Recollecting Nine Dozen Heroes in Rising Sun Reruns

The ancient sages say, “Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon.”  So may one just man become an army.

So began the opening narration of one of my favorite TV shows growing up. The BBC’s English-dubbed version of a Japanese TV show that adapted a classic Chinese martial arts tale. The Water Margin.

I was honored to be asked by editor Jim Beard to contribute to his volume of essays looking back on those childhood Japanese TV shows and immediately thought of penning a few words about The Water Margin.

My essay “Nine Dozen Heroes,” can be found in the recently released RISING SUN RERUNS anthology, along with the reflections and memories of several other pop-culture writers about their favorite Japanese shows.

Rising Sun Reruns:
Memories of Japanese TV Shows from Today’s Grown-Up Kids

The Books That Made Me – Part Five

It’s been six months or so since I last added anything to my series of posts inspired by the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts under the title “Books That Made Me.” – So far I’ve talked about:

So let’s get back to it and answer the next couple of questions on the list.

The Book I’m Ahamed Not to Have Read

That’s an interesting question. As much as I read (usually around 100 books a year), I know I’ll never get around to reading everything I want to read, never mind something that others think I should have read. Actually, I never take any notice of those articles and lists outlining what you “should” read. Read what you want because you want to not because someone else says you should. So is there any book I’m ashamed not to have read? No.

But there are books in my to-read stack (currently numbering just a little under 500 volumes) that have been hanging around for several years and I get the occasional twinge of guilt that I haven’t picked them up yet. Let’s pick two; one fiction and one non-fiction.

First up is The Diamond Chariot by Boris Alunin

Several years ago I worked alongside a Russian colleague who knew of my interest in Sherlock Holmes and would tell me stories about the character he felt was the closest Russian equivalent, Erast Fandorin. One day he gifted me this volume suggesting that as it was set around the same time as one of my Holmes stories, 1905, I might enjoy it. – I was delighted and humbled, but I’m afraid that it has sat on my shelf for at least seven years now and I still haven’t got around to picking it up. – And Dimitri, if you’re reading this, one day I will read it. I promise.

On the non-fiction front, there’s 1000 Years of Annoying The French by Stephen Clarke.

This has been on the shelf for around the same amount of time as I purchased i on a trip back to the UK in 2015. I must admit I picked it up while browsing the history section in a Waterstones book store for one reason alone – the title. The book was shelved in the bookcase in our guest room, and I think it’s become a victim of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. But given the fact that I’ve spent a considerable amount of my professional career working alongside French colleagues, I really should give it a read at some point – just to see if it lives up to the, what I hope is, tongue-in-cheek, humor of the title.

The Book I Give as a Gift

My first reaction to this question was that I don’t have a specific book that I give as a gift. Each Christmas we gift books to each member of the family and try and make sure they are a good match for the individual. There isn’t anyone title that we’ve repeatedly gifted.

But then I thought about this question from a different angle and there is one book that I’ve bought for others on a regular basis, rather than loan them my copy (which is a rather fragile first edition), and that is Watchmen.

I read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s now iconic series when it was first published as a twelve-issue monthly comic. I picked up the first UK trade paperback edition (the one that is now falling apart from being re-read so many times), and I also have a nice hardback edition that I was lucky enough to get Dave Gibbons to sign for me. So if talk ever talks to Watchmen, and it’s surprising how often conversations around comics and graphic novels do, and I’m asked if I have a copy that someone could take a look at, my answer is “Yes I have a copy,” and “I’ll happily buy you one to try.”

Looking Like It’s Going To Be An Eventful 2022

We recently held our first in-store signing for the James Bond Lexicon book (almost a year after release) and it felt so good to be back out in public, meeting and chatting with friends old and new. First off a big vote of thanks to Austin Books & Comics for hosting the event.

But that was just the start as we book more and more events for the rest of 2022. Upcoming we will be at the following:

All promise to be fun events, but I will admit that two stand out in particular, both in September, our first visit to DragonCon, and the return of our local library’s convention, vastly different in scale, but both sure to be great events.

We had hoped to also be at FenCon in Dallas in September, but work-related travel schedule conflicts meant we had to withdraw from this year’s event.

You can keep up with any changes or additions to our convention schedule on our dedicated events page. – Looking forward to meeting some of you out there on the road in the coming months.

The Books That Made Me – Part Four

Over the last year or so I’ve been working through a series of occasional posts inspired by the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts under the title “Books That Made Me.” – So far I’ve talked about:

It’s about time I answered a couple more of the questions on the list.

The Last Book To Make Me Laugh

I’m not one for humor or comedy books, but I do read a book that makes me smile and have the occasional unexpected laugh along the way. Such a book was The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife.

The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife

Who would have thought that a book about an ex-infantry squaddie who lives in an old castle looking after seven blackbirds could be so engrossing that I literally couldn’t put it down? This was an unplanned single-sitting read. Skaife has a simple honest prose style (and I mean that as a compliment) that immediately engages and entertains. He comes across as a consummate storyteller and educator as well as a highly empathic human. But the real stars of the book are the Tower of London ravens who emerge as distinct individuals with their own personalities and behavioral quirks.

