No Sleep Till Brooklyn Book Festival

Just mailed out the swag from the book giveaway–did you miss out because you don’t get The Plucking News? Sign up here and you won’t miss the next one.

In other news, my story collection from Down & Out Books, LIFE DURING WARTIME, is coming together and I’ll have a cover reveal for you soon. It collects the best of my stories and includes a few unpublished ones, and others that were difficult to find.

This weekend, on Sunday September 17th, I will be at Brooklyn Book Festival. In the morning I will be sitting at booth #310 with the Mystery Writers of America from 10:00 until noon, and from noon until 14:00 I’ll be at the Down & Out Books table with Lawrence Kelter, and several other authors. I’ll be wearing the snazzy Down & Out Magazine polo shirt in Black(Like My Heart!) black, so I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll have books to sign and swag to give away, and I hope you’ll stop by if you’re at the festival.

I’m not on any panels, but I will be going to see Sarah Weinman moderate the Killer Crime-Fiction panel with Joyce Carol Oates, Nelson George, and Ben H. Winters, and the comics panel Shapeshifters: Novelists Write Comics! with two of my favorite writers: Victor LaValle, and Gabby Rivera. Victor’s novel THE CHANGELING is brilliant, and I am really enjoying his miniseries comic DESTROYER, a modern update slash sequel to Frankenstein (the novel, which I’ve always liked more than the Hollywood versions). Rivera’s AMERICA comic is a blast and her novel JULIET TAKES A BREATH is great as well.

He won’t be at the fest, but I am looking forward to Laird Barron’s new crime novel BLOOD STANDARD, out in March 2018. He’s one of my favorite short story writers, and his novel THE CRONING made me shiver and laugh with its bizarre mix of weird cosmic horror, fairy tales, and Pynchonian ’50s paranoia.

As for me, I’m putting the final touches on the next novel and ready to dive into Jay Desmarteaux #2, where he boogies on down to the bad blood bayou…

Comic Fusion Superhero Weekend

This Sunday I joined Duane Swierczynski, author of the Charlie Hardy novels, The Wheelman, and several comics including Birds of Prey, at the Comic Fusion Superhero Weekend benefit for SAFE in Hunterdon, organized by Amber Love.

Amber is a cosplayer, podcaster, interviewer, and writer, and she interviewed me on her Vodka O’Clock podcast a while back. She is an unstoppable force for charity and this weekend was no exception. SAFE in Hunterdon offers help and services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and Comic Fusion was overflowing with raffle donations of original comic art, books, prints, and goodies to support the cause.

Comic Fusion is a cool comics store in Flemington, lots of goodies and friendly proprietors. I’ll be making a visit again soon.

The cosplayers come out to draw the crowd and march to City Hall for a photo shoot. It was a blast, and here are some photos from the event.

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Vodka O’Clock with Amber Unmasked

Vodka O’Clock with Amber Unmasked

Amber Unmasked – that east coast avenger who champions the down and the dirty and the nerdy, was gracious enough to interview me about all things geekalicious- books, movies, comics, the business of writing, and charitable work with PROTECT and to help victims of superstorm Sandy. 

I had a blast- and a Hellhound on my Ale brew by Dogfish Head- and if you want to enjoy a virtual beer with me, drop on by … it’s always
VODKA O’CLOCK.

Amber Unmasked

She didn’t need the lasso of truth to get me talking…

Orson Scott Card and Superman

I was going to post about food today, but this is too good not to re-blog and share. From author Ed Kurtz.

Orson Scott Card and Superman.

The Dark Knight Rises

I was in a cranky mood when we went to see this. I was in Editing Mode. Is it a horrible movie? Hardly. Is it a great movie? Definitely not.

I think Christopher Nolan did great things with The Dark Knight. Even that one has some holes in it, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy watching it, again and again. It’s the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy, and Rises … well, it’s not Return of the Jedi. It tries to go darker, and fails. But not without failing greatly, and giving us solid entertainment in the process.

