Tag Archive for books

Booze and a Book: Scotch and Zen

The Booze: Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky

Scotch has been very hit and miss for me, with mostly misses. Some of them are overwhelmed by that smokey, peaty flavor Scotch is known for, and it generally turns me off. Fortunately that note is mellowed in Monkey Shoulder, allowing the malt and a bourbon-y sweetness to come through. It makes this whisky a mellower, more soothing drink.

Monkey Shoulder goes down smooth and easy, too, and I enjoy it both straight or on the rocks. I’m going to recommend larger cubes or whiskey stones for this one, though, as the melting ice waters it down quick.

At the moment I’m enjoying Monkey Shoulder with the last of my Gurkha Legends, and neither is overwhelming the other. Good times.

The Book: The Dude and the Zen Master by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman

“The Dude abides.” The classic The Big Lebowski character is a starting point in the conversations of life and Zen philosophy between actor Jeff Bridges and Zen master Bernie Glassman. In fact, the book is simply a transcript rather than a standard narrative.

I first ran into this book sitting at a friend’s basement bar. I was waiting for him to finish something upstairs, so I picked it up and read the first chapter, and I enjoyed it. A few days later, I saw several copies sitting on a remainder pile for around five bucks at our local Barnes & Noble, so I snapped up a copy for myself.

That was over a year go. It’s been sitting on my nightstand ever since, buried under my Kindle and a handful of martial arts-related books. I felt a bit angry and down the other night, so I pulled The Dude and the Zen Master out of the stack, dusted it off, and started reading.

In true Zen fashion, it was just what I needed, exactly when I needed it. It made me reexamine a few things and look at them in a new light, and it made me feel a hell of a lot better. A hundred pages later, I forced myself to put it down so I could get at least a little bit of sleep before my alarm went off later that morning.

I’ve harbored a minor interest in Zen philosophy while I’ve been involved in the martial arts these past ten years or so, but not so much its religious trappings. What I like about this book is it’s not preachy at all, and while Bridges & Glassman discuss meditation on occasion, they’re not telling the reader he must do this or that to reach enlightenment. It’s simply two guys discussing how they’ve found their paths and the things they’ve encountered in their lives, with a little sprinkling of The Dude for flavor.

Good stuff, and I’m looking forward to finishing it.

Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman on cigars in “The Dude and the Zen Master.” Word. #quote #cigars #books #zen

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About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Booze and a Book: Zombies and Bourbon

The Booze: Straight Edge Bourbon Whiskey

This bourbon is finished in sherry casks, lending it a sweet flavor that is almost reminiscent of an old fashioned. It’s a smooth, easy drinker, and one I’ve put in my flask a time or two because it’s easy to share with friends. I put most bourbons on ice and sip them slow, letting the ice water them down a bit, but with Straight Edge my glass is often dry well before the ice can melt.

Side note: I picked up a spherical, silicon ice mold after the holidays. It makes a fat ball of ice to chill a drink fast, though the spheres are a bit smaller than I expected. They also tend to fracture along their equator, and the resulting hemispheres melt even faster. They last longer than standard cubes, but if you’re the type of drinker who doesn’t want your whiskey watered down, stick to whiskey stones or even these badass whiskey bullets.

The Book: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

In which I reveal I’m a Kindle reader. Shock! Horror!

Actually, I dig the Kindle Paperwhite quite a bit. It’s small and the backlight is easy on the eyes, which is important because I do a lot of my reading right before I fall asleep. I’ve also passed out and dropped it a few times without damaging the screen.

As for the book, I didn’t pay this one a lot of mind on release because it’s a zombie novel, and I had my fill for a bit. However, several of my friends raved about it, and then it got picked up for movie production (starring Glenn Close):

The earlier teaser trailer sold me. I’m not quite halfway through the book as I write this, but I’m hooked. Carey calls his zombies “hungries,” and the story is set some time after the initial zombie apocalypse rather than during. These are fast zombies for those who care, and Carey draws on nature for the cause of his zombies.

The other difference is the titular character, Melanie, is a smart zombie. Something is different about several child zombies, and as the novel begins the rest of the characters are there to study these kids. We get some background of the world and other characters through Melanie’s eyes, then the shit hits the fan and things start moving along at a good clip.