A Book I Couldn’t Finish

One book that came highly recommended and that I was looking forward to reading was The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar. I’d heard nothing but good things about the author’s other work, and the premise, what-if there had been superheroes during World War II, while hardly original, certainly appealed to me. I was hoping for a fresh new take on the idea.

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

The story I was hoping for maybe in there, but I couldn’t find it. This was mainly due to the use of a staccato prose style combined with what seemed to be a mix of an unfinished movie plot synopsis and half thought out author’s notes strained through one of Alan Moore’s infamously voluminous comics scripts. The result for me was an unreadable mess that left me unable to finish.

The one thought that kept running through my head was if the author wanted to employ a script-type approach then they should have gone that route and developed this as the graphic novel it seems to be struggling to be.

This book has got some great reviews and feedback and won several awards – so maybe it’s just me – but it just didn’t work in capturing my attention the way I wanted it to.

The Books That Made Me – Part Three

Back in August I took the first pass at starting a series of posts inspired by the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts under the title “Books That Made Me.” – In that post I talked about what I was currently reading, and a book that changed my life. In December I picked up the challenge again and talked about if there was a book I wish I’d written, and a book that influenced my writing.

It’s been a while, so I think it’s time tackle another couple of questions:

The Book That Changed My Mind.

I’m not sure this book changed my mind about any one thing specifically, but it did make me look at the world around me from a different perspective. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.

Norman combines backgrounds in engineering and psychology and applies them to the world of human-centered design where usability is just as important as aesthetics. The book gives many great examples of when designers get things right, and equally valuable where they get it wrong. I highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in how we interact with the physical world we inhabit, and how good design can make that experience more enjoyable.

The Design of Everyday Things – Don Norman

The Last Book To Make Me Cry

As a young man Adrian Gill’s dyslexia was so bad he was classified as functionally illiterate, his early adult years were lost to alcoholism. Then he discovered a talent for expressing himself through words and a love for food. We first came across him in his early days as the food critic for The Sunday Times. His reviews of places we’d never eat in and food we’d never try were the first thing we read. A.A.Gill grew to be one of British journalism’s best. A man who told it like he saw it, wasn’t afraid to pull his punches, and was unapologetic about his own life and views. The Best of A.A. Gill collects his best writing in food, television, travel, life, and most movingly his cause-celebre – the global refugee crisis. It ranges from cynical truths, to outrage, as well as the humorous, and heart-warming. It concludes with a heart wrenching piece where he talks honestly and brutally about is own imminent death from cancer. Overall this volume is an excellent celebration of an honest man.

The Best of A.A. Gill

Loving the Lexicon Launch

Thanks to everyone who made the recent launch of our new book THE JAMES BOND LEXICON such a success.

Thanks to the folks who posted selfies with their copies, or took it on themselves to help spread the word.

With sales in the US, UK, Germany, France, and Spain in the first week, we hit the #1 New Release spot in the Movie Reference, Video Reference, and Movie Guides & Reviews categories on Amazon.

Feedback so far as been very positive, and we’ve had great fun appearing on several podcast interviews, such as the recent one on James Bond Radio – and there’s still more to come.

You can keep up with all the latest news on The James Bond Lexicon at the companion website, JamesBondLexicon.online, or by following us on Twitter @BondLexicon

A New Touch of Swashbuckling for Your Bookshelves.

Now available on Amazon the first volume of The Musketeers’ New Adventures which includes my story “Noblese Oblige” – A lost letter written by the Queen must be found or else it threatens a new war with Spain. Desperately she calls upon a retired Musketeer to find the missing message. – Available in either paperback or kindle format – Need some adventure? Just click here.

The Books That Made Me – Part Two

Back in August I took the first pass at starting a series of posts inspired by the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts under the title “Books That Made Me.”

In that post I talked about what I was currently reading, and a book that changed my life.

It was a fun exercise to go through, so let’s pick up the challenge again with the next set of questions.

The Book That I Wish I’d Written

I’ve given this one a lot of thought, and it may seem like a cop-out but there isn’t one.

Let me explain. Sure I’ve picked up many books and thought something along the lines of I could have written a pretty good book on that subject, or I had a story idea like that once, or even, Wow that was very cool, I wonder what inspired it; but nothing that provokes what could be called a feeling of regret because I didn’t do it. For one simple reason, they clearly weren’t my books to write.

I believe that writers write the books they are meant to write.

As an example, I recently became fascinated by the story of the lost World War 2 bomber Lady Be Good. I found a couple of books on the subject but the most recent dated back 25 years or more. I started thinking that maybe this was a subject I could write an updated book on. I had even started pulling together a pitch to send to the imprint of a publisher I’ve worked with before that specializes in aviation history. While I was working on the pitch that very same publisher announced a new book on the Lady Be Good. No problem – I guess it just wasn’t my book to write.

