Somehow, since they’ve always been there, you think they’ll be there forever. They’re your best friend. Your advisor, your entertainer, your refuge. Your comfort. Your used book store.
And then one day you see the sign. Going out of Business. Clearance Sale. And then they’re gone.
So goodnight, sweet prince. Goodbye, Almost Perfect Bookstore. You were my happy place. You reeked of books. Your aisles were a glorious mess, shelves overfull and bowed, books stacked waist high on either side, with just barely enough room to sneak between the piles. So many books. SO MANY BOOKS. A wonderful, jumbled up, car-bomb explosion of books.
It wasn’t glamorous. There were no stained walnut shelves, no smooth jazz, no deep carpet. No coffee bar, no cafe with upholstered leather easy chairs. No front tables with tastefully arranged displays of New York Times bestsellers.
But there were books. Good Lord were there books. Piles, mountains, heaps of books. It wasn’t the equal of Powell’s or Strand, but by God it was close. It was a solitary bright star of culture in the banal corporate landscape of the Sacramento suburbs.
Honestly, you deserved better. You were better than glaring fluorescents and a linoleum floor in a bland suburban strip mall. You deserved stone and brick, some quirky old two-story building with a creaky staircase, on a quiet side street, shelves of ancient wood polished by the touch of a thousand hands, nooks and crannies and dark corners full of books. A friendly but aloof cat that would sleep on the counter. A mysterious basement, long disused, filled with magical books, lit by torches and guarded by a dragon that asks riddles before allowing you to pass.
Oh, the joy. The joy of wandering through your labyrinth of yellow shelves. Just wandering. From Asimov to Zahn, Fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, gardening, astronomy, geology, metaphysics.
How many authors, how many wonderful authors, would I never have known about, if not for serendipitously stumbling upon them, or taking a suggestion from the encyclopedic knowledge of the staff? William Gibson. Bruce Stirling. Lawrence Block. John Steakley. Joe Haldeman. Lee Child. Greg Bear. David Morrell. Garth Nix. These names, these friends whose worlds I’ve explored and loved, I know them because of The Almost Perfect Bookstore.
You fed my habit. Your store credit was the lifeblood of my paperback addiction. I tried to give you good stuff back, I really did. I often found myself filling up a paper bag to trade in, and thinking to myself, “Oh come on Matt, do they really need another copy of From a Buick 8? Why don’t you throw in an Alastair Reynolds to make up for it.”
Yeah, sometimes I had to wait for service. But that was okay, because I’m a human being and you’re a human being and sometimes things take time. And once you got to my question, you always, always knew what I was talking about and where the damned book was. You guys knew the inventory of that place like Smaug knew his treasure.
And now it’s all gone, and it breaks my god-damned heart. When you love something, don’t take it for granted.
So, Scott, Kelly, and the rest of the gang. Thanks. Thanks for everything. I’m sorry I didn’t buy more books, if that would have helped anything. Thanks for the memories.
You gotta respect the classics. And you gotta respect free books. Back in the olden days, you’d go to the library for free books. But now, you can go to your kindle. One of my favorite things about kindle, and other ebook platforms, is the absolute mountain of classic books, now in the public domain, that you can find for free. Try Sherlock Holmes, anything by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain… There’s a lot of good reading out there that won’t cost you a penny. For the sake of my sanity, I’ve kept this listicle down to just ten books, focusing on the classic action adventure novels that I loved as a kid. Many of these authors are the founders of the sci-fi, adventure, and fantasy genres we still love today.
Language is a strange and fascinating thing, and our brains are remarkably adaptable. While the writing style of some of these books is frustratingly old fashioned, if you stick with it you’d be amazed at how quickly your brain picks up and adjusts to the rhythms and the cadences of older writing. Pretty soon, you’ll be flying through the pages like you were reading the latest Lee Child thriller.
