Books That Made A Zombie

When this came up at Melissa F. Olson’s blog, I searched for a novel that was at the core of who I am. One that made me the way that I am. Basically doing the job of that nebulous person from my future I refer to as “the prosecution.” Only I couldn’t really pick one book. There were many. Additionally, there’s that period of my life that’s a little foggy. I hear TBIs will do that to the best of us – no matter how Sheldon Cooper-like your memory is.

Below are the titles that I can point to as having an early (and not so early) influence on me. There are so many, but these are some of the highlights.

Lord of the Rings

the-lord-of-the-rings-the-fellowshipOkay, really it began with The Hobbit. I remember getting the book for the train ride from Wisconsin to Boston. Even as a kid I never slept well, and I had a very visceral childhood memory of equating train rides with hideous nosebleeds. So, I read. In this instance I believe I finished the book rather quickly. I’m not 100%, but I think I might have picked up Fellowship of the Ring for the ride home. This was most definitely my first experience in high fantasy. Which likely lead to my past in Dungeons and Dragons, which lead (in part) to my love of reading and desire to write. It all branched out from here.

It was also these books that made me rather devoted towards playing a halfling for most of my early D&D career. Something about them made them so identifiable. Which meant I spent a lot of time playing the party burglar.

The Kundalini Equation

kundalini-equationThis was about as identifiable of a story as I could have asked for. Martial arts was my pathway into health as a teen. To be fair, cross country running was, but that dropped me to 145 pounds at 6’2″. You call that healthy until that first spinning back kick pops a couple ribs out of your sternum. Then you begin the weight training and muscle building.

In short, martial arts for me was the near opposite of what it was for the protagonist in this story, but I got him. It was also the first urban fantasy (contemporary fantasy?) that I had a clear connection to. Where I could see myself in the place of the main character. Additionally our hero faced a loss of self in his journey that addressed a very real fear I held from my childhood into my teen years (and even further). I actually mourned the loss of that book (though likely one of my in-laws probably has it in a box or on a shelf). And when I met Steven Barnes decades later, I went in search of a copy (thank you Frugal Muse) so that I could get one signed.

This was the book that made me want to write stories that people could see themselves in.

The Drizzt Do’Urden Novels

3663576-drizzt+cover+2This is one of the staples of the D&D Youth. While Ed Greenwood made the Forgotten Realms, R.A. Salvatore made the drow cool. Actually, he kind of made them dicks. Which made them cool to read about. This was a society unlike any other I’d read about in my books. A matriarchal society at its core. One in which the women were easily as horrible to the men, if not more so. And the best of them (except for our unlikely hero) was still pretty evil.

Here we saw a fighter of great ability rising up against his dark birthright every morning. His actions the only things that could separate him from the rest of the drow and their dark queen Lloth. Something about that spoke to me… even if Drizzt was more of a cat person than a dog person.

In the most recent incarnation (or really reincarnation) of the series, what I am finding particularly interesting is how Regis, the halfling rogue who was part of Drizzt’s original party of adventurers, has become more of a contributing member. Back in the original series, any time fighting broke out, there was almost a need to have someone watching over him. He was somewhat of a handicap to the team. This time around he’s easily as badass as the rest of them. Though he is still the trickiest one.

Of note… these were the first books I ever had signed. They are also some of the rare titles that aren’t signed to Zombie Joe.

Cabal (Nightbreed)

CabalBarkerThis was my introduction to Clive Barker, which lead me to others. Imajica, Thief of Always… It wasn’t Pinhead that brought me to him. It was the innocent who merely believed he was a monster. It was also my first experience of the movie changing things from the book. Not huge portions, but enough for me to consider the implications.

I loved the ideas of the monsters being the heroes. The innocent ones. Sure, they eat you as soon as look at you, but in this case, they were the ones wronged. So much did I associate with the creatures from Midian that when we adopted our first animal together (a black cat, picked up on Friday the 13th – of course), I wanted to name him Peloquin.

cabal-1990-06-gJust recently I was in submission for an anthology of stories from after the fall of Midian. I didn’t make the final cut (there were over 500 submissions from what I heard), but it was one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on to date. Sure, the story is something I can’t use now, but that didn’t make it any less fun. Writing about some of the ancillary characters from the Children of the Moon was like coming home for me. It was full circle.

