Sunday, November 30, 2014

David Nicholls’ Us, and the minefields of modern marriage

Relatively few male novelists write convincingly and thoughtfully about male-female relationships, and almost none of them do so from a distinctly male point of view. (And before you say, “What about Nicholas Sparks?” let me stop you: Nicholas Sparks may technically be a male author, but he writes from a distinctly female viewpoint, with a female audience in mind.)

The male authors who do write about relationships (and who do it well) are so few that we can virtually count them on one hand: There’s Jonathan Tropper, and there’s Nicholas Hornby, and well…the list grows pretty short after that.

And then there’s David Nicholls. Nicholls is British, first of all, and he seems to write semi-autobiographically. This means that American readers will struggle with some slightly unfamiliar locales and cultural references. The characters also talk like Brits, not like Americans.

Yet Nicholls manages to cross the transatlantic divide with the authenticity that he brings to male concerns about heterosexual romantic relationships. Any man who ever sought the company of an unattainable girl during his adolescence or early manhood can certainly see a bit of himself in the hapless Brian Jackson, the main protagonist of Starter for Ten. (This never happened to me, mind you; but it might have happened to you.)

The male lead of One Day, Dexter Mayhew, begins the book as the sort of romantic hero that a female novelist would write: He’s suave and good-looking; a brash pretty boy. But by the end of the book, a much-humbled Dexter Mayhew speaks for the average guy, and gives voice to the average guy’s concerns about marriage, the compromises of middle age, and mortality.

The hero of Us, Nicholls’ fourth published novel, is Douglas Petersen. Douglas is about as average as a guy can get. He does hold an advanced degree in biochemistry. But this minor distinction aside, Douglas Petersen is a nerdy, socially clumsy male who wants to “do the right thing”: He wants nothing more than to get married, stay married, and provide for his family. That used to be a pretty good life plan for men to follow. But welcome to the twenty-first century.

Late one night in his fifty-fourth year, Douglas’s wife of twenty-odd years informs him that she has decided to leave him. There is no discernible reason behind this upheaval. Connie Petersen states matter-of-factly, “I think our marriage has run its course. Douglas, I think I want to leave you.”

Even the most cynical and hard-bitten reader will have to acknowledge that Douglas doesn't deserve this: He doesn't drink; he doesn't sleep with other women; he isn’t abusive. On the contrary, we learn throughout the novel that Douglas has made numerous sacrifices for his wife and son during the course of the marriage. He gives up a job in pure scientific research for a higher paying corporate position that he finds stifling. He forgives Connie numerous trespasses, including an affair early in their marriage. And such is his ultimate reward.

Us is a novel that conveys a deep and (largely unspoken) misgiving of the well-intentioned modern man in the age of no-fault divorce, institutionalized feminism, and what the men's rights crowd calls “hypergamy”: In the 1950s a man could remain happily married largely by following the guidelines of basic decency: Work hard for your family, be a good provider. Observe your marriage vows and provide a strong role model for your children.

Today things are much more complicated, of course. Women, not men, now initiate the vast majority of divorces. While the media still largely condemns male infidelity (men are pigs who can’t get enough sex, after all), the fashionable assumption in cases of female infidelity is that the husband must have dropped the ball somewhere. In a well-circulated 2012 essay, “Women in Their 40s Having Great Sex-- Just Not with Their Husbands”, Samantha Walravens describes female infidelity in triumphalist terms: The “mommy stage” is over. She’s got “shifting hormones” and her “confidence is growing”. And besides, sex with her chump of a husband is “boring”. You go, girl.

The trajectory of Douglas and Connie’s marriage is revealed through a series of flashbacks. When Douglas and Connie met, the latter was a struggling, hard-partying artist who had recently broken up with a “bad boy” boyfriend. Connie is by far the more sexually experienced of the two. During a trip through Europe, Connie is recounting her boyfriends on the Continent, and Douglas (who narrates the novel) resignedly assesses his wife’s view of travel as “been there, done him”.

Douglas receives even fewer rewards for his efforts at fatherhood. The couple’s seventeen-year-old son, Albie, adores his mother and openly disdains his father. He doesn't disdain his father’s money, though. Albie is always happy to accept money from his dad, yet he treats him with a level of contempt that would have gotten a kid knocked across the room before the UN declared spanking to be a human rights violation.

This is annoying, because Douglas is not an especially cold father, and not even a very stern one. He conscientiously does what fathers have done since time immemorial: He provides for his son’s material needs, and tries to prepare him for manhood. But in an age that idolizes youth and scorns “patriarchy”, this is simply not enough.

