Monday, December 30, 2013

What I Read in 2013

At the end of 2012 I used Goodreads to make a list of all the books I read that year, and I think I'll do that each year since I enjoy the process of reviewing how my reading went. For example I didn't realize I had doubled my reading this year until I began to compile this list! My reading really slowed way down near the end of the year, so I had initially thought I would have a smaller list this year.

Here they are in the order in which I completed them along with my star ranking from one to five with five being a book I thought was great and would read again. Four stars is a book I really enjoyed but might not want to read again. Three stars means I liked the book but wouldn't read it over again, and anything less means it had issues for me.

1. The Passage by Justin Cronin ****
2. Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber *****  I read these decades ago in my teen years and loved them, so I decided to reread the series this year. I still love the first couple but found the quality diminished as the series progressed.
3. Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber **** and a half
4. Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber **** and a half
5. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson ***
6. Swords Against Wizardry by Fritz Leiber ****
7. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking ****

8. The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber **
9. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie *** and a half
10. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie ****
11. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie ****
12. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters ***
13. Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe *** and a half
14. Sword and Citadel by Gene Wolfe ****
15. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold **** and a half

16. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Howard Chaykin **** and a half
17. The Beholder by Ivan Amberlake ***  Ivan is a writer friend of mine and I'd love nothing more than to give him more stars, but this book is intended for a different audience than me.
18. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller *** and a half
19. The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell ****
20. Roma by Steve Saylor **
21. The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer **
22. Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell ****  Continues the retelling of the Arthur legend begun in The Winter King. This whole series was excellent.
23. Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey ****
24. Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell ****
25. Urban Legends of Rock and Roll: You Never Can Tell by Dale Sherman ** and a half
26. 11/22/63 by Stephen King ****
27. The Books of the South: Tales of the Black Company by Glen Cook **** and a half
28. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia **
29. The Complete Prose by Woody Allen *  I love Woody Allen's movies, so I was aghast to read just how terrible his writing can be
30. The Twelve by Justin Cronin ****
31. Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey ****
32. Dust by Hugh Howey ****
33. The Terror by Dan Simmons **** and a half

34. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien ***
35. Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury ** and a half
36. Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss ** and a half
37. The Return of the Black Company by Glen Cook *** and a half

Friday, December 27, 2013

Acting in New Movie

It's a little frustrating to write about things that happened quite some time ago, but I've learned that when it comes to acting, it is necessary due to nondisclosure agreements. Since I like to use this blog as a semi-diary in order for me to record (as much for myself as for anyone else) interesting things that have happened in my life, this post is going to talk about events of October 9, 2012.

Leading up to that date, I had a somewhat unhappy experience. I was contacted by a casting agency and asked if I would audition for an interesting part in a Swedish movie based on a bestselling book called The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Despite the mouthful of a title, this book was a big hit in parts of Europe, selling more than two million copies before it was even published in the United States.

It's a comedy somewhat along the lines of Forrest Gump or Being There, i.e. the main character is a somewhat clueless fellow more interested in finding his next drink than anything else, while everyone around him seems to think he is either a genius or at least very useful. He manages, over the course of a century, to be involved in many major events, from the development of the A-bomb to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The unhappy experience I mentioned is due to the fact that the date they told me the filming would happen in Budapest was at a time I had to be out of the country for work. I tried to get out of it but couldn't, so I didn't go to the audition. A few weeks later I was contacted by an assistant director for the film who had gotten to know me during the Die Hard 5 filming and she asked if I would be willing to be a featured extra. They had changed the date of the filming to a date when I would be available! Naturally I was a little upset at not even getting a chance to audition for the real part, but I still wanted the experience, so I agreed. It was a great decision, because it was a fantastic experience.

I got up at 3 AM the morning of the shoot and they had a taxi waiting to take me to the studio, where the nice wardrobe folks fitted me for a couple different outfits (since the part called for scenes in different decades, from the sixties and seventies). I met the other featured extras, two American-Hungarian men, one Hungarian woman who spoke decent English, and an American woman that I knew. Together we made up the CIA agents for the Paris office during the sixties and seventies, along with one actor playing our boss (in the role that I had wanted to audition for). The ladies had some very entertaining hairstyles done up by the makeup women, and then we piled into a van to go to the filming location, which turned out to be one of the same buildings in which parts of Die Hard 5 had been shot.

They introduced us to the director, Felix Herngren, who seemed very nice. They had initially told me to keep my beard and mustache, but now they decided I had to shave it off due to the time period. I was halfway through shaving when they called me to do the first scene, so I had to rush through the rest of the shaving and run to the set.

Unlike being a standard extra, being a featured extra means that you get to be front and center working with the regular actors and you even can get some dialogue. Felix seemed to like improvisation, so he kept telling us what the situation was for each scene but wanting us to simply improvise what we might say, while the regular actors had their actual lines.

