Congratulations to Neil H. who won this month’s contest and a copy of Souls Triumphant! Thanks to all who took part, and be on the lookout for more contests soon!
Ever since getting on board with Ex Machina after its first volume, I literally cannot wait for each new volume to be released. That’s why, after months of looking forward to Ex Cathedra, I couldn’t help but initially feel a little disappointment. However, after a second reading, my opinion changed drastically. More on that in a moment.
Like I said, because I count down the days until certain books come out, I tend to pick them up as soon as possible and tear right through them. I did that with Ex Cathedra, neglecting to let it sit on my tongue and savor it. I forgot what originally drew me to Ex Machina was the fact that it was really unlike anything else, and so when I first read Ex Cathedra and didn’t get it, I thought, “What is this? I waited for this?” It seemed directionless, pointless, and haphazard to me.
But then I decided I read it too fast, and (as much to get my money’s worth as anything), I determined I should give it another go.
On the second read, I picked up on a lot of parallels that I missed the first time around. In Ex Cathedra, Mayor Hundred (a former super hero who stopped the destruction of one of the Twin Towers) is invited to the Vatican to visit the Pope before his death. When Hundred arrives, a Father reveals he arranged for Hundred’s visit to investigate the origins of Hundred’s abilities, even claiming the mayor may be the antichrist. However, the Pope still wants an audience with Hundred, which prompts a Russian conspirator to use Hundred as an assassin by tapping into Hundred’s machine-friendly mind. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s say that Hundred has some incredible revelations as he tries to resist killing the Pope.
Brian K. Vaughan offers a very brief story (four issues) full of nuance and punch-if read carefully. As usual, Vaughan interrupts the present-day unveiling of the tale with flashbacks to Hundred’s The Great Machine days (his super hero identity). In this volume, those flashbacks each deal with a different perspective on religion, which amplifies the main story, the one unfolding in Hundred’s here-and-now. This author technique is effective because it continues to give us insight into Mayor Hundred’s character, his days as a super hero, and his various reactions to different situations involving religions. This, of course, helps us understand his motives and reactions when meeting the Pope.
Artist Tony Harris continues to rock on Ex Machina. His figures, clothing, architecture, and layouts are charismatic without being distracting. His art works to supplement and progress the story, which is the idea in such a visual medium. Harris, in my opinion, is one of the best in the business and deserves more recognition.
Finally, Vaughan takes the time to help us get to know Commissioner Angotti a little better by giving us some background on her all-the-while moving she and Hundred’s professional relationship forward and in a new, less combative direction. While this stand-alone issue has some very serious themes, there’s also quite a bit of comic book in-jokes, especially involving another famous hero and Commissioner team.
In Ex Cathedra, I was initially guilty of forgetting what draws me to Ex Machina on a regular basis. I forgot I love this title because it’s like nothing else, and once I slowed down and gave it the time it deserved, I really saw it for the gem it is.
Annie Proulx continues her mastery of the short story.
In Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3, Proulx once again gives us stories primarily taking place in or associated with Wyoming. Her characters are terribly human-warts and all-and her stories are typically blunt, to the point, and full of (sometimes brief) life.
But, as straightforward as her stories are with their plainspoken characters, Proulx also delivers stunningly beautiful narrative language when detailing landscapes, flora, and animal life. Some of her imagery literally astounded me it was so well crafted and provocative.
However, unlike previous Wyoming volumes, this addition to the series is far more brutal to its characters. Now Proulx has never occurred to me as a woman who gets overly sentimental about her creations, but I was surprised at the tragedies she forced her men and women to endure. That being said, she certainly did not cross the line into sensationalism; everything she threw at her characters was well within reality’s parameters.
Well, for the most part.
I was especially happy that in three stories in particular, Proulx exits her normally grounded repertoire and gives us something bordering fantasy. Now, because it’s Proulx, we’re not talking Tolkien here, but two of her stories hilariously focus on the devil and the other, well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it features a sagebrush where mysterious disappearances persist. I think that with her particular style and sensibilities, calling them tall tales may be more appropriate than fantasy.
Consequently, I sensed a real sense of dark humor in these stories, and I loved it! While most of the stories were very serious in terms of subject matter, they all utilized a morose fun that-unless happening to us-demanded a chuckle or two.
