Thursday, 27 October 2016

Book Review: Islamic Art by David Talbot Rice

Islamic ArtIslamic Art by David Talbot Rice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a classic and much-reprinted primer on the highlights of Islamic art. I got the 1975 revised Thames & Hudson edition for free at a library giveaway (yippee!) so this is the edition I'm reviewing. I found the text clear and wide ranging. While it didn't go into as much detail as I would have liked, this is meant as a short introduction to a huge subject and does that quite well. I've studied Islamic art in a casual way for 25 years now and I still learned a lot from the text.

My main complaint is that the illustrations aren't up to par. Most are in somewhat grainy black and white and don't do these magnificent works of art justice. Even some of the images of illustrated manuscripts are in black and white. There are several color plates in this book but they are not of terribly good quality. I recommend this book for anyone looking to learn more about one of the world's great art traditions, but suggest that you look for a later, better illustrated edition.

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Sunday, 23 October 2016

I'm Starting a Newsletter!

I'm finally starting a newsletter. Yes, it's one of the things in an author's toolbox that I've been lacking. The first issue of Sean's Travels and Tales will come out in a week's time. I plan to have it come out every two months or so, and each issue will include a travel article, a short story, announcements for any new books, and a coupon for a free or discounted book.

Issue #1 contains an article on "The Lamest Snake Charmer Ever" and a short story from my Toxic World series called "Movie Night at $87,953", which as fans of the series know, is the most popular bar in the apocalypse. Read on if you want to find out the origin of the weird name.

So click on this link to sign up to my newsletter. I promise not to share your email with anyone, because that's a sure way to tank my career!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Old West Photo Friday: Exterminating the Buffalo to Exterminate the Indian

You've probably seen the above image. It shows a mountain of buffalo skulls and was taken c. 1870 on the Great Plains. It brings to graphic reality the slaughter and near extinction of a species that once blackened the plains in herds numbering tens of thousands.

What's often not mentioned in the history books is that the slaughter of the buffalo was encouraged by the U.S. Army. Commanders of the undermanned frontier garrisons, facing a tough war with the Plains tribes who were fighting to keep their land, realized that the tribes relied on the buffalo for food and clothing. Wiping out the buffalo, they reasoned, would bring the Indians to their knees.

During the 1870s and 80s, the army encouraged buffalo hunters to kill as many buffalo as possible. While Plains tribes would only kill a few and use all the meat and hide, white hunters would often only take the choice cuts like the tongue and leave the rest to rot. They would sometimes hold competitions to see who could kill the most and not even take any meat at all. Army bases generously supplied them with bullets and powder, and allowed their own men leave to go hunting. They would also look the other way when hunters jumped the border onto lands that were supposedly for Indians only.

As William Tecumseh Sherman, who for part of this time was overall commander of the U.S. Army, said, "If I could learn that every buffalo in the northern herd were killed I would be glad. The destruction of this herd would do more to keep the Indians quiet than anything else that could happen, except the death of the Indians. Since the destruction of the southern herd. . .the Indians in that section have given us no trouble." 

Below is an early postcard showing two buffalo hunters outside their sod house with their grisly trophies. The caption says what the Army thought this massive hunt signified: "The beginning of better things."

The Plains tribes had a different point of view. As Sitting Bull said, "A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell--a death-wind for my people."

Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Book Review: Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer

Children of the SunChildren of the Sun by Max Schaefer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