The first scene was really nice. It took place in the office of our boss, the CIA Director for Eastern Europe in Paris. In the room with him was the Swedish main character, played by Robert Gustafsson, and the young woman that I already knew. If I give all the details of all the scenes we shot, this will go on forever. Hopefully these scenes all make it into the film so you can see for yourself what we did. What I liked most about the first scene was realizing that for me all of the people working on the shoot vanished from my mind each time they prepared to yell 'action'. I became completely absorbed in really doing the scene as if we were truly there in real life, and I wasn't nervous in the slightest. The director was great at giving adjustments, and we did the scene a number of times with different camera angles.
Selfie done between takes by Mr. Gustafsson
I must have shot six or so different scenes, and they also used me to do a voice-over part that would be used as a tape recording that Gorbachev would listen to--a recording of me speaking with Ronald Reagan about tearing down a wall at Camp David such that Gorbachev thinks Reagan is actually talking about the Berlin Wall.

I was proudest of a scene where the camera was going to slowly move about the main CIA office while all of us agents were doing various daily work. My job was to sit on top of the front of my desk and ad lib a telephone conversation. I noticed that my 'boss' seemed to really like what I was doing with my ad lib, because during later takes, he began joining in on it with me, turning it into a three way conversation with the made-up person on the other end of my line.

It was an exhausting day that lasted sixteen hours, but it was exhilerating also. I wasn't bitter about not getting the shot at the main CIA Director role, because the actor who played it was not only really good, he was also very nice. Unlike other actors that I have so far met, he often hung out with us and talked and joked like a regular guy, and we appreciated that.

I don't know when the film will debut in the U.S., but it premiered overseas on Christmas Day.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Preparing to Self-Publish

My experience with my latest novel is completely different from my first book. With my first--an epic fantasy--I didn't know what the ending would be, but once I approached the end it simply came to me and I finished the book off very quickly. With my new book--a sci-fi thriller--I also don't know the full ending, but I've been close to the end for some months and I just can't come up with the perfect ending yet.

So, I've temporarily set the new novel aside in order to go back and prepare my fantasy novel for self-publishing. I have three major obstacles before I can actually do so. I've been working on two of the obstructions--editing the text one final time to put in some final improvements, and trying to prepare a good enough map to include in the book. Here is my latest attempt at the map.
click to enlarge

The final obstacle will be managing the formatting so that the book looks good in both Kindle and print editions. I want to include the map for certain, and if possible I'd like to figure out how to also include both of the paintings that I commissioned from artists. My friend Ivan Amberlake seems willing to help with some formatting issues, but he didn't have a map or artwork, so I'd be thrilled to hear any tips on how to manage those issues.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kasparov at Polgar Festival in Budapest

Blogger did something that messed up the header I liked, and I didn't have the patience to work on getting this one right. It's so severe looking now. Perhaps when I am good and sick of it I'll have the patience to work on it again.

Today was the Polgar Chess Festival in Budapest at the Palace of Arts. I took my youngest son Alex. All three of the famous Polgar sisters were there, including Judit who is the highest rated woman ever in chess and the only one to enter the top ten in the world.
We saw Sofia Polgar play a simul exhibition against thirty players.
Kasparov with Judit Polgar
Later there was a press conference with the three Polgars and former world champion Garry Kasparov. It was too crowded to get any good photos, unfortunately.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Double Standard

I started reading another Cormac McCarthy novel today. I've read a couple of his and I find them okay, though I don't love him the way so many apparently do. I think what bothers me about his work is what I perceive as a double standard. Here is an example from the very first page of this novel called The Crossing:

"He pulled his breeches off the footboard of the bed and got his shirt and his blanketlined duckingcoat and got his boots from under the bed and went out to the kitchen and dressed in the dark by the faint warmth of the stove and held the boots to the windowlight to pair them left and right and pulled them on and rose and went to the kitchen door and stepped out and closed the door behind him."

You see, he gets to be called brilliant by writing such run-on sentences with 12 'and's in them, which he does all the time, but if any of us dared to do such a thing, any agent or editor would reject us outright and consider us complete amateurs. It just pisses me off a tad that the very same set of eyes that would read that sentence coming from me and hit the Delete key will foam at the mouth with ecstasy because it is written by a famous author.