What I liked/What I Didn’t:

Bane. Great villain, a big hulking menace for Batman to whale on. I really liked all the similarities to The Dark Knight Returns, the comic book that made me like Batman (and Year One, which Batman Begins cribbed heavily from). Topping the Joker may have been impossible, and Thomas Hardy- a great, rising actor- does the best he can with an idiotic mask that makes him look like Hannibal Lecter and sound like a kid talking through a paper towel tube. Hint: Darth Vader was INTELLIGIBLE. Bane needed subtitles. Coupled with “The Batman voice” by Christian Bale, the most important dialogue of the movie sounded like it was uttered while both men were trying to expel a twelve pound impacted fecolith. “Can I have a bat-lozenge?” Bane’s origin was interesting, and almost makes him a tragic antihero in the end, but his final scene is played for a very weak joke.

The parallels to current politics. TDK had the surveillance device that mimics Carnivore and Echelon (what the FBI is using to read this, right now) and Rises has The Dent (cough, PATRIOT) act, a heist on the Stock Exchange, and a Catwoman (never so named) who openly loathes and steals from the 1%. Anne Hathaway does a decent job, but lacked character development; the film suffers a bit from too many villains, including a surprise one in the third act. It’s not a perfect parallel, but it does make you think, something you rarely do in a comic book movie. The peace in Gotham is based on a lie, and this poisons the city. Sadly the villains reference the first film instead of TDK, for a couple of needless cameos; the poison lie of Harvey Dent is a brilliant bit of writing, but they don’t cultivate it. And finally, I found it very funny that a “failed energy project” was played as Wayne’s scandal, and I am glad that it doesn’t make sense now unless you followed politics very closely.

For the final act, the entire city is held hostage for three months. I couldn’t suspend disbelief for this one. The Joker’s plan in TDK lasted hours. Bane’s siege depends on Commissioner Gordon making a terrible tactical mistake, which I didn’t buy. I did like how it made Gotham into the crime-infested hellhole that opens Frank Miller’s 80’s-era “The Dark Knight Returns.” It seemed a bit forced, but the images Nolan gets to use to depict it are stunning. So I’ll forgive it. The music throughout the film is a sledgehammer to the heartstrings, and became incredibly annoying. THIS… IS.. EXCITING! DUN DUNT!  OOH ANGELIC SINGING! SOMEONE GONNA DIE! Yes, that bad…

The setup in the first act is excruciating. As a writer, I have never felt the pain of backstory and exposition inflicted on me in such a manner. And yet I forgot why Bruce Wayne has a limp (he jumped off a building with Two-Face, to save Gordon’s son).  If I watch this on cable and skip the beginning, I know I will like it a lot more. I can’t even remember how Bane was introduced. That’s not good.

Michael Caine has an early scene that makes you wish the movie was better. He’s utterly gripping in it. Once again, I never liked Christian Bale in this one except for the physicality. He looks like Batman, and he looks like he can pull off the stunts. But I never care about him, ever. He never looks haunted, just tired. He plays the Bruce Wayne playboy parts perfectly, but when he’s supposed to be the haunted orphan… I don’t buy it. Never did. But I still don’t want a reboot.

The ending was fantastic. The fight with Bane was pretty awful- two guys throwing haymakers and grunting and grimacing, when they are martial arts masters, and Bane was originally a wrestler- but they pull a decent switcheroo on you, and point the story to a definite ending, with not all loose ends tied neatly. And you know what must happen next. I look forward to that story, and I hope Nolan gets to tell it. If anyone can make the story of the Joseph Gordon Levitt character compelling, it would be him.

So it’s flawed, sort of like Spiderman 3, but not as weak. It reaches for the heavens and doesn’t make orbit, but it wasn’t a disappointment. I commiserate with Nolan- he has a lot to say in this one, and he manages to get it all in there, but in places, it is muddled and we nod along, waiting for the good stuff.

Worth seeing if you liked the other two. Bravo to Nolan for writing a story with an ENDING, something Hollywood and Television are loathe to do. Stories don’t really end, I know. But the interesting parts do. They end this where it should be ended, and open doors for other stories that I want to see.

3/5 bat-lozenges

Screaming for Avengers: Two Confessions

I have a confession to make.

I never read comic books as a kid.

The earliest I remember was picking up an issue of Star Brand for 35 cents in junior high, trying to get into it, and failing. I always liked the Hulk, but that was from the TV show. Same with the Superman movies, and the Batman TV show. I came into it second hand. I’ve enjoyed many comics and graphic novels since, from The Dark Knight Returns, to the first Marshal Law books, to Kurt Busiek’s excellent Astro City, which remains my favorite superhero series. And if you don’t like superheroes, his standalone “The Tarnished Angel” is a great noir story.