Sometimes, reading these old books, you’ll come across a trope that seems a bit worn out to modern readers. But you have to remember, these folks invented those tropes. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants, and these guys are the giants. Not all the giants, mind you. Just the ones whose works are in the public domain 🙂 So, without further ado, here’s ten great classics you can read for free. Continue reading →
Exclusively on Matt Kincade’s blog, D.B.B.M. LeConnard, bestselling author of the Dragon Elf Foundling Wizard Prince series, shares his harrowing story of persistence and overcoming adversity to become a successful traditionally published author in today’s challenging literary landscape.
Greetings, dear readers. Matt Kincade, the author of this little blog thing, has asked me to relate to you, his followers, the tale of my path to publishing success.
Let me begin by saying that saying that this is not an easy road. The path to literary greatness and adoration is not for everyone. You must be totally, completely committed to your goal. In addition, like me, you must be an utter genius and a literary savant. If ever you’ve struggled to find the right word, if ever you’ve written something and not immediately known that it was the best writing you’ve ever done, that anyone has ever done, you are not ready. This is not the path for you.
Luckily, being the inherent literary genius that I am, It was the path for me. I, of course, knew how to write before I knew how to talk. The whole of the Dragon Elf Foundling Wizard Prince series sprang, fully formed, from my brilliant imagination when I was seven years old. By the time I was eight, I had Book One: Foundling Wizard Prince Awakens to His Fantastic Destiny, finished, and was working on book two.
Of course, nobody wants to publish the work of an eight year old, even one as amazingly gifted as myself. And so I had a long wait, biding my time and doing my best to interact with the slower children in school, while unsuccessfully sending my manuscripts off to agents and publishers. I began attending every writer’s and publisher’s convention I could find, discovering my peers and my competitors, and intricately plotting their deaths.
At the age of nineteen, following a year in the mountains of Tibet—learning the ancient Shavukinasa Walakali meditation technique known only to a few monks high in the Himalayas—I returned to the United States and moved to New York City, determined to at last break into the writing industry.
I submitted my manuscripts. I was rejected. And I submitted. And was rejected. It was a low point in my life. There I was, alone in a studio apartment with my genius and my typewriter. (Yes I know most normal people use computers, but I am not a normal person. I am an Author, and only that firm analogue input, the indescribably feeling of my finger depressing a mechanical lever, pushing an ink-slicked stamp to leave an indelible mark on high-quality bond typing paper, can truly capture my artistic inspiration.)
I took drifts and piles of rejection slips and built things with them. A couch. A desk. A friend. But I was never deterred. Never once did I question the purity of my purpose, of my destiny. As the Foundling Wizard Prince was destined to become the king of the Dragon Elves, so too was I destined to become a bestselling YA fantasy author.
Still, I submitted. Still, I was rejected. In my free time, I stalked and murdered my competitors. I obtained work as a waiter at restaurants and cafes frequented by professionals in the publishing industry. (merely to further my literary goals, I assure you. I wouldn’t presume to debase myself by working such jobs merely for money, merely to pay the rent on my shoebox apartment.) I learned their names. I flattered and cajoled, making them the objects of my considerable charm. I casually mentioned my books. I “accidentally” left manuscripts at their tables. I offered sexual favors. All to no avail.
And so I devised a plan. Prior to a publisher’s conference, I infiltrated the hotel by pretending to be a bellhop. I was able to obtain a copy of the conference itinerary. Particularly of interest to me was a private luncheon, at which executives from all of the big five publishers would be in attendance.
On the day of the conference, clad all in black, with a ski mask over my face, I leaped from an adjacent rooftop to the roof of the Marriott Hotel, then rappelled down the side to a service entrance. I stripped off my black clothes, revealing a housekeeping uniform underneath.
I made my way, undetected, into the hotel. The conference was in full swing. My peers and competitors, those I hadn’t murdered or otherwise ruined, were milling around the conference floor, unaware that I was about to soar right over their heads to limitless literary success.
Because I couldn’t decide which of my brilliant plans I wanted to use, I then karate-chopped a UPS deliveryman in the neck and stole his uniform, dressing in his brown shirt and shorts, leaving him unconscious in a laundry cart.
I approached the conference room, casually nodding to the the security guards as I passed, a brown cardboard package in my arms.
I knocked on the door. They opened. “Delivery for Robert Dibbler,” I said.
