Dodd’s Best Films of 2017

I love a good listicle. Don’t you? If you don’t, you’re probably lying and trying to hastily close that tab containing Buzzfeed’s “Top 25 Pictures of Mashed Potatoes that Look Like Taylor Swift.”

So I’m gonna do that thing I do where I tell you stuff I liked from this year, and you’re probably going to disagree with me. Feel free to slag off on me in the comments.

TOP FILMS of 2017:

I won’t order these, but these are my faves from 2017. They shift up and down depending on my mood and the rising of the tide.

john-wick-chapter-2-2017John Wick Chapter 2
WORLD. BUILDING. I don’t think I have ever been so thoroughly impressed by the escalation of storytelling and mythos in a film franchise as I was with Chapter Two of JOHN WICK. Yeah, I’m thinkin’ he’s back…with a meticulously developed exercise in world-building and narrative invention the likes of which action cinema rarely seeks to attain.

logan2017Logan
I legitimately believe this might be the only X-Men branded film I will be able to watch in ten years time and still be able to enjoy. There is something about the central films; a baggage that I can’t get over. James Mangold’s LOGAN is the only entry in the franchise so far that aspires to anything beyond surface level drudgery. While there are elements of the main series that work well, I feel like they play things just a little too safe. LOGAN relies on tropes, yes, but in service of subverting them in interesting ways. I admit that that same subversion relies on lesser films in order to provide the necessary context, but the finished product stands on its own enough to outshine its origins. Heh. Origins. Now that was a terrible film.

ww2017Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot could stab me in the leg with a rusty pair of pliers and she’s so goddamn enchanting that I would probably thank her for it. WONDER WOMAN could have been a massive misfire. But instead it was the first solid entry for a DC character since 2012. Not to mention it essentially became a beacon of hope for young girls the world over who have been clamoring for female representation in superheros beyond Scarlett Johansson’s barren “monster” uterus and Harley Quinn’s hotpants.

Baby-Driver-movie-castBaby Driver
Can Edgar Wright go back in and digitally replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer? Because I loved this movie beyond reason and I hate that further viewings are going to be marred by that flubby bag of human garbage. Putting aside the problematic element of a serial predator in a prominent role, the film is excellent in every respect. If it doesn’t snag multiple awards for editing, there is no justice in the world and that is God’s gospel truth.

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Dunkirk
Interstellar left me cold. I’m sorry but TARS and Anne Hathaway’s ugly crying did nothing for me. I appreciated the attempt at thematic weight but Nolan forgot that everything in space is weightless, just like the film ultimately wound up being. But its okay! DUNKIRK understands actual human emotion in a way that some of Nolan’s other films truly do not. The structure of the film is ingenious and the violent ramping of tension makes it one that stands apart from the glut of WWII films that have tried to engage the viewer on a visceral level and failed miserably.

it2017It
I know what you’re thinking; “but it didn’t have NEAR enough child orgies!” Well, I’m sorry that it didn’t clear your bar but this is, for me, the definitive Stephen King horror adaptation. Sure, Shawshank and Green Mile are all-time masterpieces but when has King’s HORROR ever been so adequately portrayed on film? Pet Semetary? Are you kidding me? This is the real deal. What I’ve been waiting for since I was fifteen. This is the good stuff. This is the opposite of whatever the hell THE DARK TOWER was. This is dope.

porg2017Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Porgs. 

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Pre-Order TOO CLOSE TO KILL on Kindle

Banner_PreorderThe second installment in the Madeline McCallister series will be released on January 2nd, 2018. The e-book version is an Amazon Kindle exclusive and is currently available for pre-order!

Click here to get your copy!

As an added bonus, the first book in the series is only $2.99 on Kindle through the end of January or paperback copies can be found through Lulu for only $6.99.

Get on board the Maddie hype train, people!

Bullet Truths

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Occasionally I will find a piece I wrote and squirreled away for some reason. This is a short-fiction piece I put together back in 2011. I figured I might share it just for the fun of it all.

Enjoy.

-J.


One of them was going to die.

I sat in the back of the smoke-filled room, my arms folded in front of me and my eyes locked on the two men standing across from each other, only a long polished oak dinner table separating them. I watched as they stood hurling obscenities and slander at each other like greedy politicians nearing election day. Spittle flew from their lips as they cursed and yelled and pointed their fingers all in a manner most heated. They both knew the gravity of the situation. They both understood exactly on what type of edge they were precariously perched. In the moment where a situation becomes a matter of life and death, a man’s instincts for survival take over and everything that society has imprinted on him; be it morals or values or a sense of honor, they all fly out the window like a canary let loose from his cage.

