Review of the Silver Sickle

So, a bit more than a year ago I reviewedRebel Heart coverBlood Red Road Cover  a sensational debut fantasy novel titled Blood Red Road by Moira Young.  Fantastic read.  I learned later that it had been movie-optioned by Blade Runner/Alien/Gladiator director Ridley Scott  (can’t wait!!) and then she followed it with an equally pleasing sequel, Rebel HeartNow, you’ve got to understand, I’m a lifelong lover of the fantasy genre – all the way back to the LOTR/Hobbit books and George MacDonald, then Shannara, Thomas Covenant, Pern, Guy Gavriel Kay, and on and on.  Blood Red Road pushed all my best fantasy buttons.

Well, over the past year or so I’ve also been enthusiastically captivated by the off-the-wall humorous and weirdly creative literary style of fellow author Ellie Ann Soderstrom.  (Here’s her blog, which will also give you links to her solo and collaborative works.)  I subjectively 5-star reviewed (woot! woot!) her co-authored pulp crime thriller Breaking Steele back in January, and bottom line, this girl can wield a pen.

So, when Ellie Ann sent me an advance PDF copy of the dystopian fantasy novel she’d been working on for a few years and was finally excited to publish, I regrettably set it aside to read later.  You see, my crazy-busy life just then welcomed zero interruptions for pleasure reading — Boo, Glenn!!  Bad bad decision! – and I missed out for weeks on enjoying what turned out to be a sucked-in, couldn’t-put-it-down, two-day whirl-read of a literary gem.  The Silver Sickle is fantastic!

You’ll find a bunch of 5-star reviews on and Ellie Ann notes many other raves on her website, and believe me, each and every approbation hits the nail on the head.  Anything I say will simply echo everyone else, but I do wish to take a second to tell you what I loved about this book.

Imagine a world . . . Those of us who write contemporary fiction shudder at the thought of creating a brand new place.  Environment, terrain, weather, inhabitants, politics, buildings, municipal infrastructure, cuisine, and on and on.  Hell, I’ve literally lived my life in my books’ Seattle setting for more than 40 years.  If I want to describe a building, I drive down the street and look at it!  Ellie Ann has masterfully crafted her own imaginary land of Dyn, an intricately complicated world, roughly medieval Middle Eastern in flavor, but with a steampunk edge and a couple of wickedly cool and horrific alien races thrown into the mix.  I got a fun Aliens meets Stargate meets Aladdin meets Falling Skies kinda vibe.  (Hey, in my world that’s awesome!)  And the whole Traveler thing totally creeped me out.  Brilliant.

I need somebody to love . . . Talk to people about the last Oh Wow! book/movie/tv show/graphic novel/owner’s manual they experienced and at the root of their pleasure will be the characters.  We want to escape with someone worthy of our heart-and-soul investment, and oh my, Silver Sickle has a bunch of ‘em. 

• Our young heroine Farissa, unwillfully recruited into the “consecrated” ranks of King Koru’s concubines, but with a sassy bravery that just might set her free.  (Think Jasmine à la Lara Croft.)Jasmine à la Lara Croft

• Her childhood friend and devoted admirer Zel, a clever apprentice cogmaster who holds the key to that freedom by an impossible invention capable of destroying the godlike Amar. (Think Aladdin à la Sheldon Cooper.)Alladin Sheldon Cooper

• Gira, the evil bitch queen leader of the Amar, whose centuries-planned scheme to destroy the human race provides the ticking clock that pushes this story forward at breakneck pace. (Think Cruella de Vil à la praying mantis.)Cruella de Vil Praying Mantis

• My favorite Silver Sickle characters, though, were the cogsmen, a mysterious race of heroic cyberpunk androids with clockwork mechanisms, near-human brain chips, and a frustrating ethics code that will inevitably save or ruin everything.  Love these guys.  (Think Aragorn à la C3PO.)Aragorn C3PO

