Monday, June 4, 2018

SOME DAYLIGHT SHINES ON MY "MOON"



My novella Made on the Moon, recently published by Crossroad Press, has been getting some welcomed publicity.































Now live on the internet and on several radio stations worldwide is my interview on The Stuph File Program hosted by that Titan of Talk, Mr. Peter Anthony Holder.  







In about a twelve minute conversation Peter and I talk about Made on the Moon and its genesis, history, story, the protagonist Stanley Lewis (who wanted to go to the moon from the time he was an infant), and exactly why this particular work of mine is a very personal one indeed. 

It was a good conversation. You can listen to just my portion of the show HERE or the full program HERE

As much as I love a deep concentration on just myself, I can highly recommend the full program so that you can experience Peter's wit and charm and a rerun of his wonderful conversation with the late astronaut Alan Bean, someone who actually did go to the moon.

And three days after my recent birthday I received the gift of a fine and smart review of Made on the Moon by Ricky L. Brown in Amazing Stories the online reincarnation of the classic magazine of science fiction and fact founded in 1926 (although it will be coming back into print as a quarterly soon).



The current logo


The first issue April, 1926


You can read the full review HERE but here is a excerpt:


“Even though you will most likely feel the urge to often pause as you digest the plot, the story is surprisingly a very quick read with a satisfyingly surprise ending reminiscent of something one might find in a Twilight Zone episode. Once all of the loose pieces come together, readers will be able to look back and give an agreeable, “I see what you did there,” kind of nod to the author. So, stick with it.

With just enough satirical elements to emphasize the blurred line between logic and insanity, true fans of Science Fiction will find a kindred attachment with the Stanley Lewis character. It is a hero’s journey, a relentless determination to dream the impossible. Made on the Moon by Steven Paul Leiva shows us that reaching for the stars is not just a dream, for some, it is a way of life.”

Made on the Moon, a novella ($3.99), can be found as an ebook in all the major online bookstores worldwide in various formats, including, of course, Amazon, which the title above is lined to. I do hope you'll check it out, purchase it, read it, enjoy it, and, if you do, leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

Cheers to one and all!



ADVANCE PRAISE FOR MADE ON THE MOON


"Leiva has crafted a satire - perhaps a self-satire - with a very warm heart. If you've ever dreamed of flying in space or walking on the Moon, you'll get the point of this story and you'll love every page." -- Russell Blackford, author of Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination.

"In a wry and oddly affecting voice that alternates between the parodistic and the plangent, this taut short novel by Mr. Leiva is about Stanley, a disaffected mid-century sci-fi loving American Nerd who would rather be a space taxi cab driver than an accountant (or a gym teacher or a mortgage broker or a podiatrist). Stanley's dream, to live on the moon, is very much an American dream, redolent of long-vanished American yearnings: the Westerning impulse: grab your hat and Bowie knife and disappear over them 'thar hills. It's not an unfamiliar hunger, or loneliness, that is being examined under Mr. Leiva's microscope here, but in addition to cocking a good snoot at some of the more preposterous aspects of myth-making generally, our author also manages to encase his ruminations in an amusingly Monty Pythonesque carapace: bureaucrats with a mysterious purpose are put to the task of discovering whether Stanley's particular obsessions just might serve their own dark ends . . . This brisk and touching comic novel has mysterious and profound things to say about the price of freedom, and it is not without relevance to the way new, and disturbingly pernicious, myths about freedom are being propagated every day in Trump's America. Highly recommended!" -- John Billingsley, "Dr. Phlox" on Star Trek Enterprise and voracious reader.