They let me in.
At that point I slammed the door shut and jammed it with a chair. Either I’d get that contract or they’d all burn with me.
I stripped off the UPS uniform. underneath, I wore a handmade costume, depicting Ka’reth Muldgwanado, the Foundling Dragon Prince protagonist of my works. “Chalago Kal!” I screamed, which is the traditional greeting of the Dragon Elves. I set off a smoke bomb and shot roman candles from my sleeves, in imitation of Dragon Elf magick, and flung copies of my manuscript about the room, one of them striking the president of Simon and Schuster squarely in the face.
At the same time, I read aloud the prologue to my first book, Foundling Wizard Prince Awakens to His Fantastic Destiny, knowing that the might of my prose would win them over. Of course they said, “Please don’t hurt us, oh God it’s happening again,” but what they meant was, “I am transported to a faraway land by this Author’s sheer brilliance. Thank all the Gods he had enough gumption and moxie to find his way to us, and may those same Gods forgive us for leaving his manuscripts unread on the slush pile.”
Then, just as hotel security broke down the door, Margaret Robineaux, Vice President of Hachette Books, said, “Wait a second, LeConnard? Are you Ralph LeConnard’s kid?”
Turns out my dad went to college with Margaret Robineaux. So we had lunch the next day, and she signed me on for a seven-book contract, with a nice six-figure advance. Six months later, Foundling Wizard Prince Awakens to His Fantastic Destiny was on the front table of every Barnes and Noble in the country.
In conclusion, though the path to traditional publishing success is not an easy one, you too can do it, provided you are brilliant, naturally gifted, psychotically obsessed, willing to pave a road to victory with the broken bodies of your enemies, and have connections.
Happy writing, and Kipple Pagillo! (which is Dragon Elvish for “Good luck.”)
Well hello there, reader! Just a quick update on the progress of my soon-to-be-released book, The Devil’s Mouth.
But first I’d like to say, “soon” is one of those words that quickly loses all meaning when you read it too many times. Soon. Soon. Soon soon soon. Soooooon….
Okay, anyway. I’ve just received the first proof of the Kindle version of The Devil’s Mouth, (My soon-to-be-released supernatural action-horror novel) and I must say it’s looking sharp. If I hadn’t already read it like ten thousand times at this point, I would definitely want to buy it.
So, I’m reading through it one more time, making sure the formatting is okay. And I’m also making a list of blogs and websites that review this sort of thing, in anticipation of its Kindle release, which will likely be later this month. Exciting!
If anybody would like to suggest a book review blog or website, (of which there are a bewildering variety) please let me know down in the comments or shoot me an email. And if any of my loyal readers are interested in an advance copy for review, that could possibly be arranged…
If there was any damned justice in the world, The Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix would be as well known as Harry Potter. Young protagonist learning about their magical birthright? Check. Creepy semi-dead bad guy? Check. Expansive magical world built as solidly as a brick house? Check. Fun, exciting plot that starts out simple, then is revealed to actually be really complex and convoluted, yet the author still manages to steer the ship true and bring it all home in a really satisfying way? Check. YA fiction that’s still deep, engaging and layered enough to be enjoyed even by the most cynical of adults? Check. And of course, bonus points for numerous bad-ass female protagonists. Imagine Hermione Granger, if it was her destiny to defeat the living dead with an enchanted sword and bells.
And yet, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a Harry Potter knock-off. Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and the recently published Clariel inhabit their own unique world, with their own unique characters and plotlines.. In the kingdom of Ancelstierre, they don’t believe in silly things like magic. They have cars, electricity, and guns. But at the southern border of Ancelstierre runs The Wall, and past that the Old Kingdom, where—since the kingdom fell—magical creatures, sorcerers, and the living dead run amok. Also, modern things like electricity and guns don’t work so well south of The Wall.
Enter Sabriel, a teenage girl in a boarding school in Ancelstierre who finds out she is the daughter of the Abhorsen, a necromancer whose job is to make sure the dead stay dead. His powers include the ability to travel into the land of the dead and to bind and command the dead with a set of magical bells, each one of which has its own powers and its own dangers.
