Book Review: Sandman Slim–Richard Kadrey


Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim is one hell of a book. Literally. The kind of book where Lucifer is a character, and life ‘Downtown’ is something the main character, James Starks, doesn’t worry about.  He misses it.

Life in Hell was simple for Starks.  Then he escaped back to Los Angeles; a place that rivals hell for creating one shit-storm of violence and dark magic after another.  Now, caught in a battle between angels and demons, Starks finds a middle ground as he tries to kill those who sent him to the fiery pits in the first place.  And even the angels aren’t safe – or innocent – in this mess.

If there is one word I can use to describe Sandman Slim, it’s Irreverent.  With a capital ‘I’.  Kadrey writes like he doesn’t care about your sensibilities, and there are no sacred cows he won’t slide a pitchfork into and roast over a good pyre.  This is not a book for the faint of heart, or the easily offended.  Run away from this one you think that might describe you.  But if you enjoy a good tale, a unique story like nothing else you have ever read, and can take violence and startling imagery, you will like this book.

I can’t tell you how many times Kadrey blew me away with a metaphor or a simile that fit perfectly into the story.  Open up just about any page, and you’ll find one.  For instance… On page 62:

“The vacant land looks corrupt and out of place in the perfect landscape, like a starlet showing rotten teeth behind her million-dollar smile.”

And it’s not just the images he creates.  The dialog fits perfectly to the characters, and the characters are all sublimely nasty and well-developed.  There are no cardboard cutouts in this book.  Every one of them has a pulse.  Well, not every one of them.

This is a great book, and I will be picking up more of Kadrey’s stories.  I’m just going to give it a few days, so my soul can heal, and I won’t immediately be tagged for a one way cab ride ‘Downtown’.

Writing Update–March 26th, 2011

I find it a little funny that I am writing this blog entry as I procrastinate from actually working on my next book.  When I’m really in the writing mode, I get up early, shower, head straight downstairs, don’t look at email, don’t read twitter and don’t surf the web.  I knew as soon as I sat down this morning that I was in full procrastination mode.  I’ve checked email, surfed the web, tried to fix a problem on my computer, read twitter and tweeted a few times.  And now I’m writing a blog entry about blogging about procrastinating.  Yikes.

I’ve got a lot of time to write these days.  Far more time than normal.  No, I didn’t quit my day job (or lose it).  I had some surgery done on my left foot on Wednesday, and I’m going to be hobbling around for the next 6-8 weeks.  So far, hobbling has meant sitting on the couch with my foot up, or sitting at my desk with my foot up, or lying in bed with my foot up.  I can move pretty well on crutches, and the pain is definitely better today than it was on Wednesday-Thursday, during  which time I was popping Oxycodone every 3 hours and trying to balance the nausea it induced with the burning pain in my foot.  It seemed like that 24 hour period was actually two days long, and everything is a little fuzzy.  Now, Tylenol seems to be doing the job, and I’m very glad for that.  But I won’t be running any races, or cutting the grass, or painting in the next few weeks.  I do have to work from home for my regular job, but I won’t have to commute, or even get dressed if I don’t want to.  (Yay, time savings!)  So I’m hoping to write, a lot.  Ideally, I should be able to finish the first draft of my next book.  But that means I have to stop procrastinating.  What a vicious little circle.

Before my surgery I did get some writing done.  My current work in progress is over 16000 words now, which means I added about 3000 words in the two days I did write.  I also did one very short editing pass on Army of the Risen to fix some typos my wife found while doing a re-read. 

So anyway, hopefully I’ll get some serious traction this week on the next story.  We’ll see.

Writing Update: March 20, 2011

Yes, I am back to writing.  I wrote about 3000 words this week, which isn’t a heck of a lot, but when I did write, the sessions were very productive.  I’ve been bouncing in and out of my latest novel Labeled now since January 2, and though it doesn’t feel like I’ve gotten any traction, I am over 13,000 words total.  When I do sit down, the words come with amazing ease.

I had two interruptions to my writing schedule this week.  On Thursday, I attended the monthly PNWA Meeting in Bellevue, WA, where I heard a very energetic and inspiring presentation by Bill Kenower, the Editor-in-Chief of Author Magazine.  Part of Bill’s presentation included some wonderful video clips, including this one:

From Author Magazine site –

I joined the PNWA in 2009 to enter their writing contest.  I didn’t win.  But I got some extremely helpful comments on the entry response, and that was my first true feedback from someone in the ‘publishing world’.  I went to PNWA Conference in 2009, and though I had my soul nearly crushed by an agent who wouldn’t even let me finish my pitch (My book was too long and I didn’t even know I was writing YA Fiction), I learned a lot there, and met some really great people.  That agent turned out to be right, of course, and because of that feedback, I really did realize that there is more to writing than just putting words on the page.  It is a craft that needs to be studied.

