hooks I've ever read in a book, with a man accidentally assassinating an alien diplomat with a fart.  From there the books goes on to all sorts of wonderful twists.  It's also a book that knows its audience probably knows its stuff when it comes to science fiction and give a lot of winking nudges and in-jokes for the sci-fi community, ranging from the book's title itself to the slightly familiar religion started by a huckstering sci-fi writer.  The only bad thing about this book is that Scalzi hasn't yet gotten around to the sequel.

2.) Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

I mentioned earlier that Stephen King hasn't seemed in top form in recent years, but even his less-than-stellar books are nothing compared to some of the dreck people have produced while trying to imitate his "horror in a small town with lots of characters" format.  Maberry, on the other hand, does it with perfection in this book.  The characters are solid and the book is deep with engaging subplots.  It's the first of a trilogy, but I've haven't yet gotten my hands on the other two.  I can only hope they live up to this one.

And my favorite book that I read this year is:

1.) Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson

I mentioned that The Rolling Stones was a boy's adventure novel, and this one often seems to have that same quality except that it's far more meaty.  I've also heard that it's essentially a retelling of Gore Vidal's Julian, but since I've never read that one I'll just have to take everyone's word for it for now.  The book is very steampunkish in that it takes place in a future America that more closely resembles America of the nineteenth century, which is what drew me to the book in the first place.  What made me actually finish it, however, is the wonderful detail, the engaging characters, and best of all the fully fleshed out post-oil world that is now dominated by religious zealots.  I found the end to be somewhat predictable, but at its heart the book is a tragedy and there are only so many ways a tragedy can end.  I highly recommend this book.