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I am really excited about Blood at Sunrise coming out. In order to get you all as excited as I am, I present to you the first chapter of the novel in all its bloody, bullet slingin’ glory. Things only get better from here.

CHAPTER ONE:
THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY

Jefferson Crowe sat alone at the very rear of the passenger car. The train barreled down the track, moving as if pursued by uncompromising agents of hell. As if Satan himself were giving chase. He thought it appropriate, as the place he was leaving was as close to hell as one could get while still on Earth’s firmament.

Vicksburg had been a glimpse into the realm of the damned. A burning charnel house of death and devastation. He could still smell the stench of rotting flesh, of watered down human excrement in the streets. He remembered the hot, cloying feeling of inescapable suffocation as he hunkered down in one of the tunnels dug beneath the earth. The Yankee soldiers had called Vicksburg “Prairie Dog Village” because of the way the inhabitants burrowed into the ground. The only sanctuary from the constant thundering rain of burning munitions lobbed from across the Mississippi.

Jefferson ruminated on the notion that the memory could ever be erased from his mind. The things he saw, the things he witnessed, that would ride in the back of his soul until the day he died. He knew that. It was the question of whether he would ever be able to move past what had happened and live the life that Jefferson Crowe had left behind when he had enlisted two years earlier. The Jefferson that embarked on that journey was not the Jefferson who returned. For starters he was remarkably thinner and the bags under his eyes drooped low, held down by the gravity of the horror he had endured as a soldier in the Confederate army.

The journey back was turning out to be a different sort of torture. If war was hell, then for Jefferson Crowe the return was a gloomy purgatory; a constant, unending tedium and a dissociative detachment from the world around him. He watched as the scenery rolled by out the window of the passenger car. The world outside seemed a squalid, desaturated haze of grey, a dry and empty waste that mirrored the fugue that lingered in Jefferson’s chest.

Jefferson found his fingers picking away at the beds of his fingernails, a throbbing encumbrance of anxiety pulsing through his veins and driving his fingers to peel and tear at his cuticles, an idle distraction from the worry poking at the back of his mind like a woodpecker’s beak on the bark of a tree. He thought of home, the vague remembrance of the place he left years ago, and closed his eyes. He could not picture it. He could not recall the place he once lived. All he could see in his mind was black. The crushing absence of image that he had willed himself to conjure rather than recall the horror of the battlefield. At times when he let his mind wander, a specter of a vision would threaten to creep into his dreamscape; the image of dead friends, laying with spilled guts and crying eyes on a smoky field in some backwater plain that nobody cared about now that the guns had stopped firing. He willed himself to fight back the ghosts of war, shoving them down into some hole in himself that he buried with the insistence that that part of his life was over forever.

He was no longer a soldier. No longer a man of war. No longer the deliverer of souls to the blessed eternal or the damned unending. He was Jefferson Crowe, son of Randall Crowe, respected lawyer and the most honest man God had deemed fit to place on the firmament and now, so too, a man of peace. Jefferson opened his eyes and flexed his fingers, the cuticles bleeding and raw. He pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiped away the crimson stains. Then his hand instinctively went to the gun that he wore belted across his hip. It was a Remington-Beals model 1858, a .44 caliber that he had pulled from the hand of a dead Colonel before the siege of Vicksburg. He had conducted thunderous symphonies of violence with that revolver. He thought of how if he were an earnest man he would have thrown the damn thing in a river or melted it down or sold it to whoever had the money to pay. Instead, after Vicksburg, where he and a number of his battalion had escaped across the river and survived long enough to see the writing on the wall and burn their uniforms before going their separate ways, he had belted it tight across his waist and made sure he had enough ammunition to play a familiar tune if he found himself in trouble in unfamiliar country.

His father would make him sell it when he returned home. He was sure of it. Randall Crowe was never a violent man. He didn’t have it in him. He believed in the best in people. A great quality for a man who practices law but a poor quality for soldiering. He had not been happy when Jefferson marched off, rifle in hand. He didn’t understand it. Said it was a pointless waste of a promising life. Randall fervently believed that Jefferson would die on some battlefield and the world would be denied whatever contribution he may otherwise have to offer. Jefferson hadn’t died. Some part of him had, certainly, as war kills something inside everyone though some are not cognizant of the loss. Jefferson was very much aware of his loss. He had always been a confident man, a man of purpose and resolve. It was the reason he had enlisted, after all. He felt that he could not in good conscience remain passive while others, people that he knew well, were fighting and dying as he lived in comfort. Randall had said that was fool’s logic. Jefferson now knew his father had been right.

Jefferson had gone to war and war had taken something crucial from him and left him to figure out whatever was left. He knew he would return home and learn to practice the law like his father. He knew that was his path now. What he did not know was whether he could succeed. He did not share his father’s faith in people, and whatever assurance he had in the world prior to taking up arms was long buried. He had faith in only one thing and that was himself. He knew he could fight. He knew if it came down to it he could kill a man with his bare hands. He knew from experience that this was true. He had crushed the windpipe of a Union soldier in his bare hands after the man tried to bayonet him in a foolish charge. He had watched as the man’s face turned from red to purple and the whites of his eyes turned red and the light of life fled from his pupils. He knew he could draw a bead on a target with rifle or pistol and put a ball where he aimed. He knew he was a killer. By instinct or conditioning he had become a killer.

And he hated himself for it.

The train rolled on and Jefferson was slowly become acutely aware of the passage of time. It felt like an eternity since he had boarded the train but in reality, upon checking his pocket watch, it had been a mere two hours. Time seemed to lurch forward at a snail’s pace when the only companionship he had was the voice in the back of his head reading a continuous list of his doubts and fears. He had charged headfirst into enemy fire without a second of hesitation but now he found himself afraid of what he would find when he returned home. What would his father have to say now that the war was over?  Jefferson wanted nothing more than to return to the life his father had wanted for him. He hoped that was still possible.

