Friday, August 19, 2016

So Where Have I Been?

Things have been a little disorganized around here.
Short answer: everywhere.

I've been up, I've been down. I've had highs, I've had lows, and I've had to readjust to "the new normal," but things are beginning to stabilize and get back to whatever passes for normal around here.

When last I left you, Gentle Reader, I had been trying to get back into the habit of creative writing by attempting to revive my interest in some of my old, unfinished superhero writing projects: one I called the Celtic League of Superheroes, and the other I called the Liberty Legion. However, try as I might, I just couldn't seem to get revved up about either of these projects. I created them some eight years ago and laid them aside, and it was difficult to pick them back up again I just couldn't seem to get my mind and my imagination back into that same "mental space," if you will, that I was in all those years ago. My life and my circumstances had changed, and somehow I knew I needed to begin a project that reflected that.

Last November, in observance of National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short), I posted a link on Facebook to a Shadow/Superman fan fiction piece that I wrote several years ago. One of my Facebook friends told me that he read it and enjoyed it very much and encouraged me to create something similar with my own characters. I thought I might be able to do this with my pre-existing projects, but they seemed to be going nowhere. Around the end of April, however, I got a sudden flash of inspiration. I had a mental image of a character very much like The Shadow, yet not The Shadow, for obvious legal and copyright reasons. He would be a character swathed in darkness and mystery, nearly invisible except for his burning, penetrating, unearthly blue eyes. I used the HeroMachine website to create an image of this character, and once I did, the details of his backstory, his mythology, and the outlines of his first adventure came to me almost instantly.

I dubbed this character Blacklight and set to work writing his first adventure. I tried to explain his origins without dwelling excessively on them as I had done with my previous characters, but instead dove right into the action. I worked on this story almost constantly, a little bit every day, from the end of April to the beginning of July, when I felt it was finally finished.

It was then that disaster struck. On the evening of July 5, as I was trying to move from the bed to my wheelchair, I slipped and fell and suffered a "tibial plateau fracture," a break in a small bone in my left knee. The injury didn't require a cast or surgery, thank goodness, but it did require wrapping the knee up thoroughly in an Ace bandage and taking time to heal. It's still healing, as a matter of fact. Ironically, the day after the celebration of America's independence, I was reminded how dependent I am on other people. I had to spend the first three or four days after the accident in bed, and for several weeks after that I couldn't get into or out of bed without help .

With the help of a couple of dedicated physical therapists from the home nursing service that I work with, however, I was able to master a new way of getting in and out of bed using a hospital bed and an overhead trapeze bar. When getting into bed, I park the wheelchair by the bed, place a special homemade pillow (nicknamed Floyd) into the gap between the wheelchair and the bed, grab the trapeze bar, and slide and flop over into the bed, using the guard rail on the far side of the bed to finish pulling myself over. The reverse process of getting out of bed is  similar.Using the hospital bed, I can raise myself to almost a sitting position, grab the trapeze bar, and slide over into the wheelchair, again using Floyd to bridge the gap between the chair and the bed. When I get out of bed in the morning, Floyd is already in position because he's right where I left him the night before.  I owe my personal care attendant a very special thanks for creating Floyd. This is "the new normal" for me, and it looks like it will be for the foreseeable future.

Once I was able to get in and out of bed and sit in the wheelchair for extended periods again, I was able to get back to the final edits of my story. I sent copies of the story out via email to a small group of beta readers, who not only were enthusiastic in their praise, but also straightforward in their criticism, pointing out grammar and spelling mistakes, awkwardly constructed sentences, unclear transitions, and the like. Using their suggestions, I revised and edited the story into a final form that I'm happy with. What's most exciting to me about the story is that it leaves the door open for future stories about this character. The villain is vanquished, the day is saved, and the damsel in distress is rescued, but there is still a master villain lurking in the shadows, and complications ahead for our hero. Stay tuned! I'll have more to say about Blacklight in a future blog entry.

So that, Gentle Reader, is a rather long-winded explanation of where I have been the past several months. I do have ideas for more blog entries in mind, and I will do my very best to be a more regular and faithful blogger.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Swing: A Review

NOTE: This review originally appeared on

Swing: A MysterySwing: A Mystery by Rupert Holmes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do you love classic mysteries with a noir feel? Do you love swing and big band music from the 1930s and 40s? If so, you'll love Swing. Rupert Holmes, composer of "Escape: The Pina Colada Song" and creator of the TV series "Remember WENN," turns his talents to mystery writing and delivers a smart, well-crafted, novel that combines music, mystery, and murder in an ingenious and absorbing way.

Like many members of the Jack Donovan Orchestra, a lesser-known big band from America's swing era, Ray Sherwood is a man with secrets, regrets, and a past he'd like to forget. However, as one of the band's saxophonists and its principal arranger, he gets along all right. In San Francisco for a gig in the fall of 1940, Ray figures his luck might be changing for the better when he's approached by Gail Prentice, a lovely and talented Berkeley coed, with a job offer: arrange her avant garde piano composition "Swing Around the Sun" for a jazz ensemble in time for its first public performance by a Japanese swing band at an international exposition in San Francisco.

Almost from the moment Ray agrees to take the job, however, strange and increasingly sinister things start to happen. A young French Jewish woman, who had proposed marriage to Ray just moments before, in order to avoid returning to her Nazi-occupied homeland, plunges to a grisly death from the top of a bell-tower. Or does she? A strange figure resembling the dead woman reappears at crucial moments and seems to be shadowing Ray and Gail. Gail herself disappears to make unexplained phone calls and apparently writes incriminating letters. She then denies it or contrives a patently false explanation. Who is she talking to and why?

Gradually, Ray is drawn more and more tightly into a web of lies, conspiracies, espionage, intrigue, and murder involving both American Nazi sympathizers and agents of imperial Japan. Eventually, Ray is presented with the stunning possibility that Gail may actually be his long-lost daughter, the result of a one-night stand almost twenty years earlier. Is Gail really Ray's daughter? Is she a pawn in a spy ring or a willing accomplice? Is "Swing Around the Sun" really an elaborately coded musical message designed to pass vital information about national defense to America's enemies? The answers to these questions will help Ray come to terms with his past and have vital implications for America's future as the nation stands on the brink of entry into World War II.

This book is more than just a crackerjack murder mystery and spy story. It's also a multimedia experience. The hardcover edition includes a CD of several original compositions by Holmes, both instrumental and vocal, in the big band style, that are referred to in the book, and may even provide alert listeners with clues to the solution of the mystery. The audio version, available through the library-based digital media service, Hoopla, integrates the songs into the story at appropriate points. I listened to it at a clip because once I got far enough in, I just couldn't switch off my smartphone. In the words of one of the songs this, "myst'ry with musical diction . . . speaks to me." I hope it speaks to you too.

View all my reviews