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Friday Finds

Friday Finds

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Smoke has become a real problem across Western North Carolina and the surrounding areas as wildfires burn in several national forest locations.
Photograph courtesy of Cris Bessette.

A roundup of interesting books, movies, and tidbits, some old, some new, and some stuff I just wanted to share.

Halloween may be over (unless you're a Hobbit, in which case, Second Halloween!), but this movie is one I'll be watching again soon. 

Because I only watched it twice leading up to Halloween, thank you very much.

Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman deliver outstanding performances in the lead roles, and are supported admirably by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as The Aunts, and Goran Visnjic and Aidan Quinn as the Owens sisters' love interests. 

Now, some of you probably think that because I'm a writer, I should be pointing to the book on which the movie was based, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. Uh, no. This is one of the few cases where the movie was far, far better than the book. Stick with the movie. Don't watch it alone and, for pete's sake, "Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can."

Dubbed a techno-thriller by reviewers, Chuck Wendig's Zeroes is the story of a group of misfit hackers who are pulled together and coerced (read: imprisoned and forced) to work for a shadow government agency to an end that becomes clear after a terrifying and weird twisting journey. Technology geeks and nerds of all flavors will enjoy this one particularly, but anyone who likes a fast-paced, intense story should find a good read between the covers. I did, and no one can accuse me of being a geek... Oh, wait.

Every once in a while, I go on a mini-book-buying spree. A couple of days ago, for instance, I ordered five paperbacks ranging the gamut from Epic Fantasy to Urban Fantasy to Science Fiction. Amazon is my friend. 

So is Barnes & Noble. Whenever I'm in Asheville, I try to stop by the local B&N and browse the new releases, and usually come home with at least one book. On the trip before last, I picked up one by debut author Becky Chambers, whose first work is titled The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The title alone is worth the read.

Amazingly enough, Harper Collins, the publisher, has set the Kindle edition's price to $1.99, completely contravening the Big 5's usual practice of pricing digital editions as high as, or higher than, the paperback edition. (Or, at least, that was the price when I wrote this blog post at 4:38 p.m. on Thursday, 10 November 2016, EST.)

This was the book I took with me to read during my recent Kodak/Knoxville, Tennessee, trip. Unfortunately, I didn't get very far into it during the trip and had to turn my attention away from fun reads toward more serious, work-related reads (see the sidebar for what I'm currently reading). Don't tell me how it ends! I want to figure that out myself.

The crew working the Jones Gap fire northwest of Highlands, North Carolina, just a few miles from my current home.
Photo courtesy of the US Forest Service.

While most around the United States are preoccupied with the recent election results, folks here in the Southeast are more concerned about the wildfires spreading across the Southern Appalachians. Some of them are being set by an arsonist(s), including those in the Macon County, North Carolina, and Rabun County, Georgia, areas. Many are being forced to evacuate, while others are under a state of emergency, and many more try to find a way to cope with the smoke permeating our air.

This is my home area, friends. The smoke is so thick in some places, the roads are impassable. My son is asthmatic. A couple of nights ago, we drove from his home in Georgia up to Sylva, NC, to eat at Bogart's. (Best burgers in Jackson County!) The smoke was so bad and so hard on his lungs, we contemplated turning around.

Smoke from wildfires diminishes the sun in Franklin, NC. Photo courtesy of Brandon Ledford.
Thick smoke from wildfires obscures the sun in the Frogtown area of Franklin, North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Ledford.

Good thing we didn't. Halfway through our meal, a group of about eighteen forest rangers walked in, and that eventually led to my son and I visiting the Jackson County Command Center, where we spoke with a young man about donations. The folks fighting the fires include, from my understanding, forest rangers, members of the National Guard, and others flown in from at least nine states across the country, as well as local firefighters and other emergency service personnel. Under the harsh floodlights shining down on the command center, the men and women looked completely worn out. I later learned that they're shipped out to the fires after breakfast and don't come back until bedtime.

That's a long, hard day, especially considering that the only food they have in between is what they can carry in their packs and clothes.

I ended up going in with my editor (Richard, for those who don't know him) and donating a crap ton of Slim Jims, nuts and dried fruits, and sodas, the latter having been specifically requested by members of the fire crews. After the hours they work trying to stop the spread of these wildfires, the least we can do is provide something other than water and Gatorade for them to drink.

As far as I know, the command centers are still accepting donations. I only know of two, the one set up at the Holiday Inn Express just north of Dillsboro, NC, and the one set up at the old Caterpillar factory outside of Franklin, NC. (This article mentions a command center in Clay Co., NC, but I don't know the location.) Considering the scope of the fires, there have to be others, so if you're interested in donating or otherwise helping, try contacting local emergency services or ranger stations for more information.

The men and women who came here from outside the South have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the locals. Let's continue doing what we can to make their lives easier until they can return to their own families and communities.