Time, slow moving as it was, slammed to a halt as he heard the violent screech of the train’s big wheels as the conductor applied the brakes. They were nowhere near their destination. Something had gone awry. The soldier’s instinct inside Jefferson stirred like a bear awakening from a tired slumber. His ears perked up and his eyes narrowed. The passengers around him began to murmur and stir but he remained silent and still. One hand moved slowly to the gun slung low at his hip. There was danger in the air and Jefferson Crowe could taste it.

 Jefferson’s passenger car was the last of three. Two lay ahead of him, attached to the locomotive at the head. Peering out the window he saw figures climbing onto the coach at the front end of the train.

Outlaws. Bandits. Trouble.

Jefferson stirred to his feet and excused himself as he brushed by some fellow passengers as he made his way to the rear of the car. He drew the revolver from the holster at his hip and thumbed back the hammer, the audible click as it latched into place trampled by the sound of muttering passengers. A lady in a floral bonnet gave him a quizzical look but he shook his head and pressed a finger to his lips as he pressed his back against the wood beside the rear exit of the coach.

Then he waited.

Robert “Blood Bone” Bradshaw was the sort of outlaw that gave territory marshals nightmares. A violent psychotic with tendencies that measured high in cruelty. He was largely notable for leaving a trail of bodies in his wake and for escaping from custody on numerous occasions, usually leaving the corpses of mutilated lawmen behind as a grim reminder that attempting to capture him was more than simply a bad idea.

Bradshaw had utilized the chaos spread by the American Civil War to turn himself into something of a frontier legend. Sure enough, there were folks who thought that he was nothing but a myth. Conjured up to scare off carpetbaggers from up north who had come to settle in the South now that the conflict was over and there was opportunity abound. But he was real enough and he was the man who led the cadre of outlaws in their late afternoon raid on the train which was presently ferrying Jefferson Crowe home from his extended sojourn.

Bradshaw and two men advanced upon the lead car. The engineer of the locomotive made some meager attempt to thwart the blaggards but was met with a shot to the gut from a loaded rifle. He staggered backward and crumbled upon the floor, his hand rollicking back into the broiler, the flesh popping and peeling in the fire.

Jefferson Crowe heard the shot and readied himself. He knew how men like this operated. He could anticipate what would happen next.

Then it happened.

The rear door of the passenger car slammed open with surprising force and a grungy looking individual with a burlap rag wrapped about the lower half of his face to obscure his face.

“Everybody put yer hands in the fuckin’ air!” he shouted in muffled, mumbled furor.

Without giving the rest of the passenger car a chance to do as instructed, Jefferson discharged the Remington revolver putting a round through the back of the man’s skull. Blood and bone and brain erupted from the shattered front of his face as the man staggered forward and slammed to the floor. A frightened shout shrieked from the mouth of a startled old woman opposite the rear of the car. Jefferson gestured that she cease her hysterics with a frantic wave of his hand and thumbed back the hammer on the revolver yet again.

“What is going on?” a gentleman in a hat much too large for his head inquired.

“A whole mess of trouble,” Jefferson replied. “Best to sit down and keep quiet.”

Jefferson closed the rear door with the heel of his boot and stepped over the felled outlaw. He had anticipated that the outlaws would send a contingent to the rear of the train to cut off escape from the last car. His time as a soldier, low as he may have been in the pecking order, had given him some insight into the realm of strategic violence.

“Blood Bone” Bradshaw was also well versed in the ways of violence and stratagem. He had also served for a time in the army, albeit on the Union side. His tenure as a soldier had come to an end after assaulting an officer and he had been court martialed and been set to stand before a firing squad but managed to bugger off into the night before his scheduled execution. He had enjoyed far more success as an outlaw. This was partially because despite his more violent tendencies he also possessed a keen mind and could read a situation to his advantage with alarming regularity.

It was for this reason that the sound of a gunshot from the rear of the train alerted him to an onset of danger. He alerted one of his compatriots to make his way to the back of the train to investigate. Bradshaw knew there was a slim chance the gunfire was a result of his man getting jumpy. The one he called Cooter who he had advised to take the rear of the train was the squirrely sort and also had a real tendency to fall to outbursts of random violence to establish control of a situation. That understood, it was highly unlikely that such an outburst would have come so soon after boarding the train. None of the gang were so foolish as to cause an immediate ruckus.

The man Bradshaw sent to investigate, a fellow from Louisiana by the name of Patrick, was not sure what he would find when he entered the last car on the train. Likely as not it would be Cooter terrorizing some poor sap that had been too dumb to reach for the sky when he came busting through the back door waving that pistol of his around. He certainly did not expect to see the entirety of the car seated with their hands in the air while Cooter lie prostrate on the floor in a puddle of his own blood.

“Cooter?” he inquired, not necessarily expecting a reply.

The folks in the car did not stir as the man called Patrick stepped forward raising his revolver. He was perplexed as to why the passengers kept their hands up while Cooter lay dead on the floor. Where Bradshaw had a sharp and deductive mind that served well to keep him alive in unfamiliar circumstances, Patrick could best be described as a dullard. A blunt instrument better suited to be pointed in the direction of an identified problem and unleashed, not necessarily the best choice in situations that require critical thinking.

Were he of a keener mind he might have noticed Jefferson sitting in the first row of seats near the door where Patrick entered. So distracted by Cooter’s dead body was he that he didn’t notice the slight peppering of blood on Jefferson’s otherwise pristine suit jacket. It was only when Jefferson stood, raising his own revolver that Patrick cottoned to what was happening. Patrick turned to face the man, bringing his pistol to bear. Jefferson lunged and the Patrick squeezed the trigger. The shot rang rang out and echoed in the car. The passengers screamed on instinct. Patrick grabbed ahold of Jefferson’s hand and tried to wrench the Remington from his grasp. The outlaw lurched forward and bit down on Jefferson’s wrist. The revolver clattered to the floor at their feet. Patrick whirred with his own pistol and brought it up, ready to fire.