Once upon a time . . . And finally there’s the story itself.  It goes a little like this: A mid-millennial culture is descended upon by a persuasively manipulative insectoid alien race called the Amar that convinces the kingdom’s handsome and gullible monarch to put the future of his people (and unknowingly the entire human race) in its exoskeletoned hands.  A wicked bitch queen Gira heads up those Amar and she’s a total wicked bitch.  Kinda like the head wicked bitch queen Aliens critteralien in Aliens.  And she’s supposedly invincible.  Well, except maybe by the robotic steel-armored cogsmen who’ve kept the kingdom functioning for centuries, but can’t truly protect its people because they’re bound to the will of their numb-nut ruler by brain chips that will trigger immediate self-explosion should they defy him by traitorous acts such as harming the Amar.   Yeah, now you’re starting to get the picture.  Luckily, the young consecrat Farissa and her lover wannabe and genius-with-the-cogs Zel stumble upon what’s really going on and make other plans.  Until those plans are thwarted.  Crap!  So they make other plans.  Oh, wait . . . TMI, right?  I’m ruining the story.  Okay, let me just say this: an adorable root-for couple with combined brains and clever brawn, god-awful hate ’em hate ’em hate ’em creepy bad guys, a mysterious mechanical army of potential save-the-dayers, a gargantuan basement-dwelling life-sucking amorphous worm thing called Traveler (yeah, the same name as Robert E. Lee’s valiant white steed – how twisted is that?!!), and a story that dances every which way and teases you along and keeps you guessing and smiling and sighing and hand-wringing and almost wetting your pants maybe one night late ‘cuz you probably shouldn’t have started that next chapter, but you couldn’t put it down.  Just sayin’.

And the end is good, by the way, for those who worry about anticlimactic unfulfillment.

If you’re a fan of the genre, this one’s a fantasy winner.  Can’t wait for what’s next up your sleeve, Ellie Ann.

Just a thought.

Florida, Family, Friends, and Flapjacks

So, I spent a long recent weekend in Florida heading south from Atlanta where my money-job employer had its annual national sales meeting.  A Wednesday late afternoon hop to Orlando,  then a quick drive north to Ocala via the turnpike and I-75.  My mom and husband Chris have recently settled there after more than a decade in the lake country east of Gainesville, and two days with them was just shy of perfect.  I was greeted with the Swiss steak and mashed potatoes dinner that my brothers and I happily abandoned friends and fun for one night a week since we were knee-high.  And in the following 40 hours the three of us filled each other’s ears and eager curiosities with a year’s worth of life events.  Earlier phone calls and emails had barely scratched the surface; only that face-to-face time thoroughly satisfied my soul.  We ventured into the city, encountering Front doorway at Pi on Broadwayseveral horses painted for the Horse Fever display eight years earlier — Ocala is thorough-bred country after all — and they’d also scouted out a source of outstanding microbrews to accompany lunch one day: Pi on Broadway.

An afternoon visit to the Ocala Civic Theater was an unexpected highlight — my mom has volunteered there for 15+ years, working in the box office and scrapbook-cataloging 60 years of theater history.  Thanks again to her cohorts there for treating her like family and providing her an artistic outlet and a place to wile away her Wednesdays.

And a special thanks to Tim Dygart, their production manager and tech director, for the illustrative walk through the set work you’ve accomplished over the years.  Awesome stuff.

Friday afternoon I reversed course back to Orlando for a couple days with a couple of friends who in the land of acronymic labels would bear the tag BFFs.  Nancy worked with Alison Lockwood at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich for ten years in the late 80’s and she spent the vast majority of her evenings and weekends hanging with Alison and her husband, Graeme.  In the early 90’s, as Nancy and I navigated our two-year Seattle-Orlando romance, G & A encouraged us through the tough times, stamped me approved when the time came, sad-heartedly bid her adieu when she moved to be with me, then stood up for us when we eloped five years later, joining us in Banff and Lake Louise for our winter honeymoon.  We get to see them almost once a year now with an occasional big rendezvous thrown in — Alaska and New Orleans being the highlights.

They ran a deli named the Sandwich King for 15 years — Graeme’s Cuban is still the best I’ve ever wolfed down — and now he’s a wildly successful personal finance manager.  And Alison writes.  Oh my, how she writes.  Right now she’s basking in the glow of successful first novel stardom.  If you’ve not yet experienced the profound pleasure of The Arsonist’s Last Words, you’re missing out on something special.  People praise my Brother’s Keeper, but my own authorcraft pales in comparison to Alison’s.  She’s truly brilliant.