"Leiva brings his delightful wit and facility with language to a tale that feels personal and honest. It unravels in the most unexpected ways, and, as is so often the case in his work, I found both my curiosity and my funny bone tickled. A great read. -- Jeff Cannata, host of the We Have Concerns and /Filmcast podcasts.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

GREAT COINCIDENCES AND GREAT CONVERSATIONS -- On Two Books Recently Read


GREAT COINCIDENCES

Prolific and versatile author Steven Savile
Steven Savile
has gone quite Dickens in his novel,
Parallel Lines (2017 Titan Books), depending on more than several coincidences to tell a neat and compelling story of both despicable and desperate wrongdoing. But like Dickens, Saville does not use what in the real world might seem improbable coincidences just to move the plot forward, but rather as a metaphorical demonstration that in life, unlike in geometry, parallel lines sometimes do meet. As Dickens’s friend and biographer John Foster put it, “The world, he (Dickens) would say, was so much smaller than we thought; we were all so connected by fate without knowing it; people supposed to be far apart were so constantly elbowing each other…”  And this is essentially what Savile portrays in his story of the strangest bank robbery imaginable that goes weirdly awry connecting the lives
and deathsof several disparate characters in contemporary Chicago.

As befitting its title, there is no one protagonist in Parallel Lines, but rather an ensemble of characters that Savile moves from one to another, jumping into their interior points-of-view, telling the stories of their individual pasts and current moments. There may be something revolutionary about that in the current academic-literary world of MFAs in Creative Writing and writing workshops where the simple-minded rule of “Show, don’t tell,” has become as important as if it was the eleventh commandment of Moses that just didn’t fit on the second tablet but otherwise would have been there. Not that Savile doesn’t show you some fine action containing some sharp dialog, but the key to this novel is what he tells you about his characters. For what Savile understands is that it’s not whether you show or tell but when you show and when you tell and, more important, how you show and how you tell. When Savile tells you about his characters you not only walk in their shoes, you put on their full wardrobe to a fine fit. Savile is a consummate storyteller (if he had wanted to be a storyshower, he probably would have gone into film and TV) who is in command of his craft both intellectually and, I’m assuming, intuitively.

But, Steven (meaning me, not Savile) what’s the plot? Well, given that it’s a story about parallel lines that do connect, you can imagine that the plot is intricate with interweavings and any summary of it could only do it injustice.  Suffice it to say, it is a compelling story, smoothly written, and unrelenting in its forward motion. But it is also a story of people, their trials, their tribulations, their plans, their pains, and the choices they makenot always wise oneswhich are often forced upon them by the greater society they live in.

You can find Parallel Lines by Steven Savile


on Amazon.com right HERE.


     *                       * *
GREAT CONVERSATIONS
Peter Anthony Holder

Holder Overnight was a popular late-nite radio show in Montreal for twenty-years in which Peter Anthony Holder interviewed, or rather conversed with, a host of celebrities that he hosted as if they were honored guests in his living room. For Peter never was, and still isn’t (he currently hosts the syndicated radio show, The Stuph File), a “gotcha!” broadcaster. Peter genuinely likes people. Although he can and often does report on the sillier actions of our species, he is basically a fan of us, and especially the us who have brought him pleasure in popular entertainment. Peter has gathered some of those conversations into Great Conversations: My Interviews with Two Men on the Moon and a Galaxy of Stars (2017 BearManor media), and it has certainly brought me pleasure.



I’ve known Peter since 1990 when I attended the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal with famed Warner Bros Looney Tunes animation director Chuck Jones. Every year Peter would time his vacation from his radio show to allow him to work for the festival hosting shows and doing video reports, and he asked to interview me that year for some video project on the festival. I think he only asked me because he liked the white suit I was wearing, thinking it would look good on camera. In subsequent years I produced shows for the festival and I got to know Peter rather well. Later, when my novels started to be published, I was pleased to have guested on his show several times plugging my books.

But I’m not in Peter’s book. Well, I am, but only in a brief mention that, although brief, does, I must say, add a certain intellectual depth and philosophical gravatas to the tome.

But seriously, folks..., as that great classic and silly comedian Milton Berle might have said.

Berle, who may have killed vaudeville, but who certainly midwifed the birth of American television, is not interviewed in the book. But chapter fifteen, “The Milton Berle Bet,” relates an incident Peter eyewitnessed at one of the Just for Laughs festivals. It beautifully shows what a wonderfully professional and damn fine talent Berle actually was. And just why Peter admires such great entertainers.