It was then that one of the passengers decided it was their opportunity to be a hero. He charged at the outlaw and twisted his arm as the man pulled the trigger. The sound was deafening and Patrick let out a shout of frustration as he slammed a knee into his attacker’s gut and shoved him backward. The outlaw fired another shot, taking the man in the chest. A split second later there was another shot, this time from Jefferson’s revolver, regained and aimed directly at Patrick’s spine. The ruffian staggered forward, not yet felled, and attempted to turn his own weapon on his would-be killer. Jefferson however was quick to react and deadly with his aim, thumbing back the hammer and firing twice in rapid succession, putting two fresh wounds in the man’s chest and dropping him to the floor.

The passengers all crowded around Jefferson as he reached into a pouch on his belt containing a spare cylinder of freshly loaded rounds for the revolver. He reckoned that he would need more than two more shots. He replaced the cylinder and locked a new one in its place. He locked it into position and thumbed back the hammer.

In the lead car, as his compatriot was relieving the passengers of their valuables, “Blood Bone” Bradshaw heard the rapid exchange of gunfire and knew now that there was trouble at the rear of the train. He had scouted this train well and knew it would be filled with soft folk and didn’t figure on encountering much, if any, resistance. There were no lawmen traveling on the train. With three cars he knew he could manage the situation with a skeleton crew of men, so whatever had gone down at the back of the train was an anomaly he could not figure.

“Somethin’s not right,” he grumbled, more to himself than to his man, who was so distracted by the active collection of loot that he did not hear the statement uttered.

Bradshaw pulled the twin Colt Walker pistols he had slung at his hips and thumbed back the hammers. Simply flashing them from beneath the trim of his mud-coated duster had been enough to keep the passengers in the lead car in line but he knew that if there was going to be gunplay he didn’t want to play a game of quick draw, he wanted them handy for when the lead started flying.

He edged out of the lead car into the second, where a contingent of passengers sat confused and scared. Bradshaw had to chuckle to himself that not a single one of them had the good sense to make a run for it. Fear makes those unaccustomed to the feeling into pure dumb animals, weak and quivering like cows. He made his way past the cowering passengers into the rear car. There he found more of the same, scared and helpless victims, closing their eyes and keeping their hands raised until the storm cleared. Of course he also found the dead bodies of Patrick and Cooter.

“What’n the fuck happened here?” he bellowed, his voice a growl like that of an agitated mountain lion.

One of the passengers found the courage to speak. “There was a man,” he explained. “A man with a gun.”

“And where is he now?”

“He left,” the man said.

Bradshaw fired off a shot between the man’s eyes. The whole crowd screamed in terror.

“Fat fuckin’ bunch of help you were,” he said.

The sound of gunfire drew his attention.

The lead car.

He turned and dashed toward the front of the train, guns up ready to unleash a fiery storm of bullets that would make the confines of the passenger car like a maelstrom of death called up from the very depths of hell.

He reached the lead car and was met with a bullet smashing and splintering the wood beside his head and his frightened companion holding the gun.

“Jesus christ,” Bradshaw yelled. “What the fuck’re you shootin’ at?”

Another shot rang out and the jumpy outlaw slammed backward and hit the floor. Bradshaw whirled and fired off two shots, the blur of movement as his man’s killer leapt from the walkway connecting the two cars and hit the ground below. Bradshaw gave chase, firing as he went. Jefferson, scrambling like a madman, climbed underneath the belly of the train. The violent outlaw, not willing to be outmaneuvered, clambered up the front of the passenger car partition and dove off on the other side, rolling onto his side and firing blindly with the Walkers. His quarry was nowhere to be found beneath the train. Confused, he rolled to his knees and scanned the underbelly of the train, desperately searching for the man who had so rudely disrupted what should have been a quick and easy haul.

He was so then surprised when the man leapt from the very top of the passenger car and came down on top of him like a cougar striking at his prey. He smashed the hardwood handle of the Remington revolver against the outlaw’s nose and heard the sharp, wet crack of splintering cartilage as the criminal fell onto his back in front of him, losing grip on his revolvers and dropping them into the dirt.

A crowd had gathered, peering out the windows of the train, some venturing out of the cozy confines of the passenger cars onto the partition and watching as Jefferson stood over the man with a gun in his hand.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Just a man trying to get home,” Jefferson replied.

“Johnny reb?”

“Not anymore.”

“Suppose not,” Bradshaw muttered.

“You stand up nice and slow,” Jefferson said. “I done enough killing today. Did more than enough before today, too. Don’t see any point in doing more, so don’t give me a reason.”

Bradshaw spit into the dirt.

“You got any idea who I am, boy?” Bradshaw asked. “Who it is I run with? What I do?”

“Don’t much care,” Jefferson said, gesturing for the man to stand with the barrel of his Remington. “On your feet.”

Bradshaw staggered upright, bent over at the waste and clutching his broken nose. The tips of his fingers swayed low, inching toward the pistols sitting within a moment’s reach in the dirt.

“Don’t even think about it,” Jefferson cautioned.

“I ain’t what you think I am son,” Bradshaw said.

With lightning speed he reached down, not for the gun but for a handful of sand, which he flung at Jefferson, blinding him and catching him off guard. Jefferson fired, the bullet going high into the sky. Bradshaw tackled Jefferson with all the force of a speeding locomotive and slammed his head against the ground. The outlaw started pounding on the man’s face, retribution for the broken nose, looking to return the favor in kind.

A desperate Jefferson Crowe reached out and grabbed hold of a nearby rock and slammed it against Bradshaw’s skull, sending him stumbling to the ground, blood seeping from the wound at his temple and caked onto the front of his face like a mask.

“You fuckin’ shitkicker,” he said as he staggered back to his feet.

Jefferson was still on his hands and knees, struggling to regain his composure. Bradshaw saw an opportunity as he caught sight once more of his revolvers. He reached down and grabbed one, thumbing back the hammer and walking slowly toward Jefferson.

“Ain’t no one man going to take down the Bloody Bones gang,” Bradshaw spat, mixing saliva and blood on the dusty ground. “Ain’t no man dumb enough to try.”

