BOOK REVIEW: Resurrections in the Dark by Janice Blaze Rocke dives into a world of sex, drugs, and the human condition

Monterey-based author Janice Blaze Rocke weaves a dark, character-driven tale in her memoir of life along the San Francisco corridor, firmly rooting herself as a literary force to be reckoned with and a welcome addition to the Central Coast’s pool of talented writers.

Resurrections in the Dark follows young Janice through a tumultuous time in her life – as a stripper and budding drug addict in the 1980s, but also as a woman hopelessly in love with the wrong person.

The memoir reads like a continuous breath, keeping us hooked through every chapter, and rarely comes up for air. Like Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Jack Kerouac, and others, her words work soulful charms and deliver a stark lesson in both humanity and fate, mixed with a few sultry passages.

Resurrections in the Dark has earned a place among the literary bookshelves of Monterey and San Francisco, as it tells the story of these cities just as much as it tells her own riveting story.

Pick up a copy on Lulu here, or on Amazon here, or in bookstores throughout Monterey County.

San Francisco Comic Con Top 10

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It’s a geek’s fantasy realized. A nerd’s dreams turned flesh and blood. A dad’s headache from the noise, but worth it. I’m all of that and a grumpy bag of chips. But, as most of my friends know, I’m a sucker for heroes and stories. Being a father to a younger comics/pop culture aficionado, the 2018 San Francisco Comic Con was the place to hang our invisible fedoras. Before I get into what was (nice about it) killer, let me tack on a couple of bitches. It’s what I do. First off, consider larger conference rooms for some of the workshops. We missed Starlin (Starlin! The guy who devised the Infinity War storyline!) because it was too full, which got me pissy for a hot minute. Parking was also gnarly, but when isn’t it?

On to what was super:

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Staff was on it. They were all over it. Staff nailed it.

10. Comic Con staff

A friend of one of the con’s founders, and I never got her name (a theme for me on this trip), was one of the first people my son and I encountered in the hotel elevator. She went above and beyond in helping us navigate what could have been, for a dense man like me, a confusing morning of con registration. Instead she got us hooked up the night before with our wrist bands and gave us the rundown on what to expect once the pop culture adventure exploded in our faces. You can’t beat that kind of customer service with a barbed-wire baseball bat.

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The view from our sweet suite.

9. Oakland Marriott

Who knew the Marriott was actually connected to the Convention Center where the San Francisco Comic Con was held? Not this doofus. It was a sweet surprise when we realized we wouldn’t have to leave the building. Riding the elevator from our posh room (with paper-thin walls, however, which I discovered thanks to a lusty romantic couple next door); we were deposited right into a throng of Deadpools, Darths, and Who Police Boxes. It was the best ever. Great place, great views, great that Netflix connected to the huuuge flat screen, and great staff.

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A man sweeps the streets of Oakland, while another jumps a human ramp, to celebrate the Golden State Warriors victory over the Cavs.

8. Golden State Sweep

Not that it has anything to do with the con, but crazy as Hell that our trip to Oakland coincided like a train wreck with the Warrior Playoff sweep over the Cavs and LeBron James! When we got there, people were just taking to the streets downtown to celebrate, chanting “Warriors!” from the windows down to the subway. Some were even holding brooms from three stories above ground, sweeping the air, because why not? So it was a good kind of train wreck. Insanity save for valet parking. Warriors!

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Ben getting a signed first issue, number one, collector’s edition, etc.

7. The Walking Dead Guy

I may be a newbie to the Walking Dead pop culture machine (on season four, so much blood), but my son isn’t. He’s the guy who got me hooked on it, so for him to meet one of the guys who made the dead walk in the pages of the original Image comic book was incredible. Dude was super nice too (isn’t it always a good idea to mention if someone is approachable? If it is, then everyone there was just that). The worst part? Not sure of his name…

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Nerding with every flavored bean breath with Bonnie Wright.