So, we spent the weekend downing delicious craft beers, eating way too much food, including a flashback spectacular evening at Bosphorous, a Turkish delight in Winter Park.  Esme, lavas, shepherd’s salad, kofte, kebaps, ayran, raki, and authentic Turkish coffee.  I was transported back to Istanbul!  We watched the Seahawks’ edge-of-seat joy-defeat at a favorite craftbeer place named TAPS, and then watched the emotion-churning new film The Impossible, a must see for anyone who loves cinema and life and hope and Naomi Watts.

But the MOST satisfying component of my weekend occurred unexpectedly, when Alison hitched me along on her family’s Saturday breakfast gathering an hour plus Old Spanish Sugar Millaway at Lake DeLeon outside of Deland.  There’s a park there, and a natural lap pool, and pontoon boat tours on the Johns River, and a restaurant called the Old Spanish Sugar Mill that serves all-you-can-eat pancakes every weekend with lines out the door and griddles embedded in each table, so you can grill up your flapjacks yourself, along with bacon and eggs, if you want ’em, and more bacon, and blueberries and walnuts to toss in your pancake batter.  And a whole lot of yums.  And laughs.  A down-home Hee Haw version of Benihana’s.  Kinda sorta.  In attendance were moi and G & A and A’s sister A with husband C and 15 year old daughter C and 13 year old son E and A’s dad and mom.  I’ve known them all for a long time — C and E since birth — and spending a full morning with the whole clan was a joyous kick.

Hit and Miss enginesAfter breakfast we explored the Hit and Miss Engine gathering at the park.  Ahh, “hit and miss” you ask.  Well, too many details to go into here, but think early century single cylinder engines with weighty flywheels.  Lots of pops and whirrs and steam smoke everywhere.  Early tractors used them, and many other early mechanical contraptions.  Now there’s a cult following.  Way cool stuff.  Hit and Miss — now you know.

And then we drove a half hour to Blue Springs Park in pursuit of manatees.

Gator at Blue Springs ParkEvery winter a couple hundred of these seacows settle into this narrow arm of the St. Johns River where the water from the Blue Spring keeps them all warm and toasty.  Literally tons of these docile cow-like creatures gather here, but we didn’t really see more than a dozen.  They were underwater and over yonder on the other side of the waterway.  Like under the fallen tree trunks, over there in the shadows.  By those turtles.  Yeah, cool turtles sunbathing on rocks.  And alongside those alligators.  Yeah, humongous alligators with glittery yellow teeth peaking out of their jaws.  And we saw schools of gars and tarpon and tilapia and other Florida river fauna.  And I bought a couple of wooden flip-flop sandal-shaped manatee Manatee Door Stopdoorstops.  And E (who is a really cool kid named Eli) and I started goofing around and mispronouncing animal names while standing in crowds, which initially embarrassed the heck out of him, but soon became his preferred MO.  “Hey, Glenn, check out that a-LIG-a-tore.”  Yuk yuk.  So much fun.

So, thanks, family and friends, for a relaxing few days in the Florida sunshine.  We all need trips like this every once in a while.  To recharge the batteries, yes, but mostly just to reconnect with the part of life that’s most important. (And I don’t mean the muh-NAH-tees.)

Just a thought.

Journey with Sudan

So, my big sister Karen is the Director of Music (and brilliant organist) at the Wesley-Knox United Church in London, Ontario.  She also runs her own 38-voice community choir, named (appropriately) the Karen Schuessler Singers, and she pretty much surrounds herself with all things music.

Well, back in November her church’s Mission and Service Committee officially kicked off a new project called Journey with Sudan, which includes the sponsorship of two young Sudanese women to attend school, and just a few days ago a 16-member team began a two week trip to South Sudan under the auspices of Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan (CASS –, who have maintained a presence in Gordhim, just southeast of Malualkon, for 15 years.