Sorry, just had to do a mini-rant about that before I go on reading.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Lost Music

Since work has been crazy busy the past couple of months, I've had very little quality personal time. What time I have had I've mostly been just reading and listening to music. Very often I get into the mood for specific favorite bands and listen to their stuff over and over again until I tire of it and move on to a different favorite. A couple weeks ago something reminded me of one of the oddest but brilliant flashes of music from the late eighties--Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
For me this band came out of nowhere. The music of the 80's has grown on me over time, but while living through them I felt it was mostly mediocre, especially compared to the brilliance of the late 60's and early 70's (Zeppelin, Floyd, Beatles, The Who, Stones, Cream, Hendrix, etc.). I spent several years of the 80's listening to almost nothing but U2, and I considered them to be by far the greatest band of that time (still do).
But Frankie Goes to Hollywood crashed onto the music scene like nothing I had ever seen before. They were brazenly, openly gay (at least the two frontmen) yet produced in-your-face galloping pop-rock tunes like Two Tribes and Welcome to the Pleasuredome, not to mention their rather blatantly sexual hit Relax. Their singer had a sneer of a voice that worked great even when producing rehashes of tunes like Springsteen's Born to Run (nothing can touch the original, yet there is an addictive quality to FGTH's version). And even their unknown songs were often quite good--Black Night, White Light has an awesome bass line and backing vocal. They do a creditable take of the old hit War as well. And Krisco Kisses...well, it's a bit too over-the-top for  my taste, but it certainly deserves a few listens!

I find it very sad to listen to the friends of my sons and learn that many young people these days have no appreciation or knowledge whatsoever of older music, even though that music is generally far superior to anything on the charts these days. (We still have fabulous modern bands, like Tool, A Perfect Circle, Soundgarden, White Stripes, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, etc., but they are rarely anywhere near the charts).

FGTH's music turned off a lot of people who were uncomfortable with their brazenness, but they deserve a second chance, especially their terrific first album.

Friday, August 9, 2013

An Interview With Me!

The wonderful Afe Smith was kind enough to do an interview with me over on her blog. Sorry I haven't been blogging, but it's been a hectic summer. It started off well on the writing front after I got the nice review from Harper Collins, and I wrote six new chapters, but then I got slammed by work and have really stalled.

Friday, July 12, 2013

An Evening Walk in Budapest

With my family away in Croatia on a vacation and me stuck in Budapest for work, I decided after dinner to take an evening stroll with my camera.
Castle with crescent moon
 It was a lovely evening with a nice moon and lots of people walking near the Danube.
Palace and Chain Bridge
Chain Bridge
After crossing the Danube, I noticed an absolutely stunning young Italian woman walking along the river with two of her friends. I stopped to take the picture above, and she stopped to take the same shot. As she walked by me, she looked me right in the eyes and gave me an amazing smile. I've been happily married for 18 years, so it's a rare thing for any woman other than my beautiful wife to smile at me, let alone one who kinda, sorta looked like this...
Needless to say it made my week!
So I had a very nice evening. How have you all been doing?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Top 20 Soundgarden Songs

Since Soundgarden got back together last year and released an awesome new album, I've been listening to a lot of their great songs. I've done a few 'best of' lists in the past but somehow neglected Soundgarden, which is after all one of my favorite bands. For the purposes of this list I will also include some Chris Cornell solo work and also Temple of the Dog, which heavily featured Chris. If by doing this list I can introduce some previously unknown songs to you then I will be very happy.

1. Searching With My Good Eye Closed -- This was the first Soundgarden song I heard, as they opened with it at the live concert I attended that was my introduction to their music. The song is so heavy that it isn't just in old fashioned drop D tuning like many heavy songs--the guitar is tuned down two whole steps to B. The riff is so heavy and the vocals fit perfectly over it. I'm not enamored of the long intro, so I edit the song to fade in just before the vocals kick off.

2. Boot Camp -- Soundgarden's last album before they broke up was the vastly underrated Down On the Upside, which is my favorite of their albums. This song is pretty much overlooked by people for some reason, but I listen to it all the time.

 3. Bones of Birds -- I bet you never heard this one either. It's from the new album, and naturally it hasn't been released as a single, since Soundgarden never puts their best songs out as singles. This one took a little time to grow on me, but it's lovely.

 4. Beyond the Wheel -- This is one of the oldest Soundgarden songs, and while the studio version is very good, the live version from the Letterman concert is incredible.

5. Fourth of July -- Another overlooked song. It's dirgelike tone really appeals to me.

6. Pretty Noose -- A cool rocker from their best album. Love the wah wah pedal here.

7. Blood on the Valley Floor -- Excellent song from the new album, so of course it isn't a single.

8. Call Me a Dog -- My favorite song from the Temple of the Dog album.

9. Zero Chance -- Just gorgeous, and again from their best album, Down on the Upside.

10. Worse Dreams -- Here's another reason why the new album is so splendid.

11. By Crooked Steps -- See 10

12. Taree -- See 10 and 11. This song has the best buildup of any on the album but falls a tad short on the chorus, at least for me. It could easily have been the best song on the already great record.