Through magical channels, Sabriel’s father informs her that he is trapped deep in the land of the dead, and sends her his set of bells and his sword, informing her that she is heir to the mantle of the Abhorsen and she must set things right.
Well, that’s all you really need to know. The world of charter magic and free magic, necromancers, charter marks and free magic elementals, only gets better and better as the series goes on.
If I could kidnap Guillermo Del Toro, tie him to a bed in a cabin in the woods, and break his legs with a sledge hammer in order to make him create a movie of my choice, I’d make him direct adaptations of these books. Probably starring Hugo Weaving in one role or another. And Tim Curry as the voice of The Mogget, a powerful free magic creature trapped in the form of a cynical talking cat.
Oh wait, but I was here to tell you about that one weird trick.
Okay, so I’d already read these books and enjoyed them immensely. But then, reading the author’s biography, I realized that Garth Nix is Australian. Which means that all of his characters likely have Australian accents. I read the books again, keeping that in mind.
The books instantly got ten times better. Unicorns flew overhead, vomiting candy rainbows. Dogs danced with cats and sang showtunes. Water turned into wine. Budweiser turned into Erdinger Weissbier.
I was finally reading this work as it was meant to be read. Not “the Abhorsen,” “thee Eebhoahsin!”
“Oi dewnt undahsteend,” Sabriel whispered. She couldn’t face Mogget’s eyes anymore. “Oi dewnt knew…oi dewnt knew eenough. Abewt anytheeng. Thee Auld Keengdom, Chahtah mageek, Not eveen me ewn fathah.”
It was just one of those random drug-store bookshelf finds. I needed something to read on my lunch break to avoid talking to my co-workers. I rifled through the paperback rack, back when regular stores still sold paperbacks.
Fourteen Stephen King novels, (read ’em) three Michael Connelly, (read ’em) two Lee Childs (read ’em) twenty-seven romance novels featuring shirtless cowboys, a dog-eared copy of Chicken Soup for the Teenager’s Soul, four Dean Koontz, six Robert Patterson, and…hello, what’s this?
The Tomb? Who the heck is F. Paul Wilson?
That was my introduction to F. Paul Wilson and the world of Repairman Jack. Sixteen books later, I guess you could say I’m a fan. I suppose I should also mention Midnight Mass, F. Paul Wilson’s excellent book about a vampire apocalypse, with which I am also in love. But that’ll have to wait for another blog post.
Repairman Jack, the protagonist of The Tomb and its fifteen sequels, is a fixer. But he doesn’t fix appliances. He fixes situations, the kind of situations people can’t take to the police. If you need stolen property recovered, if you need someone found, if you need bones broken, he’s your guy…as long as it’s for the right reasons. See, Jack isn’t just another thug. He’s a good guy. He’s got a code.
Officially, Jack doesn’t exist. He doesn’t have a social security number. He doesn’t pay taxes. He doesn’t even have a last name. He’s a modern day ghost, living off the grid in the heart of New York City.
Maybe Jack would just be another hard-ass, just another criminal, if not for Gia, his girlfriend, and her young daughter Vickie, whom Jack loves with all his heart, and will do anything to protect.
Oh yes, and did I mention the monsters? Somehow, Jack always manages to get tangled up in something supernatural. Strange monsters. Warp-holes to hell dimensions. Men in Black. Ancient organizations. Mysterious women who know more than they should. As the books progress, Jack finds out that he’s a part of a conflict bigger and more ancient than he could have imagined. It’s wonderful, coherent supernatural world-building, and I can never wait to find out what happens next.
Don’t get me wrong. F. Paul Wilson isn’t Cormac McCarthy or John Steinbeck. The Tomb isn’t a work of staggering genius. It’s just good, pulpy fun, which most of the time is all I’m looking for. They’re fast-paced, action-filled books with a loveable protagonist, plenty of plot twists, and plenty of fist-pump moments. For example, there’s always that moment when you’re like, Uh-oh bad guys, you shouldn’t have messed with Vicky and Gia. Now Jack is going to have to get medieval on your asses. And then he does. And you’re like, fist-pump! Jack is a badass, always wins the fights, and he’s the master of elaborate revenge plans that somehow always seem to work out perfectly. His inevitable victory might be boring, if not for the elaborate schemes he comes up with, and Wilson’s skill at making you really dislike the bad guys, so you really enjoy it when they get what’s coming to them.