After decades of civil war, the people in this region truly have nothing and CASS brings them medicine, builds schools, digs wells, educates them about sanitation, and helps people begin home-based enterprises. For two weeks, Karen and her companions will be staying at a Catholic mission in Gordhim in the northeast corner of South Sudan. Each morning, Karen and a jazz singer colleague will run a music camp for more than 300 children, while others from the team teach them crafts.  Later in the day they will participate in educational activities, help in the medical clinic, deliver goats and chickens (donated through CASS) to families, and take part in the lives of the locals for two weeks. And of course, there will be lots of singing!

If you’d like to find out more about Journey with Sudan and follow the project’s progress, Karen’s husband Harry is facilitating an informative and daily-updated digital notebook documenting the experience.  Here’s the link:

Just a thought.

Review of Breaking Steele: Trust Me, You Gotta Read This!

So, a friend I’ve never met writes a blog that consistently busts my gut and amuses me to no end, and when I learned she’d collaborated with a popular thriller writer on a new pulp crime series featuring a reluctant Assistant D. A. heroine named Sarah Steele, I simply had to bite and Amazoned it in paperback, then read it on a return flight from Chicago just before Christmas.  Took me four hours to power through it.  Couldn’t put it down.  Buckle your seat belts for take off — READ — Buckle your seat belts for landing.  Done.  Wow.  What just happened?

Oh, Ellie Ann, this girl can write!  I have no way of knowing which parts and pieces of Breaking Steele were her contribution and which poured from the pen of collaborator Aaron Patterson, but I heard her voice woven throughout the narrative.  She’s a funny gal and there’s a subtle wry humor that springs up on occasion that’s clearly hers. Bottom line, though, it doesn’t really matter.  Ellie and Aaron, Aaron and Ellie — it just flat out works.

But I’ve got to warn you, this is pulp crime.  As in pulp fiction.  As in raw and wicked and in your face and without a lot of poetry.  James Lee Burke they ain’t.  Characters die big and wrong and bloody and at times your stomach will turn and your skin might crawl.  But in oh such a please-no-but-give-me-more kind of way.  And you’re in the midst of it from paragraph one.  Innocent young woman kidnapped, bound with duct tape in a crate reeking of rotten corn, rat droppings, and urine, then abused offstage in
every manner possible and electrocuted in a bathtub.  But there’s a witness and an arrest and tons of evidence and an open-and-shut case.  ADA Sarah Steele is riding high and sensibly confident in conviction and justice served.  Then everything goes to hell.

And for Sarah Steele, it becomes personal.  Especially when the profession she’s committed her life and soul to is compromised and she begins to question if justice truly can be served without crossing into that dark place where vigilantes accomplish what the legal system can’t.  The co-authors do such a fine job delving into her struggle, but without slowing the story’s breakneck pace, and by five chapters in you’ll be totally hooked on both the story AND on Sarah Steele. (Who’s also a bit of a hottie, IMHO.  Which never really hurts.)

Back in the day, pulp crime writers would pump out these bare bones magazine serials with fresh chapters on newsstands each week; short and sweet episodes with enough visceral grab to keep your attention until next Tuesday.  Pack a few dozen of those together, slap a cover on, and you’d have a pulp novel.  Then it’d start all over again with the next one.  Consider some of the film work of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriquez and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about: they do pulp crime on the big screen.

I love this stuff.  And Breaking Steele does the genres justice: pulp, crime, thriller, page-turner, recommended read.  I know I have to wait until March (and not next Tuesday), but I’m squirming in my seat for Twisting Steele, the next Sarah Steele Thriller.

Always Write Redux

So, it’s 2013.  Happy New Year!Seattle New Year's Fireworks

For the last month or so I’ve had my eyes and mind and trigger finger targeted on January 1 as the launch date of the renewed me.  Well, at least the renewed “writer” me.  When I created this blog I titled it Always Write, which I thought clever and innuendo-ish at the time, but nowadays seems disingenuous in its veracity.  Sometimes Write has been the reality of late.  Or even Write. Uh, Not So Much.  Hell, let’s admit it, I’ve been elsewhere for a while.