13. An Unkind -- Short, rocking tune from the awesome Down on the Upside album.

14. Nothing to Say -- One of the best of the old Soundgarden songs.

15. Nowhere But You -- A Chris Cornell solo tune that is quirky and sounds like it belongs in a Tarantino movie.

16. Blow Up the Outside World -- What more can be said about the Down on the Upside's the best!

17. Burden in My Hand -- See 16

18. Room a Thousand Years Wide -- Simple but great, from the Badmotorfinger album.

19. Jesus Christ Pose -- Iconic tune from Badmotorfinger, and while I love it, I somehow rarely feel like playing it, which is why it drops to here on the list.

20. Switch Opens -- A somewhat surreal but beautiful song from Down on the Upside.

Okay, so there are so many great Soundgarden songs that didn't make my top 20, but that's because Soundgarden tends to release their second-rate songs as singles while leaving their best stuff to languish in obscurity. Here are their other songs that have four stars on my iTunes list:

Like Suicide, The Keeper, Seasons, Outshined, Hands All Over, Flower, Overfloater, Mind Riot, Earache My Eye, Karaoke, Spoonman, Black Hole Sun, Hunger Strike, Your Savior, All Night Thing, The Day I Tried to Live, Loud Love, Live to Rise, Flutter Girl, Preaching the End of the World, Follow My Way, When I'm Down, Steel Rain, A Thousand Days Before, Non-State Actor, Been Away Too Long, Attrition, Black Saturday.

Wow, so many great songs! Not many bands outside of The Beatles, Zeppelin, Floyd, U2, Pearl Jam, etc., have managed so many.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Budapest Flood

Last week Budapest saw the Danube River flood to its highest level in a century. (click the photos to enlarge)
Parliament Building

Me on the river walk drive that is usually well above water

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Shots of me in A Good Day to Die Hard

I finally broke down and bought a copy of A Good Day to Die Hard. I say 'broke down' because when my sons and I watched it originally, well, we just didn't find it to be a very good movie. We loved all the other Die Hards, but this one lacked a memorable bad guy and the story was overwhelmed by too much of a fixation on non-stop action. Bruce Willis seemed much more of a tourist in this rather than the focus of attention, and I think that also weakened the movie.

But it was great fun to do several extra scenes for the film, even if almost all of it got cut. Sorry that the following photos aren't so great, but I couldn't figure out how to do real screen grabs from the blu-ray and had to settle for taking photographs of the tv screen. (click the photos to enlarge)
Here I am just the little blurry 'CIA agent' standing in the background while Mary Elizabeth Winstead greets her brother and father at the airport. This scene is in the theatrical cut only. They filmed quite a lot here and I even got to drive the car away, but they chopped most of it out.
Same scene a bit earlier on. I'm standing just behind Mary Winstead. The guy with her was some friend of Jai Courtney who came in just to do this little part.
This is a scene set in Moscow (though shot in Budapest) where the three main characters are about to enter a gun shop. I'm the 'Russian businessman' just to the right of Sebastian Koch.
I wish I could have captured blu-ray quality shots, but this is still pretty cool, at least for my kids and me!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Great Unknown Music

Every once in a while I like to highlight fantastic music that I feel is being unfairly ignored by the world. With the Stone Temple Pilots in the news recently and everyone raving about their taking on the lead singer from Linkin Park in place of Scott Weiland (due to his refusal to ever kick the drugs)--all of which I find sad, since the new single they released with the new singer just isn't very good--I thought I would focus on Army of Anyone.
Have you heard of them? Even some people who have heard of them have pretty much forgotten about them by now. It the musical members of Stone Temple Pilots with the singer from Filter. Why it got ignored by most people, I have no idea, since their album rocks. I have five songs from their sole album rated as five stars in iTunes, and that ranks them up with the better albums of any band in my collection. It is true, I think, that the songs need some time to grow on you, but it's worth giving them several listens to allow this to happen.

Check out my five favorites from this great but overlooked album:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Celebration Day!

I got good news today. I think my work-in-progress novel The Immortality Game (a sci-fi thriller) may just have been the fastest ever reviewed by the Harper Collins editor. My book 'made the desk' (which means making it to the top 5 overall at the end of the month) just ten days ago and I received the review today. Most reviews that I have seen have taken months.

I don't believe Harper Collins has published any of the books that they have reviewed from Authonomy. The review of my book was very good, and they have asked me to submit the full manuscript to them for their board of readers to check out. Sadly, this is an incomplete book, so I hope they are willing to be patient while I finish it!

Anyone wishing to read the approximately 3/4 complete novel can do so HERE.

My favorite line from their review:  This has very strong potential and I would certainly recommend it to the authonomy editorial board for consideration for publication.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dived vs Dove

I've been reading the First Law series by Joe Abercrombie, and some of his Britishisms really throw me off, such as his use of the word 'whinge' in place of 'whine', but especially his common reference to 'fruits' in place of what Americans would more often call 'balls'.