But as someone who didn’t grow up with comics, or love them wholeheartedly later, I have some unpopular opinions. I think Zak Snyder’s ending to Watchmen was an improvement. I like Ang Lee’s Hulk movie better than the Ed Norton one. I find the X-Men annoying, because the mutie as race minority allegory is patronizing and doesn’t make sense when mutants can zap you to dust by forgetting to wear their sunglasses. We have reason to fear them. But that’s an argument for another day, maybe when the Wolverine movie comes out.

I was not sold on Marvel’s lead-ups to the Avengers. Iron Man, I loved that movie. The rest were all flawed in some way. Captain America probably the least, but it needed more action and less montage. And he should have punched out Hitler. Thor was good fun, but there was a lot of running and silliness and the Devastator was a boring villain. The Incredible Hulk had its moments, but I doubt I’d watch it again.

I was worried about the Avengers when the opening and villain introduction were rather tepid. Nick Fury and SHIELD were not sufficiently bad-ass. That is rectified by the end of the movie, thank goodness. My review will be short and sweet. Every character shines in this one. Much has been said of the fantastic interplay of the heroes, and that is a great strength. But even alone, they are the best incarnation on-screen, even Stark as Iron Man. Let’s face it, they all have issues and spending time with any of these guys gets tiresome. It’s a testament to Robert Downey Jr.’s characterization that we don’t want Rhodey to drop a deuce in every one of Stark’s suits by the end of an Iron Man movie. And that’s fine, he should be a flawed man.

But in the Avengers, they can be more annoying than ever, because the doses are smaller. Cap can be an out of touch goody-good. Banner can be aloof, condescending and always have “You won’t like me when I’m angry” unspoken, on the tip of his tongue, a passive-aggressive bully. Thor’s elevated speech and godliness can be more than a joke. The best scene is likely when the gang is all arguing due to trickster god Loki’s manipulations, aboard SHIELD’s hovercraft air carrier. And that includes the Hulk going apeshit, which should be my favorite scene.

Well played, Whedon. That’s confession two. Despite being a Firefly fan, I’ve always been very critical of Joss Whedon’s writing. It’s very good, but there was always fan service, which rubs me the wrong way. I find it condescending, especially when superhero movies have been blockbusters for a decade. But I will humbly say this is his best script yet. I forgot he was attached to it until an hour in. He’s very subtle, he is respectful to the material, but makes it his own. And he has given us iconic characterizations of superhero icons that will be the measuring stick for many years to come; they all come into their own. He makes Black Widow much more than sexy kick-ass window dressing, and damn, he knows how to use effects. This is the first movie in years where the CG effects haven’t required me to forcibly suspend disbelief.

And this is a comic book movie. It is not a movie with superheroes in it. The heroes clobber each other, change sides multiple times, begrudgingly become a team, just like they do in the comics. It’s like pro wrestling. They get a lot of things pitch perfect. The Hulk is played as terrifying to anyone who’s not a god or wearing armor. The bad guys, armored aliens, aren’t just ugly, violent and stupid, but they have a goofy menace to them like all good comic book cannon fodder does, laughing and shooting their laser guns right up until the Hulk pops their head like a grape. The dialogue is fantastic, and the back and forth banter in battle makes the long, repetitive slugfest remain exciting.

The film is full of nice touches, and I plan on watching it enough times to catch them all. Now if you don’t mind, I want to go get some shawarma.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Heart Transplant

Heart TransplantHeart Transplant by Andrew Vachss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again Andrew Vachss has broken our conception of what can be achieved with the graphic novel format. Teaming with artist Frank Caruso and clinical social worker Zak Mucha, he takes on bullying and emotional abuse with a great story that goes to the root of the problem.

As someone who was bullied in school, and who learned to fight much later in life, it touched a nerve. When we hear of bullying, we blame the bully, we blame the school, but we don’t talk of how to bully-proof our children. By teaching them that they are worth fighting for, and to have the armor of self-confidence that makes bullies seek other targets.

We can’t undo the damage that creates a bully. “Give me a child until the age of 7, and I will give you the man.” But we can raise our children to not be bullied, or tolerate the bullying of others.

I’ll be buying another copy and donating it to my local library, if they don’t already have it in stock. It’s that important.

View all my reviews

© 2010 Tommy Salami