Happy Hour of the Damned

happyhourThis one is likely off the radar of many of you. Back when I was pimping this series like it owed me money, I was referring to it as “Sex in the City if all four of them fell down dead and got back up again.” Really that was how the author explained it to me. His main character was a zombie. As was her bestie. Their flamboyantly gay friend was the vampire. And they were all monsters. They ate people. And lots of them. All along the way they were bitchy and snarky. It was the dark comedy that I hadn’t found most other places. At least not outside of the movies.

I was introduced to several things by this book. Book review blogs for one. It was also the first series where I won a contest. An ARC of the second in the series. It was also my first ARC. Additionally it introduced me to an entire slew of new authors that wrote the snarky shit I really loved to read. A dark sense of humor was required. Damned near gallows humor. And as midlist authors, they were just as excited about the novels and my reading them as I was. These were the people that were (and are) inspiring me to make that leap to published author.

Well, them and the critique group that held a Publishing Intervention for me last year.

Red-Headed Step Child

jayewellssabinakane01Remember the snark I was talking about? This series had it. Additionally, it had one of the best opening lines I’d read up to that point. It grabbed me in the first paragraph. And I knew that was what I needed to do to make a book work. To ensure I published more than just a single title. It was also the book that opened up the power of the sidekick to me. Sure the Dresden Files had nearly a Scooby Gang at that point, but Giguhl was truly a sidekick. And an animal one at times to boot.

Between that, the settings, and the mythology, I was hooked. Add to it the author being one of the aforementioned inspiring midlisters (really they stalk YOU at the conventions), and I was hooked.

Of note, the first book in the series I had literally used to fend off an attack from a diving bird. I pointed out the beak prints at the first party we attended at RT. It made for a hell of a story.

Mark of the Demon

markofthedemonAs with the last few on the list, this one makes it up here for a couple of reasons. It was another contest I had won (for a travelling book concept that was great on paper). It also featured snark and sass, a strong trait for my favorite books at this point. But it also hand some real world roots to it. The police procedural elements of it were strong and engaging. It made me feel like I was visiting a real crime scene. Which makes sense, as the author had been on the police force for something like 10 years.

My personal copy of this book also had the first signing to it that caught me by surprise. It has a personal message that convinced me that I was doing the right thing focusing this much energy on my reading and writing of stories. And I haven’t turned back since. Stumbled and tripped, sure. Turned back? No way in hell.

Plus, the recent covers for this series and her White Trash Zombie series are insane! I can only ever dream to have covers that awesome.

*****

Now I don’t have any swag to give away, but feel free to comment below with novels that have inspired you over the years. Open dialog is never a bad thing.

February Reading List

Continuing on with the post from last month, I’ll go over the novels I’ve reviewed this month. I did skip a week on print media, but I am including my review on the 1st of March as I read the book in February. So far it’s looking like I am about 1.5 novels behind my goal. But I have some questionable weeks coming up. So that will change. Just not sure if it will change to the better or worse.

For this month, the list is as follows:

This month left me with some surprises – not all of them good. In looking through the list of my choices in audiobooks, I picked out Deadeye by William C. Dietz. He is a well-known and successful author in the science fiction genre. The concept was pretty interesting, and it focused on a POC as the protagonist. What I found was the budding wish-fulfillment of an old white dude writing the BAMF female character. She had no personality unless it came to an interaction with a male. And even then it was only for a short scene. Her badassery was highlighted by her “model good looks.” As if her being a badass was all the more extraordinary due to how she was a supermodel in a motorcycle jacket. Add in some stunningly stupid science highlighted by the fact the partners who couldn’t eat at the same table for threat of contamination from the mutant virus he had evolve into having sex later in the book.

While Deadly Spells was easily going to be one of my favorites (as the series was already that by book 1). I rolled the bones on Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction simply based on the summary given of it (again it sounded interesting) and the narrator. Luke Daniels is easily one of my favorites as the narrator behind the Iron Druid Chronicles from Kevin Hearne.  While there were parts of the novel that didn’t hold me, it was an excellent story with solid writing. And Daniels reading it.