Repairman Jack books are some of my go-to reads, books I can come back to again and again. They’re just fun. I can never find them at the used book store, because people don’t get rid of them.
I just now realized that I haven’t really mentioned the plot of The Tomb at all. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter. It’s good fun. Go read it.
F. Paul Wilson and the Repairman Jack series is just the sort of thing that might inspire a young author to try his hand at writing a fun, fast-paced, genre-bending action horror thriller with a supernatural twist…oh wait. That’s me.
So, I just finished making a new cover for my novella, We Only Come Out At Night. And yes, I’m pretty damned proud of it. It came out better than I had hoped. I’ve had a few people say, “Whoah, dude, how did you do that?” So I thought I’d explain some of the free resources available online that can help you make a pretty decent looking cover.
Before I begin, let me say: This isn’t an article about graphic design. I can’t help you with artistic decisions. If you’re really bad at that sort of thing, you should probably just find a professional to help you out. But if you’ve decided, hey, I took an art class or two, I can make my own book cover, then here are some of my favorite resources to get you started. Continue reading →
Did you ever read a book that was so good it made you angry? Where you finish a chapter, or a paragraph, or even a sentence, and you have to pause for a moment, thinking what the hell, man, what the hell?
It happens more often than I’d like to admit. But as somebody who just finished writing a pulpy action horror novel about a vampire hunter, I got to experience that very special mixture of envy and awe that occurs when somebody else already did what you’re trying to do, but better. It’s like if you’ve been trying to get the lid off a pickle jar for an hour, and somebody just walks along and nonchalantly twists that sucker right off. What the hell, man?
Vampires by John Steakley is the story of Jack Crow, the leader of Vampire$ inc, a team of mercenary bad-asses who kill vampires for a living. The book was adapted into the movie John Carpenter’s Vampires, but as always, the book was better.
The novel begins with Crow and his team plying their trade, clearing out a nest of vampires in a small town in the midwestern United States. Then they get really drunk. In the midst of their celebration, they’re ambushed by a master vampire who slaughters all but Crow and one other member of his team.
To fill the gaps in their roster, they recruit a young priest sent by the Vatican (I prefer to write about secular vampires, but the religious element was very well done in this book. The Pope is a supporting character, and that’s all I’m going to say) and a deadly gunfighter named Felix.
Crow, broken and tortured by the loss of his team, continues on a near suicidal pursuit of his mission. Armed with crosses and silver bullets, they go out and get revenge.
Steakley writes like the bastard love-child of Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. His writing is Spartan: spare, terse, and punchy. Never a wasted word. He has a knack for pacing, his restrained use of punctuation turning his action scenes into pure stream-of-consciousness bad-assery.
Felix’s first two shots, like the deputy’s, struck Roy. But while Kirk’s hit Roy’s Chest, Felix’s slammed into his forehead. And while Kirk’s were .44 magnum hollowpoints, they were only lead. Felix’s were nine-millimeter silver blessed by the Vicar of Christ on Earth and they tore half-inch-wide holes through the skull. Roy shrieked and smacked his hands over the wounds and fell writhing to the pavement.
What the hell, man.
Steakley’s characters, his tortured, flawed, terrified crew of vampire hunters, go past action hero cliches. He nails their inner conflict, their fatalism, their hopelessness coupled with their sense of duty and righteousness as they carry on with a mission that they know will probably kill them in the end.
John Steakley unfortunately only wrote two novels in his lifetime, Armor and Vampires. I read Armor first, and was utterly blown away. I will put my right hand on a copy of The Forever War and swear that Armor is one of the finest works of military sci-fi I’ve ever read. Despite that, I didn’t even know Vampires existed until the name ‘Steakley’ jumped out at me from the spine of a book at a used bookstore. Imagine my excitement.