All in all, this collection was a bit of a break from Proulx in terms of style, especially when read between the lines, but every bit as exquisitely written and enjoyable as past works.
Proulx’s talent is unrelenting with each new work she releases.
I recently had a copy of my novel, Souls Triumphant, returned from a nonexistent address. Several attempts to reach the owner failed. The pages and cover were slightly bent in its travels.
I can’t resell this signed, damaged copy, so if you’d like to try your hand at winning it and don’t mind the fact it got beat up apparently making several trips across the nation, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “I Want To Win!” in the subject line.
I’ll then drop your name into a hat, and on November 28th, I’ll randomly select a winner! I’ll email the winner to congratulate them and get their home address for free shipping. The first name of the winner will be posted on my website, so you can check back on the 28th for the results.
As always, there are a few rules:
- You must live within the United States to win (due to the free shipping).
- If you win, you agree to write an objective review (at least ten words) of Souls Triumphant at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com within six months. You also allow me the right to quote your review at my own website.
- If you participate in the contest, you will receive my monthly e-newsletter and sporadic updates which you are free to read or delete at your discretion.
Drawing heavily from Christian theology and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Souls Triumphant is the story of Joe and Alessandra, two recent college graduates who meet on the street and fall in love at first sight. However, when they discover they are reincarnated servants of the Kingdom and that the mutinous Ned and his faction of monstrous demons want Joe dead and Alessandra to bear Ned’s child, an adventure ensues in which the very fate of the planet and the heavens hang in the balance. It is a story of action, intrigue, romance, fantasy, and faith.
I hope to hear from you soon, and good luck!
Scott William Foley
The Good Prince-a more appropriate title for a book has never existed. Fables is, far and away, the best comic book series running at the moment. The Good Prince comprises issues 60-69 of the title, and having read the entire run thus far, I can attest that Fables just keeps getting better and better.
In The Good Prince, Flycatcher takes hold of his lineage and accepts his true name of Prince Ambrose once more. While Fabletown and the Homelands continue to plan and engage war with one another, Prince Ambrose offers a third refuge, one without violence or political espionage.
Prince Ambrose is given the armor of the Foresworn Knight who turns out to be a rather famous figure from our favorite legend. He then uses that armor, as well as a certain well-known sword, to travel through the land of the dead and take up uninvited residence in the Homelands. Prince Ambrose collects friends and foes who were tossed down the Witching Well while making his way through the land of the dead and offers them a sort of pseudo-life as long as they remain just and true. For friends, this is not a problem; for foes, well, let’s say that some struggle at being “good” more than others. But set up his kingdom, and it grows and grows, despite constant attacks from the Adversary.
What I really love about The Good Prince is that Prince Ambrose refuses to kill. He wants no bloodshed from either his own startup kingdom or the Adversary’s armies. He is resolute, but he is also noble, kind, virtuous, and admirable. In today’s comics, we don’t see that very often.
A wonderful subplot in The Good Prince is also the political maneuvering between Fabletown and the Homelands. Fabletown takes full advantage of Prince Ambrose’s distracting the Adversary and whittling down his armies to prepare an army of their own, one which may be quite capable of making sure all Fables can return to their own homes-not just Prince Ambrose’s kingdom-anew.
Fables is such an imaginative concept, but Bill Willingham really goes above and beyond with intricate plots and charismatic characterizations. I’ve loved Fables for years now, and I don’t see any signs that Fables will lose my love anytime soon.
This book is absolutely insane, and I loved it!
What we have here is a Batman story free of any previous or current continuity. Writer Frank Miller is taking Batman and starting his story from scratch. (Or is he? More on that later.)
The Batman in this storyline is testosterone fueled, immature, and more than a little nutty. Miller takes him so over the top that I really and truly hope the writer is poking fun at his previous incarnations of the characters and his previous, ultraviolent works such as Sin City and 300. The fact that both Batman and most other characters in the book refer to him as “the g-d-n Batman” can only lead me to believe Miller didn’t want us taking this too seriously.