He aimed the gun at the back of Jefferson’s head and pulled the trigger. There was a sharp gasp from the onlookers as the air filled with the echo of a dull click.

Misfire.

Jefferson looked up at the stunned outlaw who was then equally amazed to be staring down the barrel of a cocked Remington.

Jefferson pulled the trigger and the round tore through Bradshaw’s face like a finger poking through wet tissue. The outlaw fell forward in death and a spreading pool of blood mixed with the dirt as Jefferson pulled himself to his feet.

“You talk too much,” he said, holstering his revolver and turning to look at the stunned faces of the crowd who simply erupted into applause as Jefferson stepped over the body of the dead outlaw and made his way to the front of the train.

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In November of 2015 I started writing a western. The original goal was to finish it as a project for National Novel Writing Month, but my professional and family commitments forced me to take a more measured pace. So here we are some six months later and the work is finally complete and the finished product should be available in the coming weeks. I wrote in a previous post  that I had several goals for the project; write in an unfamiliar genre, write with careful attention to establishing tone, and finish on a deadline. I guess two out of three isn’t bad.

Blood at Sunrise is  the name of the book and it is not what you would consider a typical western. There are several genre tropes present but the style of the writing and the elements of greatest concern within the narrative do not seem to fit with my, admittedly somewhat limited, understanding of the literary form of the genre. If anything, it reads like a pulpier Blood Meridian. This is somewhat expected as most of my work is a pulpier version of something. In case you missed it, I tend to wear my affinity for genre fiction like a badge of honor.

The truth is that this narrative could very easily have been set in the seventies after Vietnam, or in 1991 following the first gulf war, or even in a post 9/11 world. So the question remains; why a western? I think a good deal of it has to do with the archetypes of the characters that you find in a western meshing well with the story I wanted to tell.

In Blood at Sunrise, we follow Jefferson Crowe, a southern soldier who ran off to enlist in the Confederate army because he felt he had something to prove, as he returns after the war looking to put violence behind him. Unfortunately for Jefferson, on his journey home violence finds him and events are set into motion that place him in a position of authority; a position that necessitates violence and the willingness to use it.

The western genre, in film at least, which is the way I always absorbed it, seems to divide its heroes into white hat, dyed in the wool good-guys or individuals who straddle a line of constant inner conflict. The classic John Wayne v. Clint Eastwood dichotomy. I had hoped to play with those archetypes a bit, in that Jefferson longs to be a John Wayne character when he has a whole lot more in common with the Eastwood types. He wants to be a good man but he knows he is so very, very good at doing bad things.

His primary antagonist, the Reverend Benjamin Bane, is an embodiment of an idea as well. An idea that devotion to principles, when pushed to an extreme, leads to dangerous places. Our villain’s motivation, in his mind, is rooted in altruism and discipline. Jefferson’s own narrative arc is centered around his adherence to an internal code. The conflict of the story is built into the characters’ DNA.

That is why it had to be a western. The western as a genre is built on archetypes. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the most well-known western films; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time In The West, The Searchers, Unforgiven. The archetypes are right there in the titles. They are hard-wired into essence of the material. Blood at Sunrise is very much a story that plays with archetypes and convention while simultaneously subverting them for the sake of telling a different type of story than is usually found in traditional examples of the genre.

There is something largely operatic about Blood at Sunrise. While the setting is definitely a western, the spirit feels, to me at least, like something new. I truly hope that readers enjoy the experience.

View_of_Vicksburg,_Mississippi

Work is coming to a close on my latest project. It could be described as historical fiction, as the events take place in the years following the American Civil War and I have taken careful strides to ensure that much of the story is period accurate. In anticipation of what is to come, I am giving a sneak peak at the prologue of the piece, which sets the tone of the narrative to follow. I talked a little bit about why I think a prologue is an important factor in some writings and I still believe that to be true.

Expect more updates regarding the project as the release draws near.

PROLOGUE

At 4:30 in the morning on April 12th 1961, General P.G.T. Beauregard of the newly formed Confederate States of America began a heavy bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor effectively kicking off what would become known as the American Civil War. The conflict would last four years and claim over 600,000 lives.

The men who fought in this war did so for a variety of reasons. Some felt it was their duty. Others found themselves conscripted into service. Some, when asked, could give no intelligible reply. They simply went. The why was lost in the what and in the end it mattered very little anyhow. All that mattered was that it was violent. It was hell and horror. It was war.

July 4th, 1963 – Vicksburg, Mississippi

Any soldier in their right mind hates a siege. A charge is risky, a melee is frightening but a siege is an anxious pit of despair that swallows the resolve of even the fiercest, battle-hardened veteran. Ten days in and a siege becomes unbearable. Rawlins had begun his siege of Vicksburg on the 25th and since that day the bombardment had fallen down on the town like the wrath of Zeus thrown from Mount Olympus. Shock and awe, fire and smoke.

Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton had resigned himself to the siege, hoping that Confederate agents in the area could harry the Union troops on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi river and force the attackers away from the city. But word had come down that the relief efforts had been unsuccessful and the barrage of fiery death from the attackers was unlikely to cease.

The soldiers inside the city perimeter did what they could to ensure their survival. But by the end of June most had fallen to sickness. Laid low by scurvy, malnutrition or dysentery. The lack of food became an issue and as the siege wore on folks started to talk about how they didn’t see quite so many rats running around anymore. Same could be said for dogs.

On July 4th, 1963, realizing that they could no longer forestall the inevitable, Pemberton signed a conditional surrender to Ulysses S. Grant beside an old oak tree allowing for the parole of the 30,000 Confederate troops inside the city.

“This war ain’t gonna last much longer,” a corporal was overheard saying. “We can keep fightin’ all we like but it’s all gonna shake out the same.”

That was true enough. Fighting would rage on for another year still, but Vicksburg was the beginning of the end for the southern cause. It was the end of the war entirely for many of the men in Vicksburg that day. While a good number would return to the Confederate army and exchanged for Union soldiers in Mobile Harbor, Alabama on August 4th of that same year, many simply threw down their arms and began the long journey back to their home, hoping to find some remnant of their former life there. Something to believe in after the end of a long and violent campaign.