6. Ginny Weasley

Her real name is Bonnie Wright, but for most of us in line to meet her, she was Ginny – beloved wife to the wizard we all know and root for: Harry Potter (HP to us cool kids). I can’t even write the name without saying it with an English accent in my head. My son and I, besides grabbing a pic with her, heard her talk about her work in directing and with environmental organizations like Greenpeace. As HP nerds, just getting to meet her was… magical (ugh).

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William T. Riker is in the hizzay!

5. Number One (at number five)

Genres of all kinds appeal to me. As a teen, none grabbed me more than Star Trek: The Next Generation when it came to weekly television. I was reading horror, flipping through Heavy Metal and Flaming Carrot Comics, but I never missed a single TNG episode. Not a single one. Jonathan Frakes is a polite, friendly guy in person – though to be fair meeting him was uber brief. But hey, being in the presence of Number One, the guy who gave us Star Trek First Contact, one of the reasons The Orville rocks, was enough to excite this fan boy.

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Me and Gerry Conway, down by the school yard. Or hanging at a con and talking about Punisher stuff.

4. Gerry Conway

You know meeting a Marvel Comics icon would make my list. I counted myself a True Believer during the days Lou Ferrigno got himself painted green every week. I was one of the only kids on my block who knew the word, “Excelsior!” And even back then, I knew about the Punisher. Gerry Conway is one of the co-creators of the character, which he introduced in Amazing Spider-Man No. 129. He’s also the writer who (gasp) killed off Gwen Stacy back in the day. I gushed on him at the con, but he was cool with it.

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Issue 2 is a keeper.

3. Afterburner Comics

What’s better than going to a gigantic comic con in Oakland (yes, it’s called the San Francisco Comic Con, and yes, I know San Diego’s is bigger, but does size matter?) and straying from your preplanned itinerary into uncharted territory (yes, I make itineraries). I found something pretty damn cool in Afterburner Comics and came away with a treat I wasn’t expecting. I found a new underground comic to sink my intellectual teeth into, one full of black and white noir and adults-only pizzazz. If you haven’t come across the brilliant Robert Stewart and Afterburner Comics, you’re missing out.

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Making the time to hang! Thanks, Claudia!

2. Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray is an author everyone should read. Many of us have in fact. She’s also a joy to meet in person. Her work has been made a part of the Star Wars universe, which tells you something about her prose. Whether it’s canon, not canon, I can never keep up, so I don’t know. I’m not one to let it bug me anyway. She’s a good writer and meeting her amidst the buzz and bang of the convention was a personal highlight.

 

 

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1.  The Cosplay

You hear about it in secret. You read about it on the dark web. You think you’re prepared. But then you walk into a man inside an inflated Pikachu. You see cosplayers in real life and you take a gut punch in the “I’m geeked out and really amazed” region. These people are incredible. The detail, the love and giddy excitement, are evident in what they do. Without the thrill of the cosplayers, conventions like the San Francisco Comic Con wouldn’t be the blinding, shining beacon of hip absurdity this world needs. They make these things what they are.

 

American Static: interview with Author Tom Pitts

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American Static by Tom Pitts  Down & Out Books (June 26, 2017)

Some writers are like doctors. They have the stuff you need right when you need it most. Tom Pitts is an author like that. Having read American Static at a time when I was thirsty for a blast of literary danger, the book was like the tall beer Tom’s holding in his author photo. It hit the spot.What starts as a deadly, and compelling, crime thriller; American Static soons takes on a darker twist. The story unfolds to reveal murderous political intrigue, a savage quest for the truth, and weaves in a sweet love story  – albeit in a surprising way.

When I got a chance to sit down with Tom, the first thing on my mind was all the great characters sprinkled throughout the book, so I started there…

PATRICK WHITEHURST: You have Quinn, Carl, Tremblay, Steven, Teresa, and a cast of others, nearly all a bit shady. How did you keep them straight?

TOM PITTS: If you’re referring to the juggling of POVs, it’s the only way I see the whole picture. It’s more than just a third-person perspective, it’s a lens through which we can see each character’s motivations. I took this idea a little further than in my last novel, Hustle. And I think the result is a faster moving, more exciting ride.