Those that Peter did have great conversations with and who are in the book include Ed Asner, Karl Malden. Steve Allen, Bob Denver, Christopher Plummer, George Takei, and even Thurl Ravenscroft, who you might know as the original voice of Tony the Tiger, but who also, more importantly, sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch in Chuck Jones’s now classic animated TV special based on the famous Dr. Seuss book. Peter also talked to the Holy Trio! of Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, and Julie Newmar from the 1960s Batman TV show; Shirley Eaton, forever a golden girl in the minds of many men my age for her short but memorable role in Goldfinger; and the absolutely charming Carol Channing and the absolutely funny Phyllis Diller.

Also included in the book are interviews with moon walkers Alan Bean and Harrison Schmitt. Yes, not from the world of entertainment, but if you had a chance to converse with men who had gone to the moon, what would you do?

In another non-interview chapter, “A Tale of Two Celebrities - Lynn Johnston and Ivan Reitman” (the chapter in which I am briefly mentioned, I will briefly mention again), Peter tells another story from Just for Laughs that shows the kindness and generosity of one celebrity in contrast to the lack of same from the otheror, at least, from the other’s “people.” I won’t reveal who was who except to say that the kind one does not produce and direct movies and the other one did not write and draw a comic strip.

Despite, as I’ve mentioned, Peter did not play “gotcha” when he interviewed these celebrities, that does not mean he did not “get” them. He has an intuitive feel for what makes each subject unique as an entertainer and often as a person, and a talent for letting them reveal that in conversation. Which makes for a pleasant, informative, and nostalgic book.

You can find Great Conversations: My Interviews with Two Men on the Moon and a Galaxy of Stars
on Amazon HERE.

And you can check out all my books
on the MY BOOKS page on this blog.







Sunday, February 18, 2018

SCIENCE FICTION -- A GENRE BY ANY OTHER NAME




Ursula K. Le Guin, who readers recently lost, did not like being called a science fiction writer, or at least only an SF writer. Neither did Ray Bradbury, who once told me that his only work of pure science fiction was Fahrenheit 451.  I don’t think their dislike came from embarrassment to be so called because of the less-than-love the genre has received from mainstream literary critics. I think it was the confinement the label committed them to, a sort of narrow prison of thought they found hard to break out of. So, not embarrassment but certainly irritation. For, let’s be honest, much of science fiction is of dubious literary quality. But then so is much of fiction in general. As Theodore Sturgeon—a science fiction author—famously said, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” And he wasn’t just referring to SF. But the crap in SF (although some people’s crap is other people’s joy) seems to have been dwelt and picked on whereas the crap in other literary genres has often simply been dismissed. It’s not surprising, then, that Le Guin and Bradbury would bristle at being placed in that unvalued company, especially as they were both writers who had an “allegiance to language,” which Sue Halpern of the New York Review of Books has recently defined as the hallmark of literary fiction.
Sue Halpern of the New York Review of Books

I like that definition. I hope in my own work that I share that allegiance. But I’m happy to admit—if not always happy to read them—that novels can be written with purely utilitarian language, what I like to call “just getting from point A to point B writing”—no grace, no style, no power of words, no art, hardly any craft. But sometimes such writing is sufficient for the purpose of telling a tale, elucidating an idea, questioning society, or turning a buck. Not all fiction has to be beautifully written, although I will never stop wishing that it was.

But why has science fiction come under particular scrutiny and condemnation for its ninety percent ( probably an overestimation of Sturgeon’s), especially given that it was the inevitable fiction of the last century? The 20th century, coming off a period of enlightenment and industry, had an exponential expansion of knowledge manifested in an explosion of technological wonders (some of which actually exploded). How could some 20th-century fiction not try to address that? And how could the fiction that did, not seem fantastic and even silly postulating rockets and robots and rayguns often in pulpish tales of derring-do or wacky weirdness?