He also used 'dived' when all my life I've heard people use 'dove'. I felt the need to look it up, and it turns out that 'dived' is the traditional correct way to use the past tense of 'to dive', but from about two centuries ago in the US the word 'dove' began to supersede 'dived' and has now become the standard. So, since I always recommend taking jabs at our lovely British friends, I will stick with 'dove', thank you!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Small Progress

Sorry I haven't been blogging. I have been concentrating on a busy work schedule and haven't done much else since playing in a chess tournament in March. I like to post when I feel I have something interesting or entertaining to say, and I haven't felt much of that recently.

The only new thing that has happened is that my work in progress The Immortality Game was voted into the top 5 of all books on Authonomy and so wins a review by an editor at Harper Collins. This could be good or bad depending on which editor gets it, as some reviews lately have been rather shoddy while others have been truly helpful. I can only hope I'll get one of the helpful ones!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Excerpt from my Work in Progress

I'm currently working on a sci-fi thriller, so the excerpt below might seem a bit out of place. All I can say is that it will make perfect sense once you can read the actual book!


The wizard Xax peeked out from behind the boulder at the cave entrance.  The dark hole was at the back of a small rock-strewn ravine in a wall of crumbling limestone.  He glanced over at his three hirelings.

“You’re sure that’s it?” he whispered.

The slender red-haired woman with all the knives nodded and leaned close to him.  “It's as they said it would be.  It must be it.”

Xax stared back at the cave mouth.  “ Doesn't look so bad.”

There was an odd stench here, something Xax couldn't place.  Little grew other than some patches of brown grass.

No one in the nearby hamlets could say exactly what sort of creature made this its lair.  Some said a dragon, which was absurd given how small the entrance was.  Others said it was a huge snake, or perhaps some large spiders.  The only thing they all agreed on was that no one who had entered the hole had ever returned.

Xax hadn't come here for whatever beast might inhabit the lair.  A priest of Pelius had told him that a member of their sect had carried a knucklebone of St. Cletus into the lair.  They wanted it back, and they were willing to pay a lot of gold if he would retrieve it.  And I need that gold if I’m ever to find my sister again, he thought.

He caught the eye of the huge bald-headed fellow with the crisscrossing scars on his face and the rusty mace.  “What do you say, Surly?  Lead the way?”

Surly scowled and grunted, which was about as articulate as the man got.  He slid around the edge of the boulder and stalked toward the lair entrance.

The red-haired woman, Telia, readied a pair of throwing knives and followed.

The last of Xax's companions, a nearly blind old man with a rusty voulge, grinned and said, “Go on, sorcerer.  I've got your back.”

What good a blind man would do, Xax had no idea, but the sparsely populated nearby villages had offered few henchmen for hire.  “With a blade like that and bad eyes, Lovash, I’d much rather have you in front of me.”

Lovash's grin widened.  “Don’t hurt to try.”  He hopped up and crept after Telia.

Xax tightened his grip on his staff and peered over the top of the boulder.  Telia was lighting a torch, while Surly stood across from her at the entrance, ready to hand her a second torch once she got the first lit.  Lovash poked the blade of his voulge into the blackness of the cave entrance, then grinned back at Xax and waved him forward.

Xax breathed deeply three times before scurrying out from behind the boulder.  He imagined the dead eyes of a vast scaly snake bursting forth from the darkness to plunge long fangs into his side.  He panicked, stumbled, and fell directly into the hole.

Gravel bit into his arms as Xax desperately tried to stop his slide.  He couldn't see in the darkness.  He twisted to his side and crashed into hard stone.  With a groan, he blindly tried to assess the damage.  His hands and arms burned from deep scrapes, and his hip bone was bruised.  He had no idea where his staff was.

Then there was light, and scuffing sounds as the three hirelings entered the cave.  Xax groaned again and looked up at Surly as the bald man drew near, a flickering torch held high.

“You all right, old man?” said Telia as she crept in next to Surly.  “ Didn't realize you were that eager to get inside.”

“You see it?” Xax said, unable to keep the fear from his voice.  “Anything moving?”

“Only Lovash,” Telia replied.  “I don’t see...oh, hellfire!”

Surly moaned.

“What?” said Xax.  “What is it?”

“Pick him up, Surly,” Telia said, her voice shaking.  “ We've gotta get outta here now.”

“I can’t see nothing,” Lovash said.  “What do you see?”

Surly stuck the torch in Lovash's hand and reached down to yank Xax up by the clasp of his cloak.

Xax was too frightened to care about the rough handling.  The pillar of stone that had halted his fall was not a stalagmite as he had thought.  It was a statue of an armored man, perfect in every detail.  He looked past the man and saw that they were in a large cavern.  Dozens of such statues filled the room, some holding their hands up in fright, others gripping stone weapons.  Xax turned his wide eyes to Telia and saw his own horror reflected in the flickering light in her eyes.