As far as them being shady, to be fair, kindly ol’ Carl ain’t too shady. But all characters—just like people—come in varying shades of grey. They just aren’t black or white. Mind you, some are blacker than others. I think even the most evil motherfucker in the world still likes a chuckle now and again, still likes to sit down and watch Bob’s Burgers, you know?

WHITEHURST: You’re knocking back a few at the bar and some dude asks you to describe American Static. What do you tell him?

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Author Tom Pitts.

PITTS: I tell ‘em it’s a devil-at-the-crossroads kind of tale. That’s what Quinn is. He’s that intoxicating, charismatic devil that’ll take you on a fast ride to hell.

WHITEHURST: When you gaze at the stars, thinking wistfully on those glorious days spent writing the book, what stands out? What part of American Static really turned you on?

PITTS: I was on a roll after Hustle. I marched forward on this one full of cocky confidence. The plot unfolded and the puzzle presented itself to me perfectly. I love that feeling when the pieces fit together. What I remember most—when I put together the political backstory that’s the impetus for the events—is jumping up from the keyboard and yelling Yes!

WHITEHURST: What can you tell us about an audiobook?

PITTS: I’m very excited about it. It’s the first audio book being done for one of my stories. The narrator, Daniel Greenberg, has done an excellent job. I listened to a lot of audio books during a hellish commute I endured a few years back. And I mean a LOT of audio books, and Daniel has just the even-handed style I like—not too dramatic, not too flat. I’m told it’ll be done by the start of May, so I’m hoping it’ll be available in June. If it goes well, I’m going to do one for Hustle and the new book, 101.

WHITEHURST: The movie question now: who would you cast? I could almost see De Niro as Quinn, maybe a younger version. Thoughts?

PITTS: I do hate being pinned down by this question. Once I have someone in mind it’s hard to get them out of my head, but … since you asked. I think I’d like to see Frank Grillo as Quinn. He’d be perfect for it. He’s got something scary going on just under the surface. It’d be tough for a just any old pretty boy to sell it. Frank has a bit of grit. The kind of guy you can never feel quite comfortable around.

WHITEHURST: What about bands? Who do you listen to when you type?

PITTS: Nobody. I’ve always worked in silence. I’ve gone so far as to stuff toilet paper in my ears and pump white noise through some headphones to find silence. Rob Hart recently asked on Twitter about playlists for writing, the soundtrack that a writer prepares for each novel. A light went on over my head—a playlist to block the world out? Brilliant. Maybe I’ll try it the next time around. Especially if it’s a period piece.

WHITEHURST: What’s the story these days? What are you working on?

PITTS: I just finished the final edits for my next novel, 101. It’s coming out in November from Down & Out. It takes my shifting POV philosophy even further. I’ve very proud of the book. It’s fast-moving, funny, and full of wild characters. It’s set against the backdrop of a pot farm in Humboldt County six months before it went legal in California. I spent a fair amount of time in those hills doing research—yeah, that’s what we’ll call it—and I hope it captures the tone of the hills. I’m still working on the Hustle script and doing the dance with Hollywood. Hopefully I’ll have some solid news to share about that soon. I can say things are heating up though. Then, I suppose, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work on a new novel. I can’t wait to get back to that strange headspace where I spend a few hours a day in the unpredictable world of my own fiction.

Visit Tom’s website here.

Order American Static here.

Noir at the Bar – Seaside, Calif., Oct. 2017

19059861_1986112188278233_1335083638625727466_nThanks to all the great authors who came out for last night’s event at The Press Club in Seaside, CA, and to everyone else who gave us their Friday night. From bodies in trunks to bodies full of junk, these folks make an impression and got the criminal minds flowing. Special thanks to Dietrick Kalteis for making it all happen! Old Capitol Books did a sweet job with the book sales, almost as busy as the bar…

Authors in attendance:

S.W. Lauden
John Lansing
Tom Pitts
Sandra Balzo
Eric Beetner
Rob Pierce
Dietrich Kalteis
Patrick Whitehurst
There in spirit: Joe Clifford
Emcee: Janice Blaze Rocke

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Whitehurst’s Top Reads of 2016