Rockets, Robots, and Rayguns!

But how could some of it also not give interesting, even insightful, consideration to the changes in humans and their societies, and mores, and ethics, and relationships that such exponential expansions and manifested explosions have caused or will cause?

Science fiction is a genre of literature that is in the unenviable position of being considered by many as pulp while ignoring it when it is philosophy. They see not only the rockets and robots and rayguns but the fetish love of evil galactic empires, if not evil galactic corporations (assuming there is a difference), and the galactic wars they cause, and the heroes and villains they produce.  But they are oblivious to science fiction works that examine and project human responses to new scientific knowledge and technologies, human responses to humans becoming more than humans, to alien others, to new forms of gender identification and, indeed, replication beyond gender; to how vast and almost endless the universe is and thus how small and unexceptional we puny Homo sapiens are.

Many. But not all.

In his recent book, Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination, philosopher and literary critic Russell Blackford is well aware of the philosophy in SF—while also acknowledging the entertainment value of the pulp.

Russell Blackford and his fine book

It’s a clearly written and clear-headed account of the important role science fiction plays (and has played) in our culture by providing scenarios of philosophical, moral, social, ethical, and intellectual dilemmas that will have to be faced sooner or later. He covers not only science fiction prose but SF in other media. But it is literary sci-fi he elucidates on the most, giving consideration to the giants of the field (even if they are considered dwarfs by outsiders) past and present, thus providing an overview of the history as well as the development and growth of the form.

What Blackford does not do is comment on the allegiance to language—or the possible treason against language—demonstrated by the form in general or SF authors in particular. Nor does he cover other aspects of fiction that mainstream literary critics deem worthy of literary criticism, such as, metaphorically speaking, the human heart. Rather, I think Blackford is saying that, however fine or not the language, an examination of the human future is just as worthy of serious literary consideration as an examination of the human heart.

Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination: Visions, Minds, Ethics is the perfect text for any academic study of the form, an excellent base for expanded and thoughtful literary criticism of SF, and a fine read for anyone interested in the history and impact of this genre or, as Blackford prefers, mode of fiction disparaged by some; celebrated by others.

In fact, maybe the pulp fiction of the genre could still be called science fiction or SF or, better still, sci-fi, while the deeper, more considered, more ideas-based, sometimes better-written examples of the genre could be renamed Philosophy Fiction or PF or Phi-fi. No—those are really dumb names.  Although Phi-fi has a certain visual appeal.

But then, all labels on fiction are dumb—don’t you think?—if they are being used as warning signs instead of simple signposts.

Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination: Visions, Minds, Ethics
is available HERE on Amazon.com in print and digital editions.

And my novels, some of which might be called science fiction, are available HERE on Amazon.com in print, digital, and audio editions.



Monday, February 5, 2018

ON READING HUMBOLDT'S GIFT BY SAUL BELLOW


I recently read this about Saul Bellow, “Asked about his position on American culture, Saul answered, with his usual smile: ‘When I was young and I chose my way in life, I knew that society would be against me. However, I also knew that I would win. And that it would be a small victory.’"
That sense, that what a literary artist does in this world is often but a small victory, seems to me to thread throughout “Humboldt’s Gift,” especially in Charlie Citrine’s memories of, and ever-present sadness over, the life and death of his friend, the poet Von Humboldt Fleisher. But that’s not the only tone in this big, beautifully written by a true prose artist, long, dense (not as in “stupid” but as in “closely compacted in substance), at times frustrating novel. Rather than describe those tones let me just offer some quotes from the novel:
“But it mustn’t be forgotten that I had been a complete idiot until I was forty and a partial idiot after that.” (echos of Mark Twain?)
“But you don’t spend years trying to dope your way out of the human condition. To me that’s boring.”
“It seems, after all that there are no nonpeculiar people.”
Yes, Charlie is a passive person who lets people take advantage of him. But isn’t that because he often sees the good in them even if they are deeply flawed in a deeply flawed society?
Yes, Charlie’s fear of death and deep desire (in contrast to faith) that his individual self shall go on beyond death (because what sense is there if it doesn’t?) takes up possibly an inordinate amount of the book. But isn’t that what gives Charlie your sympathy, solicits from you your empathy?
Humboldt’s Gift is a comedy about American culture, where the most frivolous earns the most money thus earns the most momentary respect. But in a world that Charlie fears is quite momentary itself, is that not to be expected?