Carey’s prose is lean and engaging, and he shows good balance between Melanie’s innocence/ignorance and telling the reader exactly what’s happening. Zombie fans will find the usual hunger and chow-down horror here, though Carey doesn’t go overboard with it. Casual readers and horror fans should enjoy it alike.

I’m also pleased to see some of the scenes in the trailer are ripped straight out of the novel. That gives me hope the movie will be pretty great, too.

Now I just need to finish the novel before the movie lands.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

B&N: Remember Who You Are

Barnes & Noble has long been accused of squeezing out local indie bookstores, and today’s announcement that they’re slashing their Nook business suggests they’re feeling the same squeeze from Amazon and Google’s Play Store.

Giving their customers a week to save their content is, to my eye, an indication of just how bad the situation is. If they were just shifting focus, Barnes & Noble would make an announcement and give customers plenty of time to save their content. Less tech-savvy users are going to need as much time as they can get. To give users just a week suggest they’re bleeding cash—badly—and they’re shutting everything down immediately to stop the damage. I’m predicting a lot of panicked calls to family tech support over the next few days.

Then we read Amazon is opening a second brick-and-mortar store, and of course there’s speculation they’ll open up a whole chain of them and compete with Barnes & Noble directly. It seems unlikely, but of course that’s what the media seems to be looking forward to. The thing is, Amazon is a megastore that happens to sell books. Barnes & Noble is, despite their recent integration of games and toys, a bookstore.

Maybe all they need to do is start acting like one.

Barnes & Noble stores hold several events like readings, author signings, Q&As, and so forth, just like indie shops. Barnes & Noble has employees who genuinely care about books and who can cater to readers’ tastes, just like indie shops. Barnes & Noble is a place folks can hang out, just like indie shops.

Why, then, does their online storefront look like any other online store’s?

I get it, they have their algorithms and bestseller lists and blah blah blah. But why not leverage the in-store events as well? Use location-based recommendations to see what’s popular in the area is a quick start, but why not also steer location services to local employee lists or blogs that browsers can connect with and follow?

They should also be streaming events. Team up with Google Hangouts or Twitter/Periscope to tackle the tech side, so fans and readers can see or participate in Q&As, author talks, and so forth. Guys like Brian Keene would probably have a good online following. Greg Kishbaugh had over 50 people in-store when he launched The Bone Welder; how many more might have tuned in to his presentation and then clicked to make a purchase afterward?

That’s just a few quick thoughts. I’m sure there are other things they could do, but the point is, they should be differentiating themselves from Amazon in every way they can. Just like they forced indie bookshops to be more creative to hang on to customers, Barnes & Noble should be getting more creative to hang on to their own customers.

Otherwise they’re going to die, just like some of the indie bookshops who couldn’t compete with them.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

What Does a Story Look Like?

Book designer Chip Kidd recently presented at a TED Talk, and he shared the essential question he asks about every book before he starts working on its physical design: “What does the story look like?”

It’s a great and entertaining talk, one that designers will find interesting and anyone looking to self-publish their own work should watch to get an idea of how much thought can go into book design.

Around the 13:00 mark, though, Kidd says “Try experiencing that on a Kindle!” and starts to discuss the things that can’t be done with an e-book and the differences in the experience between a print book and an e-book. He makes some valid points, of course: I know few readers who haven’t smelled their books, relished the feel of deckled edges and raised type, or played around with die-cut dust jackets.

Can we say for certain, though, that e-books will never produce a related experience?

Right now, e-books are still in the gimmick stage. There are guys throwing short animations or sound effects into comics, embedding video in e-books, developing books that are interactive apps, and so forth. While they are cool things a book’s paper counterpart can’t do, they have yet to become an integral part of the story or a part of the experience of the book. Sure, it’s an experience with the iPad or the Kindle, but not necessarily with the book itself.

As much as I enjoyed Kidd’s presentation, I would love to see people like him turn their disdain for the e-book experience into a creative drive to elevate the e-book experience. It doesn’t have to replicate the paper experience (hell, maybe it shouldn’t), it just needs to bring its own experience. If the words on the screen aren’t enough, then shit, Chip, tell the damned software engineers what else you’d like them to do.

I bet Amazon and Apple will listen.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Alas, Poor Borders

The Borders bookstore chain is in trouble, and it’s my fault.