During the 1970s and 80s, the United Kingdom saw a large rise in neo-Nazi groups. One of the main figures in this was a tough street brawler named Nicky Crane. What many of his fellow skinheads didn't know, or chose to ignore, was that Crane was gay. In fact, there was a whole lot of gays in a movement that denounced gays as perverts and often participated in gay bashing.
That odd bit of history is the basis for this novel, which follows the adventures of a young gay skinhead growing up in those times, and also a gay researcher from the modern day looking into Britain's fascist past. The researcher is, one presumes, trying to figure out why so many gays ended up being neo-Nazis. Some other reviews of this book complain that this question is never answered. I suspect that's because the question is unanswerable. I don't blame the author for this because I certainly don't have an explanation for it!
I do, however, have some problems with this book, which gave me one of the most uneven reading experiences I've ever had. The story of Tony, a teenager growing up in the neo-Nazi movement of the 1970s, is riveting. We get an inside look at how groups like the National Front operated, and we get a feeling for Tony's split identity, fueled by his infatuation/hero worship of Nicky Crane.
I had no sympathy, however, for James, a modern day trust fund baby researching the movement by looking at old fanzines and leaflets in the British Library. James is obviously a stand in for the author, and we get pages upon pages of chattering class pretension about fine dinners, expensive French cider, and an unearned sense of superiority. Why is it that British writers of a certain social class can never stray far from their comfort zones? As my wife pointed out, the author was playing to the interests of his publisher's audience: "Granta readers need this reassurance." I suppose they do. It comes off as the literary equivalent of a "safe space" for rich people.
So I found myself increasingly annoyed by James, who had nothing to add to the story other than his own self-obsession. Still, the writing is excellent, and the book is illustrated with reproductions of old National Front literature that make for fascinating reading. If the author had the guts to cut out James entirely, and only keep Tony's story, this would have been a five-star book.

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Monday, 17 October 2016

Coming Up For Air

I've been a bit slack on the blogging for the past six weeks. That's because I've had a lot going on, including releasing my Tangier novel, a Western, and doing a lot of ghostwriting assignments.

I just handed in my latest novel for a ghostwriting client and now things are calming down a bit. My next two deadlines aren't so close, so I can ease up and get back to writing Emergency Transmission, the fourth in my Toxic World series. I haven't worked on the thing for almost two months and so I'm going to be looking at the first half with a fresh set of eyes, cycling through it before adding more to the text. I'll also be blogging more. It's good to be back!

If you want to learn more about ghostwriting, I recently blogged over at Black Gate about my ghostwriting career.

Photo courtesy United States Marine Corps. It shows Staff Sgt. Bo Miller during Marine Corps Water Survival Training. Bo has a harder work day than I do so I really should stop whining.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Insecure Writer's Support Group: How Do You Know When Your Story Is Ready?

I’ve been slammed with a couple of ghostwriting assignments lately, not to mention releasing my novels about the refugee crisis and a western, so I haven’t blogged in a while. I can’t miss today, however, because it’s the first Wednesday of the month! That means it’s time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, where we talk about writing and vent our frustrations to the world. This month’s topic is “How do you know when your story is ready?”

I find this impossible to answer. It’s related to another unanswerable question that’s commonly asked of writers: “Where do you get your ideas?” Stories come out of the void. Sure, we consciously form them, throw in clever little twists (or what we hope are clever little twists), literary references, products of our research, and all sorts of other things. If you ask me why I made a scene a certain way, I can probably answer you. But ask me why I wrote a story along a particular theme or in a particular genre and I’m stumped. Stories come from some hidden place inside, and that hidden place decides when it’s done.

So listen to your gut, fellow writers, it’s what’s actually doing most of the writing.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Warpath into Sonora out now!

My new novel, a Western from the Apache point of view, is now available on Amazon. Warpath into Sonora is my first Western novel so I'd love to hear from readers about how well I did. This is my second book to come out this week. The Last Hotel Room was released by Kindle Press on Tuesday.

Both books were on preorder and The Last Hotel Room sold much better, both in the US and UK. Warpath into Sonora didn't sell any preorders at all in the UK. I'm not sure why one did better than the other, since this is the first time I've tried preorders. The Last Hotel Room is more of a general interest novel than Warpath into Sonora, so that might be it. Thoughts?

A blurb for Warpath into Sonora is below:

Arizona 1846
Nantan, a young Apache warrior, is building a name for himself by leading raids against Mexican ranches to impress his war chief, and the chief’s lovely daughter.
But there is one thing he and all other Apaches fear—a ruthless band of Mexican scalp hunters who slaughter entire villages.
Nantan and his friends have sworn to fight back, but they are inexperienced, and led by a war chief driven mad with a thirst for revenge. Can they track their tribe’s worst enemy into unknown territory and defeat them?
Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.