From tripping out with Tarzan and the Ant Men, to starting Marie Kondo’s book on tidying up, it’s been a year of diversity and perhaps a bit of quirky inclusion. My print book collection grew in 2016, which came as a surprise due to my Kindle attachment issues, and the number of books started and not finished (sorry, Kondo) grew as well. This means 2017 will be the year of finishing things I started. Fingers crossed.  I did, however, manage to finish 14 books. Below are the top five books I couldn’t stop thinking about after reading the last page.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

There’s a little book shop off Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, California, that reminds me of this book whenever I walk by the place. With a splash of fantasy, a squirt of Da Vinci Code, and a bit too much techy talk, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore features a mysterious society, the depths of Google, and the wonder of musty old books stacked high to the ceiling. Set in San Francisco, but with a trip to the Big Apple thrown in, former techie Clay gets an adventure of a lifetime when he leaves his web design gig for a job at a dusty old book shop found next to a skanky strip club. I looked forward to this book every time I sat down to read. You might too.

Find the book here.

Mentats of Dune by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert

The second book in their “Schools of Dune” trilogy continues the spicy space opera adventure begun by Brian’s father, Frank Herbert. While the writing style in the new Dune books (and there are a lot of them) differs from Frank’s style, I look forward to each and every one. So much so I read them in doses, so not to run out of material. Anderson and Herbert have penned a number of standalone novels and trilogy novels that fill out the intensely vibrant cosmos found in the Dune universe. With the conclusion of the Schools of Dune trilogy, their work in the universe will end. At least for now. I, for one, am already looking forward to their return. Mentats of Dune features the story of Vorian Atreides, who works to make peace with his family’s sworn enemies in House Harkonnen. Characters from the other trilogy novels also make appearances, such as the villainous Erasmus and zealous Manford Torondo, as do the Fremen of Arrakis, not to mention sandworms. It wouldn’t be awesome without a sandworm or two of course. If you like Dune as I do, then get into these books.

Find the book here.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Just in time, since I missed the movie in theaters and still had a few weeks in 2016, I snatched the latest Robert Langdon (number four in the series, number three in the movie series) from my book shelf and set to work before the movie hit the digital rental service. It wasn’t hard to devour this one. Like Da Vinci Code (number two in the series, number one in the movie series), I had a hard time putting this book down. Langdon is back in killer nerdy, confused form in this one, only getting the clues but not the bullets and action smacking the walls around him. He’s knee deep in Dante lore, in Florence, in Venice, in death masks, and in plagues. This equated to a page turner in my book. I ended by Googling when Brown planned to pen the next in the series (number five in the series, maybe number four in the movie series, depending whether or not Howard gets around to doing The Lost Symbol), so that means it was good.

Find the book here.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling

I wasn’t sure I was ready for a new Harry Potter story (popularly called HP, right?), especially not one that would read weird. I was sure it would too, being that it was a play and not a novel at all, but after finding the rhythm of the story, I totally fell in love with it. I was back in the world of magic and Muggles in a flash. Being that I was already an adult when the series began, reading the Cursed Child made me feel like a younger adult. The story itself, with time travel and Harry’s kids, kept me enthralled until the end, definitely a worthy addition to the HP canon. I have to add, however, that I would love to see this made into a film. The fanboy in me, though I understand Rowling’s motivations and wishes, prays she will pen another novel in the series, because I would flip out.

Find the book here.

The Irish Bride Series: The Innocents Book 1 by Jaime Lorie Goza

Say hello to Grace, a young and innocent Irish lass (not to mention a new face to add to the grand tradition of Irish literature), whose life is rough, but also quirky and amiable at times. While not one who devours everything Irish, being Irish myself has led me to more than my fair share of books set in the Emerald Isle. This book fits into that collection quite well.  This book served as a fun distraction for reading time and makes for a good addition to anyone’s shelves, whether or not they’ve touched that goofy Blarney Stone thing.

Find the book here.