“You’re a lying sack of crap!” the man on the left yelled. “You don’t have the spine to admit when you screwed up and I won’t stand for it.”

He was breathing heavily. Exhausted under the weight of his own argument. I watched as his chest heaved and his left eye began to twitch. The man was mere seconds away from a violent physical altercation and yet I sat, calm and steady as a rock, knowing that my place was not to interfere.

“I know better than to lie,” his opponent replied. “I know things went to hell in a hand-basket today, but lying about what happened will only make things worse. If I did what you said I did, and I’m not saying I did, because I didn’t, but if I did, why would I shoot myself in the foot yet again by lying about it when everyone knows the truth will come out sooner or later? Why? It doesn’t make sense!”

My gaze drifted to the man seated at the head of the table. His hands folded in front of him and resting gently upon his lap. His eyes were hidden under the wide brim of his fedora. He showed no emotion. No indicator of his mood showed on his face. The man was a blank slate.

“Charlie,” the man said, his voice low, a hair-touch above a whisper. “I want you to tell me your story. Tell me what happened. In your own words.”

“Of course boss,” the man on the right replied, adjusting his collar.

“And Matthew,” the old man continued, “I want you to keep your trap shut while Charlie is talking. Am I understood?”

“Yes sir,” the man to my left replied, chilled to the bone by the boss’ icy words.

“Then begin,” he said, shifting ever so slightly in his chair.

I watched as Matthew took his seat, the fiery hatred in his eyes not daring to recede as Charlie cleared his throat and began his tale.

“It all started this morning when me and Matt went with Joey Q to pick up the weekly payment from Tommy Johnson, that old jerk who runs the antique shop. Every week the guy’s supposed to kick up ten percent of his take to Joey to pay off a debt for something I don’t quite remember.”

“Does it matter?” Matthew interjected.

“I’m trying to tell the damn story, alright?”

“You’ll get your turn, Matthew,” the old man said with a nod. “Continue.”

“Thanks Boss. Anyhow, Joey Q brings me and Matt along for backup because the old codger’s been busting his balls about the payments. Says that business is slow so ten percent is taking too much out of his bottom line or some other such line of crap. So he wants to bring us with him to show the old jerk that he’s got the muscle to take the money if he doesn’t want to hand it over willingly.

“So we get to the store and Joey says to the old man ‘Do you have my money this week?’ To which the guy says ‘I’ve paid my debt and then some, you’re not getting anything else’ and so Joey busts him one across the lip to show him who’s boss. Well the old guy reaches under the counter and Mr. Shortfuse sitting over there assumes he’s going for a gun and pulls a piece of his own. Before I know what the hell is going on he’s popping six shots off into the old shop keep.”

I kept my eyes on Matthew, trying to gauge his reaction to Charlie’s story but he doesn’t flinch. He knows he’ll get his chance to tell his side of the story. He doesn’t want to give up anything before he’s had his say. He’s smart and he’s collected. He knows his place.

“Turns out Johnson was going for his stash box to get Joey his cash, but Matthew got jumpy and plugged him. Of course, the gunshots bring the kid who works the back room running out and he’s got himself a shotgun. Matthew emptied his gun into the old guy, so he’s standing there like a squirrel on a railroad crossing while this kid racks off a shotgun blast into Joey Q’s face. Of course then I pull my piece and shoot the kid twice in the chest and we high-tail it out of there before the police get there.”

As Charlie took his seat I took a glance at the boss. He didn’t offer any reaction. He was always good at that. Keeping himself in check and letting nobody get close. He’d been a crime boss for close to forty years. He came to power back when gangsters were still gangsters. The kind who could walk up to a parked car in broad daylight and empty a clip into the guy inside and walk away without fear of police action. He was the kind of gangster that people wrote books about. The kind that stood covered in the shroud of American myth and nobody knew how to get to. His name was Vito Castiglio and he was the last of his kind.

I had seen Vito in many meetings just like this one. I had watched him sit there, unmoving and unyielding, as he boiled any situation down to its core and resolved the issue with the steely resolve that came with decades of finely tuned illegal business savvy. Today would be no different. While these two idiots yelled at each other, convinced that one’s story would influence the boss to their favor, neither of them understood like I did that the outcome had been decided before either of them had stepped into the room.