The Book That Had The Greatest Influence On My Writing.

I’m taking this one to mean books about the craft of writing. Over the years I’ve studied quite a few of them, and while many passed unremembered there are a definite handful that I would happily cite as having a positive impact.

Just looking at the shelf by my office desk I see well thumbed and bookmarked copies of

You may notice a pattern in that list. Most revolve around the visual story telling mediums of comics and film, and both heavily influence my prose style. I see all writing as being on a continuum of storytelling, and the lessons leaned for one medium can inform another.

And there is one book I refer to more, and cite more when I’m speaking about writing at conferences. It’s the quintessential examination of graphic storytelling that informs and influences all my writing. Scott McCloud’s masterpiece Understanding Comics.

It doesn’t matter if you have no intention of ever writing a comic, or even have never read a comic – if you are in the business of communicating ideas in any medium you owe it to yourself to read, study, and absorb this work.

Books That Made Me – Part One

A recent post on Twitter from a good friend reminded me of the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts with various writers using a set outline of questions under the title “Books That Made Me.” Reading over a few of the more recent interviews made me think that it might be fun to take that outline and use it for my own series of blog posts. – Just how would I answer those same questions?

So with apologies to the Guardian, let’s take a look shall we:

What book am I currently reading?

It’s very rare that I am reading just a single book at a time, often it’s three or more. At the moment I have a pretty eclectic list of reads underway.

Fleming

“The Life of Ian Fleming” by John Pearson. I recently received a copy of “Ian Fleming: The Notes” published by Queen Anne Press which collects many of Pearson’s research notes from when he was writing his acclaimed 1966 biography of James Bond’s creator. Before diving into that much-anticipated volume I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the actual biography first.

R&R

“The History of Rock & Roll: Volume 1” by Ed Ward: My current bedside table read is this excellent, entertaining, and informative first volume on the history of rock from 1920 to 1963. As an aside, over the last few months, I’ve been listening to a podcast on The History of Rock Music in 500 Songs, which, other than common subject matter, has no connection with the book, yet as I’m reading I hear the text in the voice of the podcast’s presenter, Andrew Hickey.

bat100

On the coffee table in my library sits “Batman: 100 Greatest Moments” by Robert Greenberger. Covering the last 80 years of the Dark Knight’s career it’s providing some trips down memory lane from my years as a serious Batman collector while opening me up to some of the more recent tales I may have missed.

Disco

While the Kindle app on my phone is loaded with a copy of  “Star Trek Discovery: The Enterprise War” by John Jackson Miller featuring the tale of what happened to the iconic spaceship while under the command of Captain Christopher Pike during the Federation/Klingon conflict shown in the first season of the new Discovery series. It’s a fun read that sheds some interesting light on characters we feel we know but have never really been that deeply explored before. A good “stood in line at Starbucks and want to catch up” read; which is what I want from the books I read in digital format.  Something I can read anywhere whether I have a spare 5 minutes, or a spare 50 minutes.

What book changed my life?

This is a tricky one that took a lot of thinking about. Was it “Tom Swift and the Cosmic Astronauts” that I got out of the library as a youngster that introduced me to the concept of cosmic adventure, or discovering DUNE at college and realizing how mind-expanding  SF could be? The Readers Digest abridged books version of The Man With The Golden Gun that introduced me to the works of Ian Fleming, or the James Bond Annual that sparked my fascination with the 007 movies? The various comics that proved to be turning points in my life (that is probably fodder for another blog post)?

ZEN

In the end, I think the vote goes to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by  Robert M. Pirsig. I read the book while serving on-board container ships as a junior engineer, and it helped me come to the realization that as much as I love, and am fascinated by, machines I didn’t really gain much personal satisfaction from working on them. I wanted to share knowledge about them, I wanted to share about what they could do; and that despite the fact that I couldn’t spell (and still can’t) I really could do that one thing I’d wanted to do since the age of seven despite being repeatedly told I couldn’t do it –  be a writer.

Next time I’ll be thinking about:

  • The book I wish I’d written.
  • The book that had the greatest influence on my writing.

Till then, keep reading.

The Ones That Got Away – Buck Rogers

For every story, comic, article, or book that gets published there are those that for various reasons never happen. I thought it might be fun to do an occasional post on a variety of pitches, ideas, and almost happened projects.

The idea of revisiting these was prompted by this recent bookstore find:

Buck

Many years ago I reached a verbal and handshake deal with a publisher to do an official history of Buck Rogers.

We had the outline agreed, had lined up in interviews with Buck Rogers and Wilma Deering themselves (Gil Gerard and Erin Gray from the 1980s TV show), started to pull together research items, and then it all went quiet and the final contracts never materialized.

Unfortunately due to a variety of reasons outside our immediate control the book never got to happen.

One of those projects that got away, but I remain fascinated with the subject, and hope to get the chance to revisit someday.