“Surly,” she screamed.

Xax whirled to see the huge bald warrior frozen in place, his eyes blank and his mouth gaping.  Like a pebble dropped into a pool of water, a ripple spread from Surly’s eyes, flesh turning to stone with the slightest of crackling sounds.

Telia yelled, “Run!” and scrambled up the gravelly slope toward the light of the entrance.

“What is it?” cried Lovash, dropping the torch and swinging his voulge in a sweep until it clanged against one of the stone statues.

Xax had trouble catching his breath.  “Basilisk,” he whispered.  He tried crawling after Telia, but was yanked back by Surly’s stone hand, still gripping his cloak.

Lovash dropped the voulge and rushed after Telia.

“Ah, gods!”  Xax finally found his voice.  “Come back, Lovash.  I’m stuck!”

The old man ignored him and vanished into the sunlight pouring through the entrance.

Xax heard Telia's voice shout something and the sound of running before all was silent save for the crackling of the two abandoned torches lying on the floor.  He saw his staff lying near his feet and reached for it, but Surly’s arm held him up.

Xax froze as a slight scraping sound reached his ears.  Scales slithering over stone?

He redoubled his efforts to reach his staff, but his fingers came up inches short.  Blood pattered onto the stone floor from the scrapes on his hands.  He grasped for the clasp, but it was buried in Surly’s stone fist.  In desperation he thrust himself up and let himself fall, hoping his cloak would tear.

A hissing sound came from somewhere just behind, much too close.  Xax wedged a foot up against Surly and pushed with all his strength, but the cloak didn't give.

Sorry to leave you with a cliffhanger, but the direction the story takes from this point in my WIP doesn't fit with this particular post, so I decided to cut it off there. Hopefully some of you might read the actual book someday, once I get it finished.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Reading A Dance With Dragons

I'm about halfway through reading A Dance With Dragons, the latest book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. I've said it before, but Martin is the greatest living fantasy author, at least for my taste. Don't get me wrong, I love many others, from Ursula Le Guin to Patrick Rothfuss and more, but Martin fits my taste almost perfectly.

I'm lucky, too, that I was able to find a mass-market paperback version of the book in English, since that isn't scheduled to come out until October. (Since I move a lot, I refuse to buy bulky, heavy hardcovers) Lots of people have complained about both this book and A Feast for Crows, but I have to say, I love them nearly as much as the earlier books. The writing grips me just as strongly and sweeps me away into a world that fits my sense of adventure perfectly.

I do have some minor quibbles, though not about how slowly Martin produces his books--as far as I'm concerned, he should take the time he needs in order to get them right. My main quibble is that Daenerys Targaryen is simply too passive, naive, and almost stupid in her chapters. I know she is very young still, but she has been through so much that she should have grown up a bit and gained some wisdom...or at least be able to listen to some of the wisdom of people like Ser Barristan Selmy. Instead she sits around moaning and doing almost nothing except stupid things like agreeing to marry someone very wrong for her. I haven't yet read far enough to see how badly that turns out, but I don't have to in order to know that it will turn badly very quickly, and she should have known it would. Her naivete regarding the slave trade and slave cities is just astounding--you can't make such sweeping changes without shaking up the world and turning almost everyone against you.

The last thing I wanted to mention was that I saw a riddle that Martin threw in to one of Dany's chapters, and it made me guess that the two dragon riders other than Dany will most likely be Tyrion and the 'Frog' prince of Dorne who has just arrived in her city at the point where I am reading. Of course, it could be another Dornish person or another Lannister, but that seems doubtful. Anyone else think this when reading the book?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Next Die Hard Scene

I don't think my scenes are 'big' enough to be considered spoilers, but just in case, if you haven't seen the film yet and don't want to know anything about it, don't read on.

Again due to the non-disclosure agreement, I had to wait all this time to talk about what happened. So, today I am writing about filming of Die Hard 5 on August 6 of last year. The scene was near the end of the movie, when John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his son are arriving in New York from Moscow. I play one of the five CIA agents waiting near the vehicles to escort them to Langley. When the scene wrapped (it was a long day, starting at 9:30 a.m.; I didn't arrive back home until 10 p.m.), I also got to drive one of the vehicles around the airport while they filmed it, though they told us they weren't sure that scene would be used or not.
The best part for me, though, was getting to work with the actress who played McClane's daughter, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I've thought she was awesome ever since seeing her as the lead actress in Scott Pilgrim vs the World. She has been in a number of other movies I've seen, such as the new version of The Thing, Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino, and Final Destination 3.
If you see the movie, most of the CIA guys are in combat gear with automatic rifles. I'm the one in the dark suit. Hopefully I can find a way to do some screen captures and post them.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Die Hard 5

This post was written way back, on June 4 of last year, but I couldn't post it until the movie came out. So I will be writing about 'today' but it is actually about June 4. I don't think my scenes are 'big' enough to be considered spoilers, but just in case, if you haven't seen the film yet and don't want to know anything about it, don't read on. It's too bad that the reviews are pretty bad for the movie itself, but I'll still go see it, of course.