“Derrick,” he told me, “I’m a patient man. More patient than most men in my business. But people will always test my patience. The fact that even with my reputation people still try to pull the wool over my eyes forces me to treat every word that comes from the mouth of anybody as inherently false. There are three sides to every story, the way one guy sees it, the way the other sees it, and the truth. I make it a point that I find the truth. Every single time. Let someone get away with a lie once and they know they can do it again. The bold grow bolder when left unimpeded. You’ve got to show them that you are above them. So far above them that they’re almost beyond notice at all. That’s how you succeed in this business.”

That stuck with me. It’d been years since he gave me that speech and it still rattled in my brain like a song stuck on repeat. The way I saw it, someone like Vito Castiglio could make his own truth by sheer force, but he wouldn’t let himself work that way. I guess he could have just as easily been the greatest police detective the world had ever seen if the money was right. Vito Castiglio took enormous pride in cutting through the mystery and solving the puzzle. It was just another way to feed his ego.

It was hard to watch as Matthew told his version of the day’s events. “Look, we showed up to the store like Charlie said. Except Charlie decides he wants to play ‘Mr. Tough Guy’ and grabs the kid working there and says he’ll kill him if the old guy behind the register doesn’t pony up the dough. Turns out that old man Johnson isn’t as useless as he thought and he pulls out a shotgun from under the register and aims it square at Joe’s head. Charlie freaks and plugs away at the shopkeep, who as he’s falling down pulls the trigger, scattering Joe’s brain across the ceiling tiles. The kid rushes at me like a damn banshee and bites my damn arm so I pop him once in the head with my piece. I even got the bite marks to prove it.”

Matthew rolled up his sleeve to reveal a bandage wrapped around his upper forearm. Showing it off to Vito and proving nothing in the process. The bandage covered whatever the wound really was and for all I knew it could have been a cheap trick covering nothing at all. I wouldn’t put it past the guy. I hadn’t known

Matthew long but he was a con artist to rule all con artists and my gut reaction said that bandage was a fake out.

“Are you both finished?” Vito asked looking up from the table, his pale blue eyes glinting in the dull glow of the lamp hanging overhead. “Because my time is valuable and I have places to be.”

“I’ve said everything I have to say,” Matthew half-mumbled.

“Same goes for me,” Charlie echoed.

“Good,” the old man said.

Neither of them had time to react as the old man fired two bullets into both of them, his hand gripping a smoking gun underneath the table. The two men slumped over in their chairs and fell to the floor, groaning as the blood seeped from the holes in their gut.

“I know everything. You should have just left town, you might have lived longer,” Vito said, stepping around the table and aiming his gun at Charlie’s head. “You both had a beef with Joey and you wanted him dead. So you killed him and tried to use the shop keeper as a patsy.”

Another shot rang out as Vito put a bullet in Charlie’s head.

“You thought he would be alone, but the boy showed up and you had to take care of him. You not only cost me the money old man Johnson was kicking up every week but you betrayed one of your own to do it. And worse than that, you thought you could lie to me about it.”

Another shot and another bullet. This time into Matthew’s head.

“When you lie you dig your own grave.”

The old man handed me his gun and I wiped it clean with my handkerchief as he walked out the door letting it slam closed behind him. I shoved the gun into my waistband and walked over to where Charlie lay bleeding out onto the floor. I shook my head in frustration. I told them to be discreet. I told them never to panic. If I had known how this would have turned out I never would have asked them to kill Joey Q. I would have done it myself. The old man trusted me. In all the years I’d known him I’d been the only one to keep him fooled. All that talk and all that rhetoric meant nothing when it came to family.

My name is Derrick Castiglio and I am my father’s son.

Creation and Ownership – The Value of DIY Publication

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It has been said that nobody reads anymore. Of course, each successive generation since the time of Plato and Aristotle has been branded lazy and unintelligent by the one that preceded it. But if you look at the reality of the situation, perhaps things are not as dire as they seem. According to a study reported by The Atlantic, “[s]ome 88 percent of Americans younger than 30 said they read a book in the past year compared with 79 percent of those older than 30” and “high school and college-aged people reported reading more than survey respondents in their late twenties.” This is encouraging, isn’t it? The idea that literacy is not dying and that in truth casual readership is on the rise? It certainly seems so.

One of the biggest questions I get asked when I’m promoting a book or talking about my experiences as a writer in general is why I self-publish. Have I tried to submit to a major publisher? If it isn’t good enough for a major publisher, why would anyone want to read it? All manner of questions that, while frustrating, are valid.