But don’t get me wrong — life’s been good.  Better than good most of the time.  The money job’s been incredibly satisfying, my grandkids have become the greatest gk’s on the planet, Nancy and I spent 11 days on Maui and 9 days in Prague and Vienna, I’ve read some fantastic books and articles, viewed a dozen emotion-romping movies, made new friends, enjoyed a half thousand different craft beers, and even carved a few notches in my Bucket List.

#47  Eat a Vienna sausage in Vienna – Check.

Bucket list 47

All in all, the last half year has been one of the best of my life.

But my soul has ached a bit and my days have ended all too frequently with a note of unfulfillment and dissatisfaction because I haven’t been writing.

Alas.  Those who write know of what I speak.  This writing thing — it’s a tough row to hoe sometimes.  There’s nothing quite as satisfying as pouring one’s mind and creativity and sense of humor and message into words on a page, then massaging it into exactly what you want it to be, then risking your soul by putting it out there for others to ingest and love it or hate it.  It’s scary, being a writer.  Hence, it’s all too easy to set aside for a moment, which becomes a day – week – month – season.  And for some, it never comes back.  Permanent distraction.

A while ago I wrote a piece about climbing back into the writing saddle.  What I didn’t realize at the time was some paparazzo apparently filmed me in the process, as you can see in this video.

What the foul dog didn’t stick around for, however, was this here cowpoke picking myself back up, brushing off the dirt and the cobwebs, and re-hoisting.  The pen and pad and keyboard are ready and my fingers are chomping at the bit.

2013 is gonna be a rodeo.

Back in the Saddle

So, if you’re a frequent (or even not so frequent) visitor to this Always Write blog, you’ve probably been wondering if I fell off a cliff or got hit by a truck or maybe joined an isolated religious cult somewhere.

Nope, just wicked crazy busy, as is typical for me each year during late July and most of August.

You see, first there’s my real job, meaning my work as a curriculum specialist/consultant in the educational publishing industry. And with teachers heading back to school, I’ve been hopping around the country training them to effectively use the new print and digital materials they purchased last spring from my employer, Pearson Education. In the past month or so I’ve worked in California, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Texas, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, and of course my home state of Washington. I leave today for work in Medford and Eugene, then over to Sandpoint, Idaho. Things will slow up some by September; they always do. But in the meantime . . .

And for the middle two weeks of July I was putting the finishing touches on the inaugural Refuse To Abuse 5K at Safeco Field, a wonderfully successful run/walk staged fully inside the Seattle Mariners baseball stadium. As the race manager I made sure that participants had an enjoyable and safe (not to mention officially certified) 3.1 mile experience, as they navigated the four separate concourse levels, underground service tunnels, and rewarding finish on the 3rd base field-level warning track inside the stadium. All proceeds went to support work by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. If you’re a runner or a walker, you might consider joining us next summer for this unique event.

And in the tween times I’ve been scriving madly on the sequel to my thriller Brother’s Keeper. Someday I’d love to have the pleasure and privilege of writing full time — actually for a living! — but for now I write when I can. Having said that, I’m extremely pleased with how things are shaping up in The Ferryman’s Wake. I’ve targeted publication for the end of the year and am still tracking to hit that. You can read about all of my works in process on my website:

But my world is slowing down — well, slightly slowing down — so in the next few days I’ll be back in the blog saddle with a lineup of upcoming posts:

  • Our final 3 days in southwest Turkey, including the final day’s gulet cruise along the coast.
  • Our 6 days on the spectacular Greek isle of Santorini. The views alone are enough to make me want to go back.
  • There’s a new young lady in my life, grandbaby Cora born a couple of months ago. And grandson Jaxon begins kindergarten!
  • I’ve read a few books and seen a few movies: I might have a review or two thrown in there.
  • In November I’ll be tagging along on my wife’s business trip to Prague. We’ll also Eurorail it down to Vienna and Budapest.
  • I haven’t written yet about my love affair with quality craft beer, the app Untappd, and my home-away-from-home quasi-Cheers neighborhood alehouse.
  • And I’ve got a couple dozen other blogpost ideas stirring around upstairs.