Though I have been rolling back to my urban fantasy roots with the recent reviews, come this week I will be doing a traditional fantasy. Another of the Forgotten Realms novels from R.A. Salvatore. It was on my pick list from Audible, and I’ve been reviewing all of them as they come through. So it was a no-brainer for me.

Why do we fall, sir?

I know. I’ve used this element before. But I keep coming back to it. Clearly I’ve not learned to pick myself back up. Or my back has become so bad I no longer can pick myself back up. But this might be confusing to some of you.

why-do-we-fallIt has been months since I’ve been to the Victory – my favorite local coffee shop. I used to go there every morning to write. It was really the only way I could get anything done. By the time I was to a point where I had a shot to bounce back from losing my Aladdin, we had Ginger joining us. And she needed some stability. Fast. That was in August. Looking back, its been nearly three weeks since I’ve blogged (and that was the listing of what I’d read in January).

This morning the puppy woke me around 4am to go out. She was really excited to go out and to have breakfast. So I fed her. After finishing her food, she climbed up on the couch, dug a spot for herself under my quilt and went to sleep. And I mean SLEEP. Snoring louder than a dog that size has any business doing. So there I was with a snoring dog and no chance of getting any more shut eye.

I could have worked on edits. I could have written something new. Hell, I could have started up my audiobook or ebook for the reviews coming due this weekend. (Reviews being the one thing I have kept up on. I pushed one back due to my birthday, but that was it.) What did I do instead? I caught up on my television watching. I even watched a movie On Demand. To be fair, I’ve been missing a lot of movies since we adopted Ginger, but that’s not really a proper excuse.

The truth is there is no excuse.

why-the-treatsBefore it was being at a loss with no dog in the house. Then there was a dog who wouldn’t let me write without climbing into my lap and onto the keyboard. And now its just being out of practice. NaNoWriMo was even a stretch for me. It’s like my motivation left me and never came back. Only that gorilla? (See the notes about this blog branding if you’re confused.) That gorilla is rearing its amorous head. Which means the novel is still there, and the problem is with me.

Last night I intended to go home, make supper and do revisions on a couple of chapters to hand in to my writing group this week. With my wife working her national trade show (in California no less), Ginger and I are solo this week. I figured this would work fine. By the end of the night I hadn’t even tracked down the keyboard for my iPad. Or my Macbook Pro for that matter. I played with the dog. I fed her (and let her taste test my dinner). We watched television together.

Before she left, my wife was talking about how she missed Aladdin still. How she was feeling like he was still there. I’m feeling like Carol from this past week’s episode of the Walking Dead. Talking to Daryl out in the woods, she kissed him in a very motherly sort of way telling him to let the emotions happen. Of course she did this right after insinuating that she couldn’t allow herself to feel. Which is where I think I am right now, but at the same time it is likely what has me stoppered up. Like that first year I tried to complete NaNoWriMo and wound up driving family members out to Pennsylvania for an uncle’s funeral. Only this time the feeling has held out for months.

I have multiple manuscripts sitting in my Storyist folders. New this year is an account I have set to deal with editing and art payments just like a real indy publisher. And yet I can’t get back in the swing of things. At the heart of it though, it is all me. I’ve rarely suffered from any depression, and I don’t have it the way some of my friends do. Which is possibly why it was so easy for this one to sneak up on me.

In a memoir style short story I wrote about my Sensei teaching me that to overcome an opponent, even a fear, you had to name it. You can’t defeat something without knowing the measure of it and how can you know its measure if you haven’t identified the thing? Dragging it (as fluid and minor of a depression as it is) out into the open is me giving a name to it. Looking it in the figurative eye and acknowledging it.

For those friends fighting the real thing, the beast that Ethan Hawke recently called “the demon in the woods,” I have a lot of respect for the fight you give every day.