The full novel, as yet untitled, should be available this fall.

batman-v-superman

Film is a medium that is ruled by the sum of its parts. This is why it is possible to enjoy a film when certain elements falter in the eyes of the viewer. It is a function of the medium itself that a film can overcome the under-performance of its own elements to be viewed as a success by the audience. This is an understanding that most lovers of film will readily acknowledge when discussing the art form. It is a reason why viewers are apt to have so-called “guilty pleasures” wherein some element of an otherwise disposable piece of entertainment overpowers its combined negative elements to provide enjoyment to the person watching. There is nothing wrong with being the dissenting opinion. There is nothing wrong with believing that a film has merit that others do not see. However, in the wake of the release of mega-blockbuster Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice, there has been an explosion of inflammatory rhetoric and combative attitudes put forth by both critics and supporters of the film that seems to ignore the basic central tenet of film criticism; that artistic value is ultimately subjective.

One of the prevailing false equivalencies in defending one’s opinion on a piece of art or entertainment is to dismiss the person stating the opinion rather than providing a logical opposition to the opinion itself. This is what is known as an ad hominem attack. A sizeable amount of the street-level conversation regarding the release of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice has circled around the fact that those criticizing the film are doing so out of customer loyalty to rival Marvel Comics, and in no way predicated on the fact that the film, like any produced by mere mortals, has flaws that many will see as inexcusable when trying to assess its relative value. In the world of film criticism, to a certain degree, any argument is valid provided that it resides in sound logic. Dismissing legitimate criticisms as an aftereffect of a perceived cultural hive-mind is not a basis for defending one’s own position. However, a sizeable faction of those supporting Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice seem incapable of drafting their own thesis in defense of the film and would rather predicate their attack on the criticism the film has received, hoping to undermine the voices of those who would question whatever artistic merit it might have by painting those who would speak against it as preternaturally biased. It is somewhat perplexing that so many defenders of the film have chosen this path because in the world of film criticism the best offence is not a good defense. Supporters of the film, if they are seeking credibility or validity for their own viewpoint, should focus on presenting the merits of the film rather than attacking those who fail to see them.

Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is a film that seems equal parts genetically engineered for close analysis and wholly underdeveloped to the point that any analysis would be equally insubstantial. Director Zack Snyder begins the film with a sequence in which a young Bruce Wayne, following the funeral of his parents, finds himself at the bottom of a well after tumbling down an unseen shaft. The young child is then shown ascending out of the cave in a maelstrom of bats. This is a powerful metaphor to be certain, or rather it could be, but ultimately it is meaningless because nothing in the film follows up on the symbolism presented in that scene. It is an isolated piece of imagery that exists only to provide a stirring visual. This is a legitimate criticism of an aspect of the film. Does it, in and of itself, mean that the film is a disaster? No. It does not. This criticism is not predicated on any particular loyalty to an outside brand or a bias against the film walking into the theater. It is an observation that explains why someone might take issue with the film and call it ultimately empty and lackluster in its construction.

Another rhetorical fallacy being paraded by supporters of the film is that it heralds the arrival of mainstream comic adaptations that ascend in maturity the way that rival Marvel adaptations are afraid to embrace. This seems entirely centered around a false definition of the word “mature.” In the parlance of those who herald Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice as a mature alternative to Marvel, the word they are likely looking for is simply “dark.” Maturity implies sophistication. Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is many things but sophisticated is low among the adjectives that could be reasonably applied to it with a straight face. By implying that Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is a mature film, supporters would then be arguing that it is intricately crafted and sophisticated in its design in a way that a lesser or more juvenile film could not attain. While I will say that there are points in the film that are artfully and tastefully rendered, with a careful intricacy in developing certain themes, the majority of the film’s construction is ultimately haphazard and disjointed in a way that defies the term “mature.” Coherency is a central part of narrative storytelling. There are myriad elements within the script of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice which defy logical cohesion. They are not so much “plot holes” as they are “logic holes,” and moments that could and should have been caught in revising the draft before being placed in production.

Again, that is not to say that there are not sophisticated elements showcasing this abstract concept of maturity within the film. Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice does an excellent job with its operatic interpretation of the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne, a singularly important moment in developing Batman as a character. It is even more striking when you realize that this scene, very early in the film, sets the philosophical principles of Batman in an organic way that utilized economic storytelling and strong visuals instead of the ham-fisted expository dialog that permeates the rest of the film. To wit, Thomas Wayne is shot down in the midst of attempting to fight off the attacker who would rob them. This is a direct act of aggression, which sets the tone for our more active-minded, aggressive Batman throughout the rest of the film. Contrast this with the Batman of the Christopher Nolan trilogy, whose Thomas Wayne died while trying to place himself between the attacker and his wife, an act of defense. To construct the scene this way, Snyder was likely attempting to prove his thesis on heroism; that passivity has no place in the heart of those we should call heroes. This is indeed a bold choice and shows some of the maturity that supporters of the film like to point to. However, much of the goodwill earned by flourishes like this are balanced out by scenes in which Lex Luthor taunts a senator with a glass of urine on her desk before suicide bomber takes out the capitol building.

Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is not an unholy abomination of a film. It is not even the worst comic book film of the last five years. Oddly enough, as much as this film drew from the oeuvre of Frank Miller, it was that man’s Sin City : A Dame to Kill For that takes the prize as the most incoherent, painfully unwatchable comic book adaptation since the genre saw its resurgence in the middle of the 2000s. What Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is actually is a deeply flawed film whose individual parts do not add up to a competent film but possesses minute elements that work in such a way that the flaws can be overlooked by a certain contingency of the audience. In a way, supporters of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice are correct. The film is critic proof. It will and has made the studio the money they so obviously desired. But for those who were hoping to see a film that embraced the true meaning of maturity, the concept that so many are quick to rally around to defend this film, they will only be disappointed.