As an author, I have submitted far more pieces for publication than have seen the light of day. The world of publishing is, honestly, a relentless thunderstorm of noise and confusion. Something that I feel has value may not fit the vision of a particular publisher. A publication house has to think about their audience and their finances and the truth is even if reading as a common pass-time did drop to an all-time low,  there would be no shortage of hungry, eager writers looking to see their work published.

As of late, I have adopted a DIY attitude toward publication because as the cultural landscape changes and we see an increase in younger people reading, the importance of big publishers does seem diminished. Big publishers care about their bottom line. That means telling and selling stories that will find the broadest audience so that no money is lost. But, and I know I’m getting older and I can’t claim to be part of the “younger generation” much anymore, young readers want to read stories that are unconventional. Stories that big publishers might not want to take a risk on.

That’s why I wrote Madeline McCallister. That’s why I wrote a series about a bi-sexual female protagonist whose main ally is a black British agent who rejected his affluent upbringing to forge his own identity. That may not seem bold or groundbreaking, but it is a turnoff for some publishers. And the fact that it is even part of the conversation is why I put the work out into the world on my own, unfiltered by any mandate other than my own.

In the past, writers had to trade their vision and their control of their work in exchange for an audience. That was the power publication houses dealt in. Now, that isn’t precisely the case any longer.

For example, I have a few friends who work in the comic book industry. That world is so much bigger than Marvel and DC in terms of where stories are being told and what type of books are being produced. I look at what people like Isaiah Broussard and Jessi Jordan are doing and wonder why that same determined, boots-on-the-ground approach cannot work in the realm of literature the way that it does in comics. I understand that they are two different monsters, but in the age of social media and digital content, perhaps the differences aren’t as vast as they may once have seemed. Unfettered creative control that leads to genuine, interesting media in turn will find an audience. At least in theory.

So, in the interest of being clear, I want to assure people that I stand by the quality of my work. In fact, I would say that the DIY approach that births the projects published under my own banner allows me to take full responsibility for what I produce. That allows me to engage with my readers in a way some other writers are simply not able to. Maybe it is my affinity for the old punk rock mindset, but I take pride in my process. Does that mean I do not have designs on seeing my work distributed by a major publisher? No. I’m not against major publishers. I just want to combat the preconceived notion that self-publication should be dismissed as amateur hour.

As I gear up to begin promotional work on Too Close To Kill, part of that mission is also to educate people on the wonderful work being produced by other skilled writers like myself who are consistently producing excellent work that finds itself overlooked in the marketplace. Small and independent press are where some of the strongest and freshest literature in the modern world is being produced.

At this point, I simply want to raise enough money to convince Jeff Goldblum to record himself saying “literature finds a way.”

That would make it all worth it, don’t you think?

Too Close To Kill – Coming Soon

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Hey y’all,

I haven’t been the best at constantly updating this blog to keep everyone appraised of what’s going on but the truth is I’ve spent the better part of this year working on the sequel to One Fate for Failure and while I had hoped to get it prepped and ready for a Christmas release, it looks like I’ve fallen short of that goalpost.

But that’s okay.

Too Close To Kill is coming. It won’t be home for the holidays, but it will be around to help you ring in the new year. I really can’t wait for you to read it. When I set out to write the next chapter of the series, I was legitimately a little bit worried that I wouldn’t have the right story to tell. That turned out to be the opposite of my problem. I had the right story, the world just didn’t want me to write it. I found myself having to adapt my story and find new avenues to move the narrative forward because of our shifting cultural and political landscape.

But I am proud to announce that despite all the setback the e-book version of Too Close to Kill will be available Tuesday January 2nd, 2018 with a print edition to follow shortly after. If you haven’t read the original One Fate For Failure, now would be a good time, because book number two in the Madeline McCallister series is coming and you aren’t going to want to miss it.

Wondering what book two is all about? Here’s a quick synopsis;

“Madeline McCallister left the CIA to start a new life with the person she loves but D.E.A.T.H. has not forgotten about her and they do not care about her happy little life.

When terror follows her into her new world, Maddie is drawn back into a life she thought she had managed to leave behind.

In a globetrotting race against the clock, Madeline must untangle the mystery of D.E.A.T.H. before their vicious acts of terror plunge the world into total chaos.”

Keep checking back here and follow my Twitter feed for more updates.

Cheers,

-J.