Ledford Road smoke by Amy Watts
Smoke hangs over the road leading to property owned by my family near Franklin, North Carolina.
Photograph courtesy of Amy Watts.
Pumpkintown wildfire by Erica Welch Arvey
Fires burning across the road from a populated area in Pumpkintown, North Carolina. 
Photograph courtesy of Erica Welch Arvey.
A Vampyr Series Movie? Here’s How You Can Help.

A Vampyr Series Movie? Here’s How You Can Help.

My son recently attended DragonCon, and because he’s a good son, he sat in on a panel discussing how to turn a book into a TV series or movie. We’d been discussing this in particular with the Vampyr Series. I mean, let’s face it. Vampires make for good TV, so why not a Vampyr Series movie?

Here’s the thing. In order to do that, the most basic requirement is social credit, which translates (according to the panelists) into a minimum of 50,000 followers on one social media platform, plus great reviews on the books and so forth.

So I’m reaching out to my readers and asking each of you to follow me on Twitter, like my Facebook page, and comment on this blog post. If you haven’t already, please leave an honest review for each of the books on Amazon: The Vampire’s Pet, The Vampire’s Favorite, and The New Vampire. (Reviews at other online stores are welcome, too.) Finally, spread the word. Tell your book loving friends about the Vampyr Series and encourage them to dive into this story world. Don’t forget. The first e-book is currently available as a free download.

The Master Vampire is currently in the works, so keep an eye out for news on it. I’m also moving and updating all my websites and social media platforms, so please have patience while I rearrange everything.

Thank you all for your help!

Dreamland

Dreamland

I just finished watching both series (seasons) of Dreamland, originally titled Utopia, an Australian satire mocking bureaucratic waste and inefficiency centered on the fictional Nation Building Authority. The show is part of the research I’m conducting prior to traveling to Oz in the next couple of years. I want to have a good feel for the culture and language before I go, as I intend to set a story there.

Why else would I travel halfway around the world?

Oh, right. Vacation.

Anywho, if it’s a vacation, it’ll be a working one.

Dreamland is hilarious, if you understand the comedy inherent to this sort of satire. If not? Eh. You’ll be lost. Some of the humor is dry and some went completely over my head. (That depending on Australian slang, for instance.)

What makes Dreamland so great is the way the actors completely buy into their parts. There’s not one bit of incredulity, even under the most ridiculous situations, like when the WiFi goes out and the only place anyone can get a signal is in the men’s toilet.

Pre-trip Reading

Coincidentally, I also just finished reading Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia by David Hunt. It’s billed as a satire, but struck me as more of a smartassery than anything. I did learn more than I probably will ever need to know about Australia’s founding, and particularly of its early explorers and settlers. If you pick this one up, don’t skip the footnotes, as they contain the funniest bits.

I have a handful of other books on Australia stacked in my various to be read piles, one of which I’ve already started. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey–and Even Iraq–Are Destined to become Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport was written by Simon Kuper (a sports writer) and Stefan Szymanski (an economist) as every footy’s answer to baseball’s Moneyball.

There are enough statistics in this thing to give even the most dedicated numbers man a headache. It’s taken me weeks to get ninety pages into it. Now, don’t get me wrong. Soccernomics is a fascinating look at the sport that captivates much of the world, but it’s a dense read, especially for a newbie like me. My closest brush with soccer was two seasons of rec ball a decade and a half ago when my son played. Yes, I coached both years, but what did I know? The other mom/coach did all the coaching and training. I stood on the sidelines and made sure the kids didn’t kill each other in a Gatorade-induced frenzy.

Soccer is apparently huge in Straya. The number of leagues and clubs is astounding. I think every ‘burb there must have at least one team (club?) for every age group. I’m not kidding. Since it seems to be something of a national past time, I reckon I’ll have to catch a few matches while there.

I’d really like to understand the game first, though. Since I don’t have a way to watch sports at home, every week, my son and I eat at least once at La Cabana (Dillard) so I can watch part of a match.

I’m the one wearing the wacky t-shirts while avidly watching the TVs mounted high on either end of the main dining room. My son is the one wearing the wacky t-shirts while avidly chatting away about work and such.

And a good ol’ time is had by all.

Bribery

The picture at the top of the page was taken by a good friend who lives in the state of Victoria. She’s bribing me to visit by sending gorgeous imagery of her vacations and off-day trips. Yup, it’s working. I don’t even like beaches, but after seeing the pictures she sends, I’m dying to go.

To satisfy visa requirements, my bucket list trip was originally supposed to alternate between two to three months in Australia and a month or so at home. I’m trying to work out the finances now so I can live in Australia for at least a year, the length of time I figure I’ll need to research and write the aforementioned book. It’s likely I’ll get other stories out of the visit, considering that satisfying visa regs only requires a trip out of country. I don’t have to go all the way home to do that.

Say, isn’t New Zealand nice this time of year? How about Niue?

No idea when I’ll pull everything together for the trip, but I did finally get a passport. Step one, fulfilled. Now on to step two: Global Entry and TSA preCheck. Fun. What was that about bureaucracies again?