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As an English teacher I sometimes find myself compelled to complete the same writing prompts of my students. It’s finals time around my neck of the woods and an element of the final comes in the form of a timed expository response to a selected topic. The original composition was limited to twenty-six lines and this is simply a typed version of that same response, written under a forty-five minute time limit.


 

Things rise and fall in the cultural zeitgeist with the speed of a Japanese bullet train. Why would any one individual wish to conform to the mob mentality of societal pop culture instead of blazing their own trail? After all, the bullet train of pop culture has been known to fly off the rails from time to time.

Following trends does not ensure personal economic or spiritual success. The biggest success stories come about when an iconoclast, some unconventional individual who marches to the beat of his own drummer, eschews the most popular trends and forges something new and surprising. Take George Lucas for example. This is a man who crafted in Star Wars one of the largest cinematic achievements in the history of the art form. Yes, we now look at the 1977 film as a classic, comprised of elements that assure a creative and critical victory. However, at the time of its release, 20th Century Fox executives famously believed that they had invested time and money into a monumental failure and box office flop. It was too different from the popular films of the time, they argued. There was no way it would connect with movie going audiences. Time and good sense have prevailed however and we now understand that it was the very act of separating himself from the sheltered pack mentality of Hollywood that allowed for Lucas to bring his visionary space opera to the silver screen.

In the end it is the ability to reject conventional wisdom that allows an individual to have the greatest impact on society. As per the words of James F. Cooper, “the man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity.”

The year has come and gone. It was a big one for me; bought a house, published a new novel, got engaged, saw the new Star Wars in theaters. Lots of ticks off the bucket list in 2015 for sure.  I can’t say it was a good year overall. I mean, police brutality, terrorism, Donald Trump…do I really need to go into detail? Probably not. But I will go into detail with regard to the things that didn’t make me hate the very concept of existence.

J. Goodson Dodd’s Top Films of 2015

I think it is telling that I can’t even do a top 10 list this year. Granted, I missed a few films that looked like surefire winners (Straight Outta Compton, Creed, The Good Dinosaur, Crimson Peak) but all the same, it was a rather week slate altogether. But the good ones sure as hell did stand out.

I don’t pretend that these are the most technically sound films, or prestigious. These are simply the films that stayed with me or impressed me the most over the course of the year.

Beginning with…

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5. The Martian

Ridley Scott is such a hit or miss director these days. I personally loved Prometheus but I know it gets a lot of hate. Then you’ve got less than stellar Exodus, The Counselor, and that misguided attempt at Robin Hood with Russel Crowe.

With The Martian, however, Ridley Scott shows what made him such a respected name in the game of film in the first place with a masterfully paced adaptation of Andrew Weir’s novel of the same name. While much of the credit for the film goes to the folks who wrote the thing, Scott’s direction and steady hand go a long way towards cementing it as one of the best of the year. That’s to say nothing of Matt Damon playing the ever-loving hell out of Mark Watney, someone who the audience demands be charming enough that we believe it is worth the effort exerted to bring him home from his extra-terrestrial exile.

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4. Ant-Man

This time last year I was one hundred percent certain that Ant-Man would be overshadowed by Age of Ultron. Which is a shame, I told myself, because I love the character and lesser-known heroes deserve a chance to find love from the greater public at large.

So how did Ant-Man manage to be the best superhero film we got this year? Not only by virtue of only having to compete with garbage like Fantastic Four and the mediocrity of Avengers : Age of Ultron, but by having the sort of wit and charm that works best for left-field characters like Scott Lang. Having one of the best ensemble casts of any major film this year didn’t hurt, because Michael Pena could salvage even the worst of films.

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3. The Hateful Eight

I was sure this was going to be number one for me. I was sure of it. And it is only by virtue of the strength of other films that this gets the bronze medal. Quentin Tarantino turns in what, after careful consideration, might be his most carefully constructed piece of writing to date, filmed with expert precision, making it by far his most stunningly shot film. Looking at the man’s filmography, The Hateful Eight is the culmination of everything that is Tarantino. It has the excess of Kill Bill with the claustrophobic tension of Reservoir Dogs and the steady focus of Inglourious Basterds. It is a difficult film. One that will be divisive and off-putting to most, but over time will likely be appreciated as one of the finest pieces of cinema produced not just by Tarantino but any director working in the modern age.

Thematically, it is the grandest of anything Tarantino has ever done. His statement on the concept of race relations and violence in America is pointed and vicious. This is a timely film. Only minor tweaks would be necessary to bring the film into the present day and the message would remain the same. That is part of the brilliance of Tarantino’s design. There is a bit of dialog in the film about the “disarming” characteristics of a certain letter that Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren has in his possession. So too is there a disarming quality to the idea of a violent Quentin Tarantino film. He has long been regarded as a man more inclined to style over substance but with The Hateful Eight he truly does have something to say and he is going to say it loud, painting a thematic slogan across the screen in blood all the while filmed in glorious Panavision 70mm.

I had a lot of conflicting ideas about this film. I think I’ve worked through most of them and have settled on a final opinion. For my original review, you can check out my Tumblr post.

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2. Star Wars – Episode VII : The Force Awakens

I cried. Let that sink in. In all of the prequels, I don’t think I ever had a single emotional response to anything presented on the screen. I had the same emotional attachment to the franchise, but it didn’t connect.

So what changed?

The fact of the matter is that the reason the latest Star Wars film works is because it has an emotional core. While the script may have some pretty glaring flaws, the result of unending rewrites and tinkering, the overall construction of the film is rooted in an emotional ideal. Our new leads are connected to something that we have an affinity for, but we could have easily wound up hating the ever loving bejeezus out of them. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have the unenviable task of being the new faces of Star Wars and not only do they do an amazing job, the managed to get me emotionally invested in their stories.

The “Hero’s Journey” trope has been rode into the ground and beaten within an inch of its life. So having that same story pattern brought up again and applied with Rey, my brain should have rejected it and dismissed it outright. Instead, the vibrancy with which she is brought to life makes me invested in the journey itself. I don’t mind familiar beats being hit again because when the beats land, they do so effectively with none of the clumsy handiwork of the prequels.