So, thanks again for hanging on. And for those who’ve purchased Brother’s Keeper in the last few months . . . an extra thank you! If you haven’t read it yet, don’t forget that the Kindle store and other e-reader sites will generally let you download sample chapters for free.

Just a thought.

Istanbul to Kumlubuk – Day 4

So, the all-too-quick weekend in Istanbul is finito and it’s time to head south to see my dad and his wife, Angela, and in a couple of days my younger brother Eric, his wife Jerri, and his post-college-aged daughter Nicole.

I mentioned the background to all this a number of posts ago, but again the quick summary:  My parents bought a small hotel in the Caribbean in 1973, then they divorced and both remarried outstandingly cool people, my dad’s wife being Angela, and they sold the hotel in ’86 and my dad bought a place in north central England (Lincolnshire) and they started splitting their time between the Turks & Caicos and England, but then they began vacationing with a sorta timeshare deal and hit on this place in southwest Turkey that they fell in love with and a few years later decided to buy a small place and refurb it, and so now they tri-split their time between the three spots, and this year is my dad’s 80th birthday, so he invited us to join him there to celebrate.  Phew!  Now his birthdays’ not until this Tuesday the 17th, but schedules are what they are, so late June it was.

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Istanbul – Day 3

So, our last full day in Istanbul.  Yesterday was shopping and touring; today we’d hit the two biggest and most recognized mosques in the city and also the impressively preserved Topkapi Palace, former residence of the Ottoman Sultans.

But before I start, two lessons learned on this first major world voyage whilst maintaining my blog:

A.  As much as I love my iPad, it’s a pain in the arse for blogging while traveling.  I can write on it no problem, but working on the WordPress site is a major hassle: the text entry window is tiny and inserting then sizing images is cumbersome and nearly impossible.

B.  Plus, I’m taking my high quality photos with my digital SLR Sony camera.  To transfer those images requires a USB port, which the iPad doesn’t have, so I ended up downloading those to Nancy’s laptop anyway, which meant my typical blog-posting process sequenced as follows:

  • freehand drafting and note-taking in a spiral journal,
  • typing that up via iPad,
  • hoping for a wireless signal to then email that document to myself,
  • recovering that email on Nancy’s laptop,
  • loading photos from my camera to Nancy’s laptop,
  • integrating both to WordPress when an Internet signal was available,
  • final drafting, then posting.

Compared to my usual process . . . this was 4-5 times more time-consuming.

Next time I’ll bring my own laptop and I’ll know better how to tap into the Net outside of the U.S.

Okay, back to Istanbul.

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Tour de France Redux

The Tour De France makes for spectacular sports television. Only the Olympics and World Cup soccer have more viewers worldwide. So, I posted an article last July during the 2011 Tour de France.  And now that I’ve returned from my travels to Turkey and Greece (and have my 47-inch HDTV and TiVo locked in to record every stage of this year’s Tour), I thought I’d repost.

It’s titled, Love suspense thrillers? Then watch the Tour de France! and compares the key elements of a great suspense novel to what every stage of this ultimate athletic event has to offer.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a biking enthusiasist, I encourage you to check ’em out.  My blogpost and Le Tour itself.

Just a thought.

Istanbul – Day 2

So, with a mere two days to experience all Istanbul has to offer I checked in with Gem, our expertly knowledgable concierge at the W Hotel, and he suggested a few must-dos for this magnificent and multi-faceted city.  That meant Saturday tackling the bazaars and a cruise of the Bosphorus.

1.  Still a bit jet-lagged and recovering from our night in Taksim Square, we slept in until 9am, skipped breakfast, then fetched some Turkish lira from a bank machine in the Migros convenience store a couple of blocks away.  They didn’t open until 10, so we wandered  through the tight-packed tangle of streets admiring the entrepreneurial creativity of the shopkeepers who had wedged their tiny businesses into spaces barely half the size of our hotel room.  And each with a small stool or chair outside propped outside, the better for gabbing with the vendor next door.  Cozy.

2.  After downloading our moolah we taksied to the Grand Bazaar, by reputation perhaps the single largest flea market in the world.

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