Edit to add: It looks like this scene didn't make the movie, according to some friends who saw it. Maybe it will be in Deleted Scenes when the DVD comes out.

Today was awesome. Better than I ever expected. I was told to dress up as elegantly as I could, so I wore a nice suit. I like another of my suits better, but I went with the one my wife liked best, because I know that wives are always right!

I had to be at the base camp by 5 am, which meant getting up at 4. I'm not a morning person, but this is exciting stuff, so I was fine. It didn't look like a scene I would get a chance to stand out in, because there were what looked to be two hundred extras there, all decked out in their finest.

We were told about the day's shoot, filming behind the Kempinsi Hotel in downtown Budapest. It was meant to be a high-end shopping street in Moscow. Only two buildings on the street had their signs changed into Cyrillic characters, one a bar and the other a gun shop. Don't ask me why a high-end shopping street in Moscow would have a bar and a gun shop on it. I lived there for four years and I don't think such a thing exists unless things have changed a lot since I left!
The street where it was filmed
In the scene, Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney (McClane's son), and another actor are walking down the street, past the bar, and into the gun shop. A choreographer began placing extras in various places and telling them what to do during the scene. This mainly involved simply walking along the street. Many of the extras were placed in positions where they would almost certainly not even get on film.

I got lucky, since Mike Papac, the guy who has done the weapons for all the Die Hard movies, was there dealing with the gun shop. I had met Mike a number of times and even spent quite a bit of time talking with him, as mentioned in this post. He was gracious enough to introduce me to an assistant director, who in turn introduced me to the director. They decided to put me in a place where I would be pretty much guaranteed to show up in the film, standing right by the door of the bar that the guys walk by on their way to the gun shop. So, I'm in a light-gray suit and am holding a briefcase.

I ended up working right near Bruce Willis for almost three hours. We're told not to speak with the actors, so I didn't, even though he met my eyes a few times and looked down-to-earth enough to have talked, but I'm not one to get myself kicked off a set. When they tore apart the set one time in order to rearrange the cameras for another angle, he hung out about four feet from me--he even sang a bit once. I sure wanted someone to take a picture of me with him, but that wasn't going to happen, of course. Anyway, we did around eight or nine takes in all with the real actors (more takes with their stand-ins) over about four hours, and they even paid us. You can't beat that.

I hope I will be able to pick myself out in the film, even if it is just for a second or so! Tomorrow I'll post about the last scene I worked on in the film, and include a photo taken on the set.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Book to Read, a Movie to See

This book has been a bestseller in Europe for the past couple of years. I only heard about it when I was called in to play a small part in the movie when it was filmed in Budapest. I can't go into details on what I did yet due to a non-disclosure agreement, but I have a post ready to put up once the movie is released (supposedly next December).

My wife bought the book for Christmas and she read it first. It's the first time I ever recall hearing her laugh out loud while reading, and she did it often. I read it next, and though I never laughed out loud (comedy books have never much appealed to me), it was certainly amusing. My youngest son just read it this week and pronounced it very good, insisting that his brother needs to read it.

So, in case any of you might like to read the book that will shortly be a movie with me in it, here's the link!

By the way, this coming week on Valentine's Day, the movie A Good Day to Die Hard will arrive in theaters, and you may be able to spot me in that, too, if only in the background. If you wait a day or so after it comes out, I'll put up some posts telling you where you may be able to see me. Again, due to non-disclusure agreements, I can't really get into it in detail until after the movie is released.

Friday, February 8, 2013

All Dressed Up

I realized that I had posted these photos only on Facebook, when I've always meant to use this blog as a form of online 'diary', to a degree, so that I can recall interesting things that have happened to my family. We don't get to dress up often, so these photos were kind of nice. Each year at every post with a marine security guard detachment they host a marine birthday ball. Everyone gets to dress up and have a nice meal and a dance.
The most gorgeous wife ever!
I took the photo of my lovely wife just before we left the apartment, and the second photo was snapped by an offiicial photographer at the ball.
My wife checks out the night's program.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

100 Favorite Movies Challenge

Nathan Bransford challenged people to post their list of 100 favorite movies. The order is about right for the first few and then is pretty much equal for most of the rest. I should list The Centenarian Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared and A Good Day to Die Hard since I'm in them, but neither are out yet. I'm sure I'm missing some, too!