This feels like Star Wars again. On every conceivable level. And when Star Wars is good, it’s really really good. There’s a reason it is so long-lasting and endearing as a franchise beyond simple merchandising. There is magic in that universe. The Force Awakens proves that.

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1. Mad Max – Fury Road

I have never seen a film so visceral and economically minded with regard to storytelling as the fourth film in George Miller’s Mad Max saga.

This film is a modern marvel.

It should not work. Thirty years have passed since Max was on screen. Mel Gibson isn’t back. The continuity has been shot to hell. There’s very little in the way of dialog, which means virtually no exposition. How the hell were modern audiences going to react to a film that demanded that they fill in gaps with their imagination and critical thinking? Surprisingly they took to it like a fish to water and it became what has to be one of the most universally praised films I’ve ever encountered. I don’t know many people who didn’t think this thing was a masterpiece of cinematic genius. I know general consensus doesn’t amount to a whole lot but I’ll be damned if I’m not in awe of how universal the acceptance of Fury Road as a stunning benchmark in the name of cinematic achievement has become.

I really can’t say much more about the film. It stands on its own. It was the single most impressive film I’ve seen this year. I doubt we will see anything like it for a good long while.

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I love being a writer. I truly do. As a teacher I attempt to center the core of my instruction around the idea of building better writers. Though I may love literature as an art form, I also understand that in the current educational climate the ability to understand the dramatic themes in The Crucible comes secondary to advanced literacy and written communication skills. I try to teach my students the intricacies of using the English language to make themselves understood and how mastery of communication is one of the single most important traits they can attain when it comes to their eventual attempts to move upward in their careers or in societal circumstances.

Nobody can ever accuse me of not having a deep appreciation for the form of writing, and I find immense satisfaction in the act itself. Writing One Fate For Failure was one of the most emotionally fulfilling endeavors I have ever engaged in. I am unimaginably proud of it as a piece of my creative output and I have loved hearing the responses to it from the meager audience it has attracted since its release. (*Side-note: The only available editions thus far are the hardcover, which I know is massively overpriced, and the Kindle edition. I am hoping to have a more affordable paperback edition out soon. I promise it is something I am working tirelessly on as we speak.) What I do not enjoy, or am at least uncomfortable doing on a large scale, is the self-promotion that comes along with the release of a creative work.

This blog is updated with no real attention to regularity. I will simply write when it strikes me as being appropriate. I also have a hard time keeping up with Twitter. Part of this is because I am not a creator with any established cultural awareness. More simply put, my creative work is not popular enough to pay the bills. As such I have a job that takes up a good deal of my time and I cannot dedicate my entire existence to selling the thing that I have spent so much time creating.

The fact of the matter is this; if you create something you want the world to see, if you intend to maintain control of that creation you must also be willing to accept responsibility for the success or failure of that creation.

Thus far, I feel like I have not been living up to the current standard necessary to get the word out for my new novel. I can’t place the fizzle of a reaction to its release to anybody but myself. I just haven’t had the time, or perhaps the drive necessary, to promote the thing 24/7.

The point of writing this isn’t to lament that the book didn’t set the world on fire however. I didn’t have any expectation of that at all. In truth, the number of people who have taken the time to download and read the book has brought a smile to my face. It is also seemingly garnering far more positive a reaction than Grave Danger ever did. No, the point of writing this is to talk about whether a creative work only has value if it has an audience.

John Steinbeck once said that the “audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person-a real person you know, or an imagined person-and write to that one.” I don’t have any true inkling of how many people will read anything I write at any given time, these little essays included. Therefore, I write using myself as an audience surrogate and, in all honesty, simply hope that somebody else enjoys it.

In my mind, the joy of writing isn’t necessarily the idea of those creations finding an audience once I’ve published them, though it is an added bonus. To me, a true creator pushes the content out of their soul because they don’t know any other way to exist. I feel like there was a time when I didn’t think of my writing in this way, but I have slowly but surely come around to this mindset after spending enough time in reflection to grasp the concept that not everything that is great ever finds an audience and sometimes things that never need to see the light of day somehow find their way into the greater consciousness of popular culture.

I recognize that the tone of this essay is a bit scattershot. Perhaps it is because my emotional attachment to my creative output leads to such peaks and valleys. What I hope the supposed audience of this writing will take away is that creativity both is and is not a commodity, and even if nobody ever reads a single line of your creative output, that does not mean it is not valid and a beautiful culmination of creative determination.

All of that said, please be sure to buy One Fate for Failure on Amazon. I think you’ll love it.

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After a lot of hype and hooplah, the big day is here. The digital edition of One Fate For Failure is now available on Amazon Kindle. This is the culmination of a long road filled with endless stops and starts. The end product is something I believe in and really want to put out into the world. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I did writing it. As I sit looking at the first few pages of my new project for NaNoWriMo, seeing the polished result of what has honestly been about two years worth of work available for purchase really fills my soul with a warmth I’m not accustomed to in these late months of the year.

For those of you who stumbled onto this page at random, maybe through hashtags or some other wacky internet magic, you may not know the story of One Fate For Failure and wonder why you should bother giving it a read. The short version is that it is an inversion of the tropes found in pulp spy stories such as the James Bond series that serves to stay true to the genre while subverting most of the conventional ideas. First and foremost our hero is a female, and there is something to be said about filtering the hyper-masculine world of special operations and espionage through the lens of a lady protagonist. The story follows Madeline McCallister, a SAD/SOG (Special Activities Group/Special Operations Divison) operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Madeline, or Maddie as she is more affectionately referred to, finds herself caught up in a massive government conspiracy after a sanctioned operation in Mexico leaves her in hot water. She is forced to travel across the globe trying to take down the man responsible for soiling her name and staying one step ahead of the government agents who want to see her taken down.