De Young Museum in curmudgeon: 10 things that didn’t help the experience

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Art Museums crack open young minds and pour in bravery. They make us think outside of our boxes (those selfish things that are covered this year in Bernie or Trump stickers) and look at them from new selfish boxes, maybe even from a perspective where the artist selfishly thinks they are outside of a box. The de Young Museum in San Francisco is no different. Famous paintings by artists like Diego Rivera, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso titillate the imagination inside, as do other pieces of art, including Mayan artifacts and breathtaking Hawaiian feather work. It’s a beautiful place, first and foremost, and worth visiting, as are all Museums.

But the de Young left a lot to be desired in comparison to other museums when viewed through the lens of a first time visitor with no idea what to expect, or even how to get there. The following ten points are observed from that perspective.

  • Could not find parking. Are there signs anywhere? Is there really an underground parking area? Where is it? Do I need to know a guy who knows a guy to find it? On a Saturday, during an opening, seek parking in Golden Gate Park wherever you can find it and just hike in, even if it’s pouring rain. Parking should really be the first amenity.
  • Terrible signage in the park. Not until you’ve found a spot along the busy roadway do you see small “You Are Here” maps and only then do you know if you were luckily enough to park close to your destination. Usually you’re about a mile away. Consider some clearly visible signs. Please.
  • Signage on the de Young building’s exterior. Is it a myth? On March 12th, 2016, the only indicator the building was indeed the de Young Museum happened to be a giant, pinkish Oscar de le Renta banner. Maybe put the name outside in someplace clearly visible.
  • Long waits for tickets. With the de la Renta opening, lines were long and boring. There were three people operating ticket sales, one reserved for “will call” geniuses and two for the not-so-genius people that thought coming on a Saturday would be fun. One of the people operating ticket sales went on break, which leaves one to handle the long line, and leaves those standing in line wondering if the Museum has a staffing shortage. When it’s busy, see if there are extra bodies available.
  • Lunch at restaurant a confusing mess. You can simply grab items 7-11 style or you can get a menu, which you bring to the register (there may be two registers) and then order. From there you get a cafeteria style tray, your drinks and a number. Someone brings food to you later once you have found a place to sit amidst the throng. Luckily a meal for two is only about $50, which isn’t bad if you’re a Hilton. Order fast food style, order cafeteria style, or order menu style. Pick one.
  • They use the sticker system. Apparently, the two people operating the ticketing are supposed to tell visitors to peel a sticker off a portion of the ticket and affix it to their clothing. This gets you access to the galleries, as apparently just buying a ticket and wandering around just isn’t done there. Expect to be stopped if you haven’t put your sticker on. Consider making the sticker thing clear when the visitor pays.
  • No clear flow. If you use your intuition to wander the halls of larger museums, expect it to kick the bucket at the de Young. Is everything up the stairs, to the left as you leave the café, or what? Signage seemed lacking in this area as well. There was no rhyme or reason to finding it all and the little map, which most of us have folded up and put away by this point, do little to help. Consider directional arrows.
  • Truck stop bathrooms. The building has opted to herd the visitors into a single bathroom area, located not in the center of the building, but at one end. Should you have to go, hope that it isn’t a busy day and hope you’re not all the way at the other end of the Museum. Because that would suck. Consider more plumbing.
  • A minor point. Many museums offer books for bibliophiles to stick on their shelf. They’re all around the same size (art books) and give a little info on the galleries and their permanent collection. Not so with the de Young. Their art book, the one titled Inside and Out, is small enough to fit in the glove compartment and does not contain as much information. That and it doesn’t match on the shelf. Gift shop staffers, however, proved to be quite nice, which was a bonus. Consider a bigger, cooler book.
  • Stopped for suspicious purse. Expect a security person to stop you if you’re wearing a backpack or purse strapped to your back. Apparently this is also something those two people at the front desk are supposed to share with visitors but don’t. At least not every time. Consider making the rules clearer so not to disrupt someone’s museum experience by making them feel like they just got in trouble.

Consider The Portland Art Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, even the Phoenix Art Museum, and their layouts. Most have these matters hammered out in an easy to comprehend way, even for introverted, anxious bibliophiles. Especially those who are visiting for the very first time.