However, Miller is also proving a point. We’d always heard that Batman needed a Robin to take the edge off the man-to bring him back to humanity. However, as a Batman fan of over twenty-five years, I’d never really seen an incarnation of the character that had him in DIRE need of a humanizing sidekick. That is, until now. Miller’s All-Star Batman is a whack-job, and it’s only through his dealings with Dick Grayson that he slowly begins to realize he’s turned into a monster. Despite all the sex and violence in the book, Miller actually does a wonderful job evolving Batman’s character-there is real character development taking place that is rarely seen in the comic book medium.
And because this is an all-star title, the artist must be as equally as big a star-enter Jim Lee. Jim Lee has always been a mesmerizing artist, but he truly outdoes himself with All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. His figures look amazing-as always-but the settings are what really blew me away. His attention to detail is nearly genius-level, and I found myself studying every building in the skyline, every poster on the wall, every tread on a tire. He is absolutely astonishing.
So while I’m glad this book isn’t the definitive and mainstream interpretation of the character, I am so glad we have this Batman as well. I couldn’t put the book down. It was ludicrously fun and breathtaking to look at and had me addicted within the first few minutes of reading it.
Now, if you’ll allow me a slight digression: Does anyone else think this is a prequel of sorts to The Dark Knight Returns? As I started reading it, I noticed some thematic links between All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder and The Dark Knight Returns, as well as The Dark Knight Strikes Again. This is nothing unusual with writers, many of them tend to have certain passions that they return to (consciously or not) in their work.
However, as I continued reading, things began to seem like more than just coincidence. For example, in the huge spread from Episode 4, doesn’t that look like the Dark Knight Returns Batmobile being built? Also, we clearly see the cover to The Dark Knight Returns collected edition as a poster on Barbara Gordon’s wall in Episode 6. The Wonder Woman design in Episode 5 is very similar to the Wonder Woman in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, as is her basic personality and attraction to Superman. I would also argue that Superman, Plastic Man, Green Lantern, and Jim Gordon all seem tonally the same as they are in The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
But, the real cinchers for me occurred first in Episode 8 where the Joker’s henchwoman was the same lady with the swastikas covering her nipples (wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d construct) as from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three.
And then, the big one-the HUGE one-happened in Episode 9 where Batman tells Green Lantern, “Of course we’re criminals. We’ve always been criminals. We have to be criminals.” Now compare that to Superman’s internal dialogue from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three, which was written roughly twenty years earlier: “When the noise started from the parents’ groups and the subcommittee called us in for questioning – – you were the one who laughed … that scary laugh of yours … ‘Sure we’re criminals,’ you said. ‘We’ve always been criminals. We have to be criminals.'”
In my estimation, it seems Frank Miller is using All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder to build upon his mythos originated in The Dark Knight Returns, and I think that’s incredibly entertaining.
Of course, if I’m right, knowing what we know about the end of The Dark Knight Strikes Again certainly makes his developing relationship with Dick Grayson seem bittersweet.
Well, friends, it’s unfortunate that Amazon Shorts is no longer accepting submissions, but I think we all kind of figured that was bound to be the case after such a long hiatus.
I just wanted to thank Amazon Shorts and my fellow writers for giving it such a great go. I read somewhere that Amazon Shorts may have been a bit ahead of its time, and I think there may be some truth to that. My dealings with John were always professional and courteous, and I appreciated his patience and timeliness. And though I rarely contribute to the forum, I follow it regularly and have really enjoyed getting to know my fellow writers. Sometimes things got a little tense, but I could always detect the passion behind everyone’s words. After all, if things were always comfortable and polite, then there was little chance of innovation and enlightenment.
Of course, I was very disappointed Amazon Shorts came to a close in regards to accepting new material. I had developed a rough outline of an eighteen-part serial, so you can imagine my misery when Amazon Shorts went on break after only two of my installments had been published.
But, that’s just the way it goes in the arts. No gig lasts forever, and I’m proud to have been part of Amazon Shorts and thank them for the opportunity. As a bonus, I’ve decided to continue work on my serial (Dr. Nekros: Occult Aficionado), and will instead release it as a three-book series. I plan to write it virtually the same way, with several installments making up a larger story, but now I have the advantage of being able to edit it all at once and make sure each episode clearly meshes with the others.