At least, it’s the fault of people like me who have turned to Amazon for book purchases, or who’ve gone digital and just shop on the Kindle. They’ve faced rumors of bankruptcy for years, and more recently they’ve had executives resign, they’ve faced complaints about slow payments from publishers, they’ve closed warehouses, and just last week Diamond, the single, largest comics distributor, announced they will be halting shipments to Borders. Their e-readers haven’t gained near the traction the Kindle and the Nook have, and redesigning stores to make a bigger push for toys and games hasn’t made much of a difference.

Which is too bad, because I still enjoy shopping there. Hell, the kids love shopping there. They’ll browse their favorite sections all day if we let them.

The Midget Loitering

Apparently their comics rack is pretty cool, too.

It’s a lot easier for them to shop physical books because they rely on covers to catch their eye even more than we do, and the two younger ones like to flip through the interior illustrations. They also like the instant gratification, and more often than not they’ll be reading their books on the way to the cash register. I can’t even begin to count how many times they almost crashed headlong into another customer because they were just not paying attention.

The only section I still have to browse that way is the martial arts books. If I’m going to consider a book on kata, for example, I’m going to read through a few examples and check out some pictures. Sure, Amazon enables “Look Inside!” on a lot of their books to make browsing easier, but it’s just not the same. This is especially true when I don’t know what I’m looking for. I’ll flip through several books until something looks interesting, and if Borders happened to send me a big discount coupon or some free bonus bucks, I’ll buy it.

If not, I do what I did today: fire up the Amazon app on my cell phone and check out their pricing. More often than not, the book’s available at a discount, and with the free shipping on my Prime account and not having to pay taxes, I’d come out well ahead by clicking that 1-Click button. Today I didn’t even do that, I just added the books to my Wish List to buy later.

Like I sad, I’m responsible for their going out of business. I’d love to support them, but right now the wallet’s contents (or lack thereof) are more important.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Kindle: Five Months Later

I bought the Wife a Kindle for Xmas last year, and it occurred to me I never followed up on the original blog post to see how the Kindle stands up to long-term use.

The short version? She still loves it. She now has 80 books on it (including mine, of course), she’s skinned it, and she uses it daily.

She’s gone back to a paperback book exactly once in that time, and only then because she didn’t feel like repurchasing a book she already owned. She’s read in bed, in the kitchen, on the couch, and outside, and she hardly ever has to charge it. It was weird seeing the sort of screen saver image on it all the time, but we’ve gotten used to it. Initial concerns over the contrast, eye strain, and so on have all proven non-issues.

She’s also found it’s easier to read than dead tree editions. Even modest mass market paperback begins to feel heavy after a time, and so does the Kindle. However, she’s found she can lay the Kindle flat on the table and keep reading. That’s just not going to happen with a book, and even if it did lay flat, on many pages you have to deal with reading around the curvature of the page into the spine. Bookmarking and navigating through books is a snap, and with Amazon’s setup she’s able to delete and re-download titles at will.

Most of all, she likes not having to wait for hardcover new releases to hit paperback and not having to pay hardcover price for them. At the rate she reads, the savings becomes well worth the investment, with or without the convenience of instant delivery and having less clutter on the bookshelves.

I recently got my hands on an iPad, and I look forward to comparing the experience. I first intended to use the native iBooks app, but I’ve actually been impressed with the Kindle app instead. I started by downloading my book for free, as I’d already purchased it for my iPod touch. Just for kicks, I downloaded it to my MacBook as well, and as you can see from yesterday’s post, I loaded it up on all three devices. Even cooler? The other devices recognized where I had left off on the iPod touch and asked if I wanted to jump to the same page. That’s a nice bonus for someone who hast to share a Kindle and wants to read a book on a mobile device or computer when the other person has the Kindle.

I think it’s high time I checked out some of Victor Gischler’s work, so I’ll be starting there. His books Gun Monkeys and Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse: A Novel are both available on the Kindle and should make fine reading on the plane during a trip next month. Incidentally, Go-Go Girls is available on iBooks, as is Vampire a Go-Go, each for the same price as on the Kindle, but again, the wider availability of devices gives the Kindle app the edge and the general functionality appears to be the same. Being able to control the screen brightness from within the app is a nice feature of iBooks, but I’m not sure (yet) that it’s going to be a killer feature.