As a result of the 2009 PNWA Conference experience, I went back in 2010 with a better manuscript and a more professional attitude.  I also did a little volunteering, helping out with one of  the service areas, and moderating one of the sessions.  I think I got far more out of the conference because I volunteered, both personally and professionally, and I’m going to be even more heavily involved in the conference again this year.  

Before the meeting on Thursday, I met with the fantastically dedicated and funny Anne Belen of the PNWA and fellow author Tracey Shearer (who was also a volunteer at the conference last year and got her agent partially because she was a volunteer… there are perks to volunteering you know.)  We went over some of  the conference session plans and what we would be coordinating this year.  I realized, while on my way home that night, that one of the reasons why I love writing so much, is that because of my involvement with the PNWA, writing is not a solitary lifestyle.  I’ve gained good friends and participate in writer’s groups and volunteer work through the PNWA.  I highly recommend that every writer try to find a writer’s association and put their full effort into it.  You will get back far more than you put in.

I said earlier that two things interrupted my writing this week.  The second was head trauma.  As in “head, meet sidewalk” kind of trauma.  I was running to catch my train on Tuesday night, came around a corner too fast, lost my footing and face-planted into the concrete.  And yes, there was blood (from the teeth stuck through my lip) and there was pain (I thought I had broken either my jaw or my chin… neither one was actually broken, just bruised).  I didn’t even notice all the points of pain in my body until the next day when the scrape on my knee and stiffness in my neck really kicked in.  Running on wet cement is a stupid thing to do.  Riding the train home, holding my mashed-up chin and bleeding lip was no fun.  A trip to the urgent care center and a Tetanus shot made the evening even less enjoyable.  Luckily, there were no stitches involved.  Just an embarrassing swollen lip and a scraped and bruised chin.  Of course, as a writer, I will make sure that the experience finds its way into my writing.  If one of my heroes happens to find themselves falling onto cement, if they do get up, it won’t be without a banged chin and a bloody lip, and they won’t be running a marathon the next day either.

Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

GracelingMy wife picked up Graceling by Kristin Cashore on the recommendation from @Sundry, someone I follow on Twitter and who’s blog we have read for over five years now.  I like to give credit where credit is due, and since I really did love this book, a hearty “Thank You” goes out to Linda for her recommendation.

Graceling is set in the world of The Seven Kingdoms.  It’s a medieval world filled with, well seven kings, and horses and noblemen and princes.  Katsa, a young girl with a special gift is King Randa’s not-so-secret weapon – his assassin and his enforcer.  In a world where some people have been graced with special abilities, Katsa’s ability is to be able to kill.  And she is very good at it.  King Randa has used her for years to intimidate the people of his kingdom, and made her a true ‘Lady Killer’.   But she is also having a crisis of conscience, and when a mysterious visitor from another kingdom demonstrates the ability to challenge her both physically and mentally, she has a choice to make: one that could see her become and outlaw, or be caged forever in the dungeons of her king.

This is a wonderfully written book for young adults and adults alike.  The characters are perfectly drawn and the scenes masterfully set.  There are twists and turns that make every page brim with action.  It’s a deep story, but not dark, and it’s filled with hope and emotion.  It’s also a coming of age story for a young woman as she escapes  the burdens placed upon her by others, and finds her own way in the world.  I really liked this book.  If I was giving out stars, I’d give it a four out of five, docking it only just slightly because the action climax of the story flew by so fast I almost missed it, and the denouement seemed a little long.  Having said that, with the story she wanted to tell, I’m not sure there was another way to do it.

According to Wikipedia, Graceling received numerous awards and nominations, and I can understand why.  I will definitely read more of Cashore’s books, and look forward to another raining Sunday afternoon deeply engrossed in one of her stories.

Having a Plan

One of the things I’ve been working on the last couple of weeks is a marketing plan.  I’m still in the earliest days of that, but beyond setting up this blog (which if you go back to my Cranium Outpost days I’ve been blogging on since 2006), and Twittering, there’s not a lot an author can do to attract interest without actually publishing something.

But one of the things I did want to do was to make sure I had control over key things like my domain name (check), and my Twitter name (@JoeBeernink) (check) and now my Facebook Fan Page, which you can now see here.

There’s nothing spectacular going on presently on any one of those places, but each step establishes my base, and, as I find new tools to gain legitimate followers, allows me to present a greater audience to perspective publishers.  Publishers want to know that you already have a network of people who want to read what you write, and that you have a professional plan on how to grow that base.  Writing is artistic.  Publishing is a business.  Anything I can do that helps to increase my visibility in a good way and to improve my chances of not only getting published, but increasing the demand for what I do, I’m going to try to do it.  Being aware of social media is not optional in this day and age.  It’s required.  So even though it seems a little weird to set up a fan page before I have any fans, it’s something I think is necessary so as to present a consistent, professional image going forward.