While it was a real rush to publish my serial in “real-time” and face the danger of logistical errors and contradictions, I’m happy Amazon Shorts motivated me to develop a storyline I feel excited about and characters I’ve already fallen deeply in love with.
I want to wish all the other Amazon Shorts writers the best of luck. I look forward to seeing all the great things I know are in store for you.
Scott William Foley
In The Things They Carried, Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien called upon his own wartime experiences, labeled them as fiction, and wrote one of the most emotionally potent books I’ve ever read.
It’s irrelevant to me how much of O’Brien’s book “really happened” because O’Brien’s words and stories in The Things They Carried deeply touched me. O’Brien wrote simply, but effectively. He tapped into real emotion and conveyed those emotions skillfully. With each and every short that made up a larger story with The Things They Carried, I could picture myself clear as day in those very same situations.
That’s one benefit of calling this book fiction. Had O’Brien designated it nonfiction, I think each tale would have filtered through my knowledge this happened to O’Brien and registered as a “past event.” But with it being called fiction, I could lose myself in the story and meld with it, become one with it, and see myself in it. It allowed me ownership that nonfiction does not.
While O’Brien offers authentic knowledge on weaponry, tactics, and all things associated with being a wartime soldier, he focuses more deeply upon the human element. The Things They Carried perfectly captures what it is to be human in times of chaos, fear, and horror. He doesn’t glorify or lionize the characters in his stories. He treats them as “real” (and perhaps they were), and he offers only the emotional truth.
There are things in this book that chilled me to the bone. Not because it’s overtly gory, but because O’Brien cuts to the core of our fragile lives. For instance, in one story a man dies after being sucked under mud during a mortar attack. But he doesn’t write it from the dead man’s perspective, he writes it first from the perspective of the man next to him, then from the perspective of the man pulling the body out of the mud the next day. Can you imagine? I assure you, you’ll be able to imagine such a thing after reading The Things They Carried. And that’s what makes this book so utterly effective. O’Brien forces you to put yourself in it, to experience it through his straightforward, transparent, and evocative words.
I honestly only read this book because Tim O’Brien was coming to a local university and I was invited to attend a private reception for him. I’d never heard of the man and had to ask a few friends for suggestions before one knew O’Brien’s work and told me to read The Things They Carried. So expertly rendered were O’Brien’s words and so powerful was the raw emotional honesty in his book that O’Brien has secured me as a life-long reader.
I strongly recommend you read The Things They Carried.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about meeting Tim O’Brien. (Click HERE if you’d like to read that account.) I just received a few photographs from the reception. Thankfully, I don’t look as nervous as I felt. Enjoy!
Utterly unapologetic, Eddie stands fuming outside in the bitter cold while his son, wife, and in-laws sit silently at the dinner table, surrounding a cold turkey. But how did such woeful events come to pass on Thanksgiving Day?
To discover that answer, read “Cold Turkey,” my November short story found in both the Peoria and Bloomington editions of the free periodical, News and Views for the Young at Heart.
Bloomington News & Views for the Young at Heart is virtually at any Bloomington-Normal medical facility. You can also pick it up at the following locations:
Busey Bank on Fort Jesse
Kroger on the corner of Landmark and Visa
Commerce Bank on the corner of Towanda and College
Tuffy Muffler on Vernon
Kmart behind Kep’s Restaurant on IAA Drive
Eastland Mall at the main door between JC Penny and Macy’s
Kroger on Oakland Avenue
Jewel-Osco on Veterans Parkway
Kroger on Main Street
Bloomington Public Library on Olive Street
Drop Off Laundry on Main Street, across from Kroger
Or, if you live in the Peoria area, get your copy at:
Borders at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie
Save-a-Lot grocery store in Peoria Heights
Barnato Pharmacy at Cub Foods in Peoria
KMart in Morton
Methodist Atrium Building in Peoria
Peoria Heights Library
The Peoria edition is also in most doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pekin, Morton, Chillicothe, Lacon, Farmington, Canton, East Peoria, and Eureka.
The title “Cold Turkey” has a triple meaning. If you think you’ve figured out all three, email me at email@example.com.