In any event, the continued fear of digital books from some readers amazes me. I’ll admit it’s counter-intuitive, but I think digital reading is now at least as convenient and comfortable as paper books, if not moreso. People are snapping them up, and now even Borders has jumped on the bandwagon with their own reader. As someone who continued to buy paperbacks while the Wife went digital, I’m now looking forward to trying it myself with both books and comics.

I’m sure I’ll ramble on about it again in the future.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Read It! – Yellow Medicine

Like tough-guy anti-heroes? They don’t come much tougher or more morally ambiguous than Deputy Billy Lafitte.

I asked Kent Gowran to recommend a few good crime novels a while back, and Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith was on the list. I ordered it, read it, loved it. Smith’s first-person narrative is top-notch, providing a great picture of Lafitte’s character as well as sucking the reader into the story. The plot and action pull no punches, and my horror readers who enjoy a good thriller would do well to pick this one up.

The plot itself is simple: terrorists come to small-town America. Lafitte bends the law to his advantage from time to time, and when an old partner from New Orleans tells the members of a terror cell that Lafitte can help them make inroads into the meth trade, they waste no time proving they mean business. Lafitte soon finds himself stuck between the feds and the terrorists, but he’s not one to waste time catering to either.

I’d like to see this one hit the big screen, too. It reminds me a bit of Fargo and A Simple Plan, but it would hold its own. Assuming, of course, the Lafitte character makes it through the studio intact…

Give it a read, folks. You won’t be disappointed.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Year to Come

Was there any doubt that writing would be a huge focus this year? Didn’t think so.

I solidified a relationship with a new publisher in ’08, and our goal is to do a mix of comics and prose work. It’s still too early to announce specific projects, but I’ve written most of the script for the first graphic novel and have the outline for the first novella ready to go. We have two properties we want to develop with the prospect of a third on the horizon. I’m itching to tell you more, but I really need to get some work in the can before either the publisher or I will be confident enough to make anything public.

Last month a small press publisher contacted me about a novel. I promised to send him what I’ve written of Powerless after I clean it up, which will be this week. It will also be pitched to Otherworld Verlag, my German publisher. Wish me luck.

The Top Secret Book is back on the path to publication, so I need to finish the novella that will go along with it. The publisher had asked that I not announce the publication or publisher, which worked in our favor when certain delays appeared. We’re going to have to stick to that policy until we have a release date.

My next goal, of course, is to get to the point I can actually announce these damn things. After that, the goal is to actually have something to sell at conventions this year. Otherwise 2010 will be the year I finally start reevaluating this whole writing thing. A secondary writing goal for 2009 will be to participate in NaNoWriMo in November. A lot more than previous deadlines and commitments affect that, so I’ll have to take another look at my schedule as Fall rolls around.

On the personal side, I have the luxury of being a little more specific. We’ve been talking about the difference between dreams and goals (not to mention resolutions and goals) in karate class, and that difference includes deadlines. Dreams and resolutions don’t count for much unless you have a plan and a firm deadline, and since I can’t really apply deadlines to publishers and contracts, I may as well slap them on my personal goals:

1) Cut another 20 lbs by October 1st. To accomplish this, I’m going to continue my karate training and I will start running again this Spring. Yes, I could probably run when it’s colder, but it’s tough to say I actually like running yet so if I’m out there and miserable, chances are that goal will be toast.

2) Make Nikyu in Shuri-ryu by Halloween. This is 2nd-degree brown belt. My original goal was to make Ikkyu, or 1st-degree brown belt, by Christmas, but there may not actually be time to do so, even if I nail every review between now and then. As such, Nikyu becomes a good goal and affords some realistic flexibility. We have review next week, and if I pass I’ll be up for Sankyu, or 3rd-degree brown belt, at the end of February.

3) Complete 25 themed photos by December 31st. The 52 Weeks Flickr group project was fun, but I felt self-portraits were a little restrictive and I had a tough time keeping up. This month I’m going to find a new Flickr group to join, one with a rotating or more flexible theme, and make sure I take at least 2 pictures a month.

Finally, I’ll close with a dream: I want a bigger motorcycle. Eve is great, but she’s a bit small. This dream will solely be dictated by financial capability, so this may or may not happen and thus is not a goal. I’ll be keeping an eye on the classifieds, but I haven’t ruled out a new Shadow or V Star.