We’ll see how it turns out.

Writing Update: March 11, 2011

My writing updates lately have been a victim of events in my life.  In my last update, I lamented how I was falling behind because my kids were sick and I had just had a bunch of dental work done.  Well a day later, I got the nasty bug, and that floored me for almost a week.  Of course, I had the MAN version of this bug, which isn’t to say that what the kids had wasn’t bad, because it was horrific, but you know, men just get these things worse.  It’s a law of nature.

It took me until the middle of last week to get through the major edit of Army of the Risen I was working on.  I ended up pulling out four complete chapters, and writing one new one.  I also moved a major reveal from the last chapters to earlier in the book, as my readers had a hard time understanding the book without it.  Overall, I think the edit was quite successful.  It’s amazing to me to see how much my writing style changed (and improved) between the first half of the book, written in spring 2010, and the second half, written in fall 2010 after working with Jason Black on The Forgotten Road.  Jason’s feedback taught me so much about writing, and I still highly recommend his services for any author who has plateaued in their writing.

I then spent a few days working on some writing career plans, laying our goals for when I plan on writing what, and working on marketing plans for both myself and my books.  It’s an exercise in futility to plan to far into the future, because I know the gods laugh at people who make plans.  But the process of setting out those goals helped me to work through some things, both practical aspects of writing and life in general, and doing it helped me to transition from someone who just writes for enjoyment with a hope of it maybe becoming something someday, to someone who now considers writing to be part of my professional career, where in the not too distant future there is the possibility of it turning into something that generates, dare I say it, income.  Whether that be writing short stories or magazine articles or more books, time will tell.  I just now know where I need to focus my energy and have some idea of what I need to do to turn my dreams into reality.

For the last few days, I’ve been doing one more read through of Army of the Risen.  I was going to shelve the whole book for a few months and come back to it with fresh eyes, but something in one of the chapters bothered me enough that I had to know how the book read as a whole.  This pass was much quicker than the last one, and I believe the book is much , much better than the original version.  I sent it to my wife’s Kindle last night, so at some point I imagine she’ll give me feedback.  Then, we’ll see.

As for what’s next, as I said, the gods have a way of laughing at those who make plans.  I was going to resume working on my next book, Labeled, but something tells me that may not be in the cards.  I’ll decide this weekend.  For now, I’m going to take a couple of days off, read a couple of books, and take care of some stuff around the house.  Because there is always more work to do there.

Book Review: Ghost Country–Patrick Lee

GhostCountryI’m usually pretty careful about picking up books and making sure that I start from the beginning of a series.  Usually.  But I read a review of Ghost Country on a web site somewhere (I think it was mentioned on John Scalzi’s blog a while ago), and I put it onto my Amazon Wish List, and then one day added it to my cart.  Next thing I know, I’m a ways into it, and I’m wondering why these people all know each other, and what is this other incident they’re talking about.  And then I flip to the front of the book and find out that Ghost Country is the second book in the series by Patrick Lee, and was preceded by The Breach.

What’s interesting is that I didn’t put the book down and tell myself that I needed to read The Breach first.  Lee does an admirable job of letting you know enough about what has happened in the first book to allow you to read the second without too much confusion, though I ‘m sure reading them in order would have helped at least a little.  Anyway, any confusion I felt was certainly my fault.

Ghost Country is science fiction with a Tom Clancy twist.  It’s high concept.  The world is about to end unless Travis Chase can figure out how to stop it.  The science fiction part is due to the presence of The Breach, a barely understood hole in the world that allows mysterious objects to come through from either aliens or another dimension.  Some of these artifacts are useless.  Some do something, but no one can figure out what.  And some let you see 80 years into the future, where the earth has been ripped clean of living people, and the cities resemble something straight out of the TV series Life After People.  Basically, it’s post-apocalyptic, but there are no survivors.  And by the way, Travis only has 4 months to figure out how to stop this all from happening.

It’s a fast read, and one you might want to read on an airplane or on a beach.  It’s not incredibly deep or thought provoking.  The science part of the science fiction is borderline.  There are a few scenes that strain plausibility just a bit, but since we are talking about a hole in the world where stuff comes through from aliens, plausibility might have already been something as readers we weren’t too worried about in the first place.  It’s an enjoyable book for the most part, and I will be tempted to read The Breach when I get some time to see how all this wackiness started.  There were a couple of parts near the end that caused me to furrow my brow with doubt, but if you can get past that and just read for fun, I think most people would enjoy this one.