Saul Bellow



Thursday, November 9, 2017

COVER OF MY LATEST -- SOON TO BE RELEASED




I just received the cover for my upcoming e-book release from Crossroad Press, MADE ON THE MOON. I think it's quite stunning. It was designed by Crossroads own,David Dodd, and I thank him and Crossroad's other David, David Wilson, for bringing this novella into the digital world. Here's the cover copy:
“I had wanted to go to the moon from the time I was an infant.” So declares Stanley Lewis to three mysterious interviewers known only as R and S and T as they sit in a bare, grey room in a grey facility in a grey, desolate landscape and pull out of Stanley the story of his life. It is a story that ranges from his birth in 1949 to somewhat past his 100th birthday, and which “travels” to landscapes real and imagined; encompassing the American space program, science fiction, brand spanking new Southern California suburbs, cartoons, small-town America, poetry, a little yellow bubble-domed space taxi, benevolent visitors from outer space, violence in America, super-hero comic books, pop culture, and football. During the telling Stanley is at times docile, at times uncooperative and pugnacious, at times disingenuous, at times completely honest, and always, always in control.
Is Stanley Lewis the ultimate “lunatic” or the ultimate Everyman?

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Admirable Detective: Jean Rabe's Latest Piper Blackwell Mystery



I never read a mystery novel for the mystery. I don’t mind the mystery, of course. That is, after all, the reason why the novel was written in the first place. And I do care who done it. I just don’t care to try to figure it out before the denouement. I mean, after all, isn’t that the job of the protagonist detective, whether professional or amateur?

When I do read a mystery novel I usually read them for the characters, especially the character of the protagonist detective, whether professional or amateur. And I prefer my detectives to be larger-than-life or unique, stand-alone, maybe downright strange. I like detectives who are sophisticated, superior, and even supercilious. This being my preference -- some might say, burden -- I tend to prefer detectives from the past. From Sherlock Holmes to Philo Vance to Hercule Poirot to Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey DSO to Ellery Queen to Nero Wolfe, I like hanging out with characters I probably, in real life, wouldn’t like hanging out with -- but who I wouldn’t mind being.

This is not to say that I don’t like other detectives from the past, say the hard-boiled ones from the mean streets. I wouldn’t particularly like hanging out with them in real life either. As for being? Well -- they get beat up and shot a lot.

As to contemporary mysteries -- not that I am an expert -- some of the detectives seem not at all larger-than-life, although not necessarily smaller-than-life. But they do seem somewhat rooted in real life, for lack of a better term. Some come with flaws, mental disturbances from some incident in their past, drinking problems or divorces, PTSD, or what have you. I wouldn’t want to hang out with most of them. Nor would I want to be them.

Given all that, here’s a real mystery: Why have I enjoyed -- and indeed admire -- the first two novels in Jean Rabe’s new mystery series featuring the very ordinary Piper Blackwell?

At the very fresh age of twenty-three Piper Blackwell is elected the sheriff of the rural Spencer County in Indiana. The previous sheriff was her father, Paul Blackwell, who had to resign to fight cancer. Piper left the Army, where she served in the military police, to be there for him his battle. Paul, who had been a very popular sheriff, encourages Piper to run for his position. She does. She wins. She doesn’t stop wondering if she won on her father’s name value alone. Especially since her opponent was Oren Rosenberg, her father’s chief deputy and now hers. Oren is far more qualified for the job. And yet -- here she is.

A nice set-up for a new mystery series. A babe-in-the-woods sheriff (literally, as there are a lot of woods in Spencer County) who everybody is going to question.