1. Blade Runner
2. Lord of the Rings
3. The Harry Potter films
4. The Princess Bride
5. A Fish Called Wanda
6. Alien/Aliens
7. Sixteen Candles
8. The Shawshank Redemption
9. The Full Monty
10(a)(because I accidentally left it out!) Back to the Future
10. Raiders of the Lost Ark
11. The Silence of the Lambs
12. Schindler's List
13. ET
14. Platoon
15. Unforgiven
16. Pulp Fiction
17. Better Off Dead
18. Watch It
19. Star Wars (IV and V mainly)
20. There's Something About Mary
21. Good Morning, Viet Nam
22. Life of Brian
23. The Godfather
24. Good Will Hunting
25. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
26. Full Metal Jacket
27. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
28. Shaun of the Dead
29. Stand By Me
30. La Femme Nikita
31. Dead Poet's Society
32. Scott Pilgrim vs the World
33. Forrest Gump
34. Rocky
35. Rudy
36. Time Bandits
37. Sliding Doors
38. Groundhog Day
39. Murder By Death
40. The World According to Garp
41. Dumb and Dumber
42. Lawrence of Arabia
43. The Road Warrior
44. Gattaca
45. 28 Days Later
46. Jaws
47. Disclosure
48. Basic Instinct
49. Dangerous Liaisons
50. Cabaret
51. Summer of '42
52. The Thing
53. True Lies
54. Lethal Weapon
55. Die Hard
56. The Right Stuff
57. The Usual Suspects
58. As Good As It Gets
59. Love Actually
60. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
61. Finding Forrester
62. Scream
63. Hardware
64. Jurassic Park
65. Night Watch/Day Watch
66. The Colors trilogy
67. Goodfellas
68. True Romance
69. Ruthless People
70. Down and Out in Beverly Hills
71. Beverly Hills Cop
72. Mrs. Doubtfire
73. Ghost
74. Midnight Run
75. The Sting
76. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (US version)
77. Braveheart
78. The Spanish Apartment
79. Sex and Lucia
80. Queen Margot
81. Showgirls
82. Almost Famous
83. Clueless
84. LA Confidential
85. Carlito's Way
86. Boyz n the Hood
87. MASH
88. Bend It Like Beckham
89. Young Guns
90. Searching for Bobby Fischer
91. A Fistful of Dollars
92. Four Weddings and a Funeral
93. Salem's Lot
94. The Shining
95. Arachnophobia
96. The Exorcist III
97. Manhattan
98. Beautiful Girls
99. Leon, the Professional
100. When Harry Met Sally

TV Shows
1. Game of Thrones
2. Freaks and Geeks
3. Rome
4. Friday Night Lights
5. Northern Exposure
6. Firefly
7. Big Bang Theory
8. Battlestar Galactica (new version)
9. Band of Brothers
10. Frasier
11. The Walking Dead
12. Seinfeld
13. Friends
14. Taxi
15. Sopranos
16. Cheers
17. Deadwood

1. Monsters Inc.
2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
3. The Nightmare Before Christmas
4. Toy Story
5. Bridge to Terabithia
6. The Secret Garden
7. The Incredibles
8. Finding Nemo

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fresh Ideas in Science Fiction

Quite some time ago a reader of my science fiction novel The Immortality Game (it isn't complete yet, but there is a link on the right-hand bar for anyone wishing to read what is there) wrote that while I was doing new takes on many of the ideas, the ideas themselves had already been done. I didn't argue with the reader, just said thank you, but I have to admit this criticism nagged at me for a long time.

I'm writing this post because the other day the reason it bothered me so much became clear to me. Okay, so other writers in the past first introduced into fiction the ideas of such technologies as nanobots and cybertech mind interfaces. But the idea that a science fiction writer is somehow lessened by using these in his or her own writing is, to me, absurd. As time goes on, what used to be purely speculative instead becomes fully expected, i.e. barring any huge misfortunes, I fully expect we will be using nanobots and mind/data interfaces in the near future (we already are using rudimentary versions today). Thus if I want to write about the near future in a realistic manner, I have no choice but to include such technologies. Doesn't mean I can't find some really cool and inventive ways of using said technologies!
We aren't likely to be looking like this!
I mentioned to a buddy the other day how I felt so many futuristic novels and movies got things wrong by ignoring technologies that will clearly be in play in the not so distant future. How come so many sci-fi books and shows depict characters as being human? In my opinion, we will all be cyborgs within the next century, or at the very least, the number of pure humans will be very miniscule (as in, a few hidden tribes out in the jungles and such). That doesn't mean we will all look like a bunch of robots with metal pieces and parts, but it does mean that our bodies will be enhanced by technologies like nanobots, sweeping through our blood to search out and destroy everything from viruses to cancers and maybe even the common cold.

So all I would ask of any readers of science fiction is this--be careful about criticizing authors for using ideas that you have seen other authors use first, especially if these ideas are ones that seem all but inevitable to actually be used.