For everyone, I’m calling myself out to keep me honest. I will be releasing my writing this year. Keep an eye out for it. I will set some real deadlines to keep my butt in the chair soon. I do still have a convention to plan…

What’s Zombie Joe Reading? January Edition

So this year I have taken on two reading challenges. The first was a “new to me” challenge. Were I to meet the highest level of this challenge, this would have involved me reviewing only books of authors who were either debut, or ones I haven’t read currently. Sure, I usually read more than 50 books a year, but I have been slowing down with everything on my plate recently. Which brings me to the second challenge…

tales-nightshadeThe goal is to hit the “Marathoner” level of the audiobook challenge. This should also help me to reach my goal in the “new to me” challenge as I can use this to up my number of new authors. Additionally, I can read audiobooks while doing other things. I can work on my web development, do my puzzles (helps maintain the memory… long story), or do simple housework. Or complex housework for that matter… it’s not like I do anything with power tools. Casa de Zombie is in a condo. With the addition of this (and the inclusion of a new column on WLP for audiobooks called Sound Off), I am now scheduling two reviews a week. So that means I should be clocking in with 100-104 reviews for the year. Which assumes no “vacations” during that time. But let’s face it, a vacation just means “more time to read.”

So far this is what I have for the month of January (as noted in my 2015 Reading Challenge page). There is another that I have technically read during January, but the review is scheduled to go live February 1st. So that will be the first title for next month.

  • Half Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older
  • Transmuted by Karina Cooper
  • Unbound by Jim C Hines
  • Broken Shadows by AJ Larrieu
  • Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson (audiobook re-read)
  • Iron Axe by Stephen Harper
  • Tales from the Nightside by Simon R Green
  • Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

New Favorties

Half-Resurrection-Blues-Final-CoverWith the “new to me” challenge, I expect some new favorites to be added to my list of “go-to” authors. Top on that list of new folks is Daniel José Older. I like his style and snark, and can’t wait for an open credit on my Audible account to pick up the audiobook for my wife. Personally, I think he does an excellent job at narrating his own novel. It’s not something everyone can do. Stephen Harper will likely be on the list as well, but I don’t keep many fantasy authors there. Will have to see how it plays out in the long run. Assuming I have time to invest in a “fun” read. (Or if I am assigned another review of his titles.)

Really any of the 4 new authors I’ve read this month would make me pick future books they offer from a list for review. I liked each and every one of them enough to finish the story and give it a positive review. Looking at the February lists, there was no names I recognized yet though. Well, at least none that aren’t already scheduled. (I’m looking at you Jaye Wells.) I did find a narrator that I recognized as one of my “go-to’s” (Luke Daniels from the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne), but the book coming out is so far off my genre list I couldn’t justify picking it off the list.

Each and every one off of that list are titles I would suggest looking into. Though to be fair, some of those are multiple books into a series.

What are you reading?

Charity and Geekdom

This Christmas, as gifts for my wife and son, I ordered us all “Fuck Cancer” shirts from the campaign being run by Stephen Amell from Arrow. Part of this was from the link to my geek roots (and Arrow being one of my favorite shows), but the motivation goes much deeper. Sure my family is a supporter of cancer related charities – it’s one of the defining things about my family. Especially in recent years. Directly though, for me, it was about what cancer has taken from me. If you have been following this blog, you know that in July cancer took my best friend and dog from me.

I knew he was getting old, but to have him diagnosed with cancer that was causing such large tumors in him was a shock. I actually found myself echoing “fuck cancer” in my head. After more than fifteen years with us, not even my dog was safe. So I did what I could. Donated food to a local shelter. Adopted a rescue dog from that same shelter. And bought a shirt to show my personal support and to give money to charities working towards a cure.

Just this week, Amell’s new campaign started. A similar shirt design (though more family friendly), but this time when looking for a charity he went to the fans. The same fans that (literally) knocked it out of the park with the first campaign. From those suggestions, the proceeds are slotted to go to two different charities: Stand for the Silent as well as Paws and Stripes. I’ll definitely be picking up this shirt too.