But what’s the big deal? Really? The largest crime problem in sleepy Spencer County is a good amount of DUIs. Oh, there are some problems with drugs, which have long ago ceased to be an exclusively urban evil, but there would be state and federal help on that. So what better place to be a babe-in-the-woods sheriff?

And then only minutes into her term murder happens. And then another. Yep, Piper’s got a serial killer on her hands.

The first Piper Blackwell mystery, The Dead of Winter, documents how Piper did with this mystery. I’m not going to spoil that for you here, except to say that Rabe has just come out with her second Piper Blackwell mystery, The Dead of Night, so you can make a good guess.

The second novel takes place only about four months later. Piper is a bit more experienced, but she is still new on the job, still resented by others, still insecure. But at least Spencer County has returned to its normal uneventful self, except for DUIs and other mundane infractions, and the occasional distractions provided by the more eccentric citizens of the community. Such as “Mark the Shark” a paranoid, conspiracy-fearing, Democrats-hating “old fart” in his nineties who insists on meeting with the sheriff alone on a rainy bluff to complain that someone has hacked into his bank accounts and is stealing his money. Piper, who takes a liking -- or at least not a disliking -- to Mark sincerely promises that she’ll look into it. She, of course, assumes it’s all just a mistake. Of course, it isn’t, it is a genuine and somewhat perplexing mystery. And then, after the old man leaves, Piper trips on some bones the rain has exposed. They’ve been buried for sixty-five years. They are the bones of a nine-year-old murder victim.

So, a mysterious internet theft and a cold case. And once again Spencer County seems fully awake.

Jean Rabe calls her Piper Blackwell novels “cozy police procedurals.” Seemingly contradiction in terms, it is actually an apt description of what Rabe has created. But they are cozy not in a tea and crumpets way, but in the way Rabe writes. Her writing is beautifully rendered and effortless to read, if not effortless to achieve. She always puts her readers right in the middle of each scene and gives them observational powers they may not actually have. Her plots flow not only logically, slowly but inevitably revealing the mystery and, of course, the solution, but also moves forward the personal lives of the main characters.

And this brings us back to character.

As I said, Piper Blackwell is ordinary. Not dull or mundane or boring, just ordinary. A person, a person you might want to know. Or a person that shares nothing with you. But a person like you or me and that person sitting over there. She has her likes, she has her dislikes, she has her daily frustrations, and she has joy when it appears. She has no deep personal problems. She has no horrendous past, not that she has much of a past at all. And she is not psychologically tortured. She can be a bit anxious, of course, and she can be a bit insecure in the job, which she is having to learn as she goes, and she misses her military life and would, quite frankly, like to get back to it. This is a real possibility in the second novel as her father has beaten cancer and would like to get back in the saddle --  or police cruiser -- himself. But, as ordinary as she is, Piper has a fierce determination to do a good job, to do her duty, to not let her sex, short stature, or age prevent her from being the best sheriff she can be. She works hard, she works through physical pain, she works out of compassion and a sense of justice. She is most admirable in this.

Piper’s competition, Chief Deputy Oren Rosenberg, who is sixty-five years old and far more experienced than her and, by all rights, should be sheriff, is no less admirable in his sense of duty and in doing a good job. I suspect that this shared quality will bring them closer together in future volumes of the series and, indeed, we can see the birth of that closeness in The Dead of Night.

All the subsidiary characters in The Dead of Night are finely drawn, mainly through Rabe’s excellent ear for dialog. Almost every character speaks in their own manner, with their own cadence, with that natural illogic of spoken word that pays little heed to proper grammar and sentence structure but makes the speaker real and individual.

Jean Rabe’s great skill in her Piper Blackwell novels is to make the ordinary not extraordinary -- that would be too easy -- but to make the ordinary interesting, of the moment, and vital. All while telling, of course, a damn good story.

You can check out Jean Rabe’s Piper Blackwell Mysteries and all her novels on her Amazon Authors Page