Let’s get the party started.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Year That Was

Personally, 2008 wasn’t so bad. On the fitness side, I started a running program over the summer and enjoyed moderate success. In the martial arts, I earned my green and then purple belts in Shuri-ryu karate, and I read some great books on the subject. I may not have lost a ton of weight like I did last year, but I do feel even better and I’ve definitely improved my strength and flexibility.

I spent the whole year on a Mac, and have become an official member of the Apple cult. I got my hands on a Canon Digital Rebel XSi to get more creative with my photography, and I have been very happy with it. I bought a motorcycle and got comfortable on it. My family is doing very well, and we took our first family vacation shortly before the Wife and I celebrated our 12th anniversary.

The writing side, however, was a bit disappointing. Despite best intentions, I didn’t finish the Muy Mal arcs as planned, largely because other projects took precedence. New Dark Voices was just re-released and Brimstone Turnpike finally saw print, but the Top Secret Book that was expected faced some unfortunate delays. New publications brought Das Tödliche Geschlecht (the German translation of Deadliest of the Species) and Jack Haringa Must Die! Beyond that I’ve had some promising leads, but they have yet to come to fruition.

I guess that’s what 2009 is for, right?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Slip & Fall: A Review

I was down to two choices last week: the latest offering from a popular crime author, or Slip & Fall by Nick Santora. The latter caught my eye with its red cover, “Borders Exclusive” sticker, and simple design. I’d glanced at it a few times in the past, so I finally gave the dust jacket a read and learned it’s written by the guy who produced Prison Break. The writing that finally killed the series for me this season couldn’t be all his fault, and the synopsis sounded interesting enough. I gave the Wife the same two-book option. She chose Slip & Fall and we rang it up.

The first few chapters concentrate on character development and are a bit slow, but things snowball from there. Rather than action (read violence), the plot is moved along by the way the protagonist, Rob Principe, digs himself deeper and deeper into this hole he’s created for himself. The first person narrative is very engaging, and I found myself sucked into the book yesterday rather than taking the time to work on my own projects. It was easy to feel like I was having a conversation with Principe directly, and I dug the way the prologue suddenly clicked into place as the book neared its climax. My only beef with the book was the ending: I liked it, but I didn’t quite buy it, mostly because I expected it to be a lot darker. It didn’t kill my enjoyment of the book, it was just a little too easy.

Slip & Fall is a good read if you enjoy crime drama. I got the impression Santora put a lot of his own legal experiences and background into the book, and it all felt very real. It’s a story about a guy dumb and desperate enough to go into business with the mob rather than the mob itself. Not so much a fall from grace as a nosedive.

Next time you visit your local Borders, give it a look.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Shaking Up the Reading

My reading habits have been as poor as my writing habits lately.

I think part of the problem is I’ve been reading a few books where nothing happens. Sure, they’re good books, and they’re horror books, but there are several pages at a time where nothing happens. Solid writing, great atmosphere, a dash of “look at this creepy stuff!”, but no real action. It’s really starting to bother me.

As such I’ve strayed once again into the suspense/mystery section of my local Borders. Doing so was a good diversion a year or so ago, and so far it’s headed that same direction as I’ve read a lot more in the past two weeks than I have the previous two months.

I started with Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski. Brian mentioned the guy, I browsed the synopsis for Severance Package, and I decided it was right up my alley. Sure enough, I burned through it in no time. The plot is fairly simple, and it the action rolls right along from the first page to the last. The occasional humor is a nice bonus. I’ve now got his books The Blonde and The Wheelman sitting on the nightstand, waiting to be read.

Right now I’m halfway through Brimstone by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Everything I’ve heard about Preston & Child suggests they’re mystery/thriller writers with a horror/supernatural bend, and Brimstone definitely fits the mold. I can do without all the references to previous books in the series, and I think the main character, Aloysius Pendergast, is a stuck-up douche, but I like where the story is going and I can relate to the other main character (or is it sidekick?), Vincent D’Agosta, much better. The prose is very straightforward and leads the reader through at a good clip.

It’s good to be hooked on reading again.

Even better, they’ve both given my fingers the itch to be at the keyboard, working my own prose.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.