Stand for the Silent is a charity that supports young people against bullying. While the discussion of bullying (causes, solutions, etc.) isn’t cut and dry, a dialog needs to be opened. And any charity that does this has my support. I was bullied quite a bit as a kid. Back then there wasn’t a focus on it like there is today. It was just one of those things you had to get through. And each school had at least one of “those kids.” Which is to say the target. In 3rd grade I beat up two 5th graders who were abusing someone else unable to stand up for themselves. Even after that, I was still the preferred target. It took someone else being in harms way for me to take a stand. Yup, I’ll stand with these folks.

amell-fb

post from Stephen Amell’s Facebook page

Paws and Stripes is a localized charity in the New Mexico area that takes rescue animals and trains them to be companion animals for veteran’s with PTSD and TBI. I think we all know how I feel about helping rescue dogs. But back somewhere around 17 or so years ago I suffered one of the “lesser” of the TBIs. I took a concussion bad enough it stripped away years of memory and forever change how I processed numbers in my memory. It is difficult to fully explain, but my memory of numbers was pretty core to a job where I routinely had to spout off numeric addresses of servers to customers or the support agents on my team. (At the time I worked for AT&T Worldnet in their support division.) It also left me with an increase in my migraines (frequency and intensity) as well as a constant, low-grade headache. Yeah, my 1-10 scale for pain is all sorts of screwed up.

Really, both of these hit home for me. Or hit a home run… since one of the shirts is a softball style jersey.

All of this sparked not only through social media (something I touched on in my blog over at Wicked Lil Pixie this morning), but through geekly pursuits. An actor, playing a DC superhero, engaging with his fans on a level similar to Felicia Day did with the Guild or Wayland does as each an every gig they play (as well as multiple forms of social networking). I may have joked about this back in college, but I fully believe it…

The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth.

So maybe go forth to the Represent site for the Sinceriously Campaign and pick up a shirt, hoodie, or tote bag. And maybe go check out the sites for the charities. I’m already picking up one of the dog shirts from Paws and Stripes for Ginger’s birthday. And yes… pictures will follow. ;)

Site Re-Branding

As you might have noticed, the blog has re-branded. This includes not only a new theme with feature photos (which I will need to post to older entries), but also a new name. While it might still be a “Great Day for America,” with Craig Ferguson leaving the Late Late Show, a number of my bucket list items (and the point of the blog) have been rendered impossible.

That said, I did still want to maintain a connection to Craig Ferguson as his comedy and work have been as much a inspiration as the music on my playlist. So I have stuck with a quote he gave during an interview on The View…

Writing a novel is like making love to a gorilla. You’re not done until the gorilla’s done.

Going forward, I will post my plans. I will also be updating my Bucket List to include these changes. For now, I am posting links to my new reviews in my reading challenge.

Every year I wrestle with the idea of resolutions. The final result I came to was that resolutions were destined for failure. I looked more towards setting up guidelines for myself. Of course that might just be me talking about the catalyst for the upcoming re-branding of my blog/website. My bucket list entries revolving around the Late Late Show were a resolution. What I am looking at for this year is to set the goal to do something towards writing every day. It could be as simple as “edit 3 pages before work” or as complex as “re-write chapter 3.” But every day would be something.

One of my goals remains to do more reading and reviews. I had set the goal last year of doing a review every Friday. I’d also envisioned doing as many as I could on local authors. So for this year, I am continuing on with the Friday review posts (Rule 42), but thanks to a project through Audible, I’m adding Sunday morning reviews to my calendar as well. One of the things I’d been stepping away from was listening to audiobooks while I work. I used to listen to a title every week, usually the ones I wanted to read – not ones I’d been asked to review.

Thanks to this new project (and how awesome Audible has been), I am three titles in already this year. Though only my first print review was for my “new to me” challenge this year, I have a new review that allows me to be doing something every day. It’s also gotten me back into the routine of thinking like a writer. Though I don’t suffer from depression or anxiety as some of my friends do, I’d taken a hit to my motivation and my life this past year. What I’m doing now is a huge leap in my recovery from that.

In hopes that some of my friends unfamiliar with Wicked Lil Pixie (or my reviews over there), you can look to my 2015 Reading Challenge page for the titles I’ve read and links to the reviews. Especially, I’d like to point out Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older. There’s something about it that speaks to me. Much like many of my favorite authors. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Plans for the New Year