I cannot emphasize enough how much fun the book was to write and how much fun the story is to read. Maddie is probably my favorite creation and I really hope that folks latch onto her because she definitely deserves some love. I implore you to give the book a chance. It’s only $4.99 to own, and if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber you can read it for free. You don’t even have to have a Kindle to read it. You can get the Amazon Kindle app on Apple or Android devices and read away!

For fans of hard copies, fear not, a physical edition is still in the works for December, so you can still stuff some stockings with a spiffy print edition this holiday season as well.

Thank you for the support, I hope you enjoy the new book.

Click Here to View ONE FATE FOR FAILURE on Amazon.

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“So, what I told you was true…from a certain point of view.”

I think about those lines, spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi quite a bit when it comes time to start writing something new. Whose point of view am I telling the story from? Are they reliable in their narration? What is their voice? Is it the best means of transmitting the story in my head to my readers.

In One Fate for Failure, I made the decision to write in the first person. I felt like a great deal could be added to the narrative by filtering it through Maddie’s perspective. The entire tone of the story depended on her voice being an ever present force in the text. Take for example this bit of expository inner-dialog that we get from her in the first chapter;

Rick was ex-Delta and I was Naval Intelligence. We were as different as two people could be, but we had a mutual respect that made us gel in ways that lots of people wished they could. There were plenty of people in the intelligence community who didn’t care for me much at all for one reason or another. I couldn’t tell you why. Well, I could but I won’t because it’s crass and I don’t have the stomach for it. I come from a family that was always big on being proper. My parents were New England blue blood through and through. Cape Cod in the summer type of folks. They raised me to have manners and be respectful like a lady should. Then they died in a boating accident like the worst kind of east coast cliché and in my adolescence discovered a lot of things about myself while rebelling to manage my grief.

If I were to try to re-write that same excerpt of text from a different perspective, the same information would be conveyed but it is the fact that the details being relayed are being voiced by the character herself that lend it the appropriate tone. She is making these observations about herself and that somehow, to me at least, makes the whole passage more legitimate and serves the character better. While Maddie is telling us what is going on in her head, feeding us information, the fact that she is divulging this sort of backstory lets us know that she has a self-analytical mind and thus the layered distribution of information makes for a deeper reading experience.

I have only written in first person once before, in 2012’s Grave Danger. I’m not sure if a pattern is emerging or if my two recent writing exercises demanded a first person narration due to the conventions of their genre. At its heart, Grave Danger is a detective noir, albeit filled with paranormal elements, and the whole thing played out in black and white with that growly voice over narration that was ever present in those early detective films of classic Hollywood. One Fate for Failure’s first person perspective was driven by my desire to round out my central character. There was a central motivation there. It didn’t so much have to do with convention, seeing as it was a take-off of Fleming and his progeny.

So how do you make that final decision as to what perspective to write from? What is the best way to tell your story?

The truth is that it depends on authorial purpose. As a teacher I try to explain authorial purpose to my students and some of them rebel at the idea because they say “well how the hell would I know what he was thinking?” But as a writer your purpose should be clear in your head before you ever sit down to write. I knew when I began outlining One Fate for Failure that I wanted to subvert tropes found in the spy genre and make a comment on those same conventions. I knew that I would want to throw some winks at the audience and the best way to do that was to have the narrator make them for me. That only works within the context of the genre if the narration is first person. Add that to the fact that I wanted my prose to have the rich, layered delivery of information that I mentioned earlier and the choice was practically made for me.

Ask yourself why you want to write and what you are seeking to accomplish. Then you can make the decision as to what perspective to write from. If you can answer those questions, it should be a fairly easy process. If you can’t answer those questions, your story probably isn’t ready to be written yet. I’m already prepping my next project. It’s outlined and ready to go. I know that I want to tell a story that, again, subverts a particular genre, but I want to play within those conventions and as such I know that this time around I will be utilizing an omnipotent third-person narrator. My aim with this is to give the proceedings a feel akin to a folk-tale, as if the story is being related years down the line from someone who heard it from someone else.

A writer needs to be self-analytical to be worth a damn. It is a primal urge to get our stories onto the page but we also have to resist the urge to let the story control us as writers. The story works in service of your own authorial intent. Never lose sight of that.

I have detailed the long journey One Fate For Failure took to arrive in its final form in multiple blog posts in the last two years. A majority of those came earlier this year when the book was nearing completion and I knew it was no longer a promise in danger of never being kept. This was definitely happening. And now, the proof edition of the final novel has arrived and is in the process of being finalized. Once we have that locked down, I will have an official release date for the print edition. It will be available through Amazon.Com, BarnesAndNoble.Com and other locations as well.

But I wanted to preview exactly what it looks like for those who might be interested, and give my thoughts on what all went into creating the final product.

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There’s the official front cover. Pretty isn’t it? I spent a lot of time working out a design for this book because I wanted to imply a tone for the writing before the reader even cracked the front page. My central character is female, and I wanted that to be perfectly clear but I didn’t want to fetishize or overtly sexualize her on the front cover. I didn’t want this to be like one of those books you see with the generic female heroine in a pair of painted on leather pants gazing off into the distance.

I also didn’t want it to be a desaturated nightmare. I wanted some vibrancy, hence the contrasting white with pink/red color scheme. I think it really pops out at you and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.

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Here’s the back cover. The color scheme is carried over and I tried to use imagery that is connected to the narrative without giving away too much of the story. You can probably assume that Maddie will end up in Paris because of the photo of the Eiffel Tower, but I didn’t want to spoil the circumstances. I also tried to be as vague as possible with my synopsis because so much hinges on the reader discovering the twists for themselves.

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But here’s my favorite page in the whole damned novel. I’ve already got a few pages of notes for the sequel (title forthcoming) and I hope everyone is as enthusiastic about Madeline’s debut as I am. I seriously have never been as proud of a work of fiction as I am with this. I feel like I accomplished everything I set out to do and Madeline is a character I hope to continue writing for a very, very long time.

Official release date announcements coming soon, guys! Thank you for all the support!

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