It is a testament of Nicholls’ skill as a writer that neither Connie nor Albie come across as irredeemably obnoxious or hateful, even though their behavior often is. Each, in fact, is sympathetic in his/her own way.

However, the lack of balance in the family dynamic is reminiscent of the media meme that typically portrays fathers as bumbling oafs who are hopelessly outclassed by their savvy wives and know-it-all children. Albie and Connie mock Douglas at seemingly every turn: sometimes lovingly, sometimes not so lovingly. In either case, the interaction between Douglas and his family brings to mind a point that Helen Smith recently raised in “8 Reasons Straight Men Don't Want To Get Married”:

You’ll lose respect: A couple of generations ago, a man wasn't considered fully adult until he was married with kids. But today, fathers are figures of fun more than figures of respect: The schlubby guy with the flowered diaper bag at the mall, or one of the endless array of buffoonish TV dads in sitcoms and commercials. In today's culture, father never knows best. It's no better in the news media. As communications professor James Macnamara reports, "by volume, 69 percent of mass media reporting and commentary on men was unfavorable, compared with just 12 percent favorable and 19 percent neutral or balanced."

Us makes the same arguments all the more convincingly, because there is no real evidence that David Nicholls set out to write a “men’s rights” novel, nor even a counter-feminist one. Despite Connie’s betrayal and Albie’s smug disregard, Douglas Petersen spends much of the book attempting to bring about a reconciliation with both of them.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, but the promotional blurbs for Us make clear that Douglas’s sought-after happy ending is not in the cards (“what happens after the Happy Ever After”, per Jojo Moyes). Nicholls, nevertheless, ends the book on what might be called a “philosophical” note: Connie may be moving on, but not to worry: Douglas isn’t bitter! (Because what every fiftysomething man wants, after giving the best years of his life to working long hours for his family, is to be dumped by his wife and barely tolerated by his progeny.)

It’s all very postmodern; and Us vividly captures the essences of twenty-first century attitudes regarding marriage, fatherhood, and generational obligations. In this new worldview, everything is relevant; there are no moral absolutes. The fact that Douglas cheerily accepts his ill treatment is revealing of how far societal norms have shifted for the worse—Nicholls’ attempt at a sophisticated and amicable interpretation notwithstanding. This novel will probably be read by more women than men (because men read fewer novels), but perhaps more men should read it.

There are, of course, some other sides to this coin, and it would be remiss and one-sided of me to neglect them. Douglas married Connie despite a full knowledge of her character defects, with the notion that he could “reform her” and make her complete. This is what Dr. Laura Schlessinger used to call “stupid chivalry”. So if Douglas Petersen is a marital victim, he walked into his own trap. Connie was somewhat out of his league, and he was largely taken in by her physical charms. Douglas could have made a wiser, less superficially motivated choice.

Nevertheless, Us is a novel that shows that good intentions are not enough when marrying. In its depiction of female infidelity, casual divorce, and the devaluation of modern fatherhood, Us may (inadvertently, I think) provide some clues as to why far fewer young men are eager to rush into marriage nowadays. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My mad accountant, and my holiday fiction blowout sale!

As the American holiday of Thanksgiving approaches next Thursday, the holiday season is upon us!

In celebration of the holidays, I'm offering 33 days of incredible deals on my six book-length works of fiction.

I can only afford to keep prices this low through December 25th, though.

Moreover, I have a problem… 

My accountant, Herman

My accountant, a straight-laced taskmaster named Herman, is not happy

Since Herman found out about my plans to do this, he has been sending me nasty emails, and calling me incessantly. 

Herman emailed me: 

"Ed, you are absolutely crazy. You're supposed to be making money here. But you're just giving stuff away!"

Herman is probably right. But I don't care. 

Your friendly proprietor, who loves to celebrate the holidays!

I wrote him back: 

"Herman, this one time when I'm not going to worry about money! I appreciate the loyal readers of this blog. I've got to do something to celebrate the end of the year and the holidays, and to show my gratitude to them for their readership throughout the year!"

So here are the details of my holiday fiction blowout sale. 

And no, Herman still isn't happy.

But like I said, I don't care. It's that time of year, after all.

Only $0.99:

Our House

Buy it from Amazon

Get Our House on Kindle for only $0.99 

Read the first ten chapters online

Some dream homes are deadly…Appearances can be deceiving.

On the surface, 34-year-old Jennifer Huber seems to have it all: a handsome, loving husband, a six-year-old son whom they both adore. A respectable job.

Jennifer and her husband have just purchased their first house: The neo-Tudor house at 1120 Dunham drive appears to be their “dream home”.

But everything is not what it seems: The previous owner of the house has an unusual—and ultimately violent—attachment to the house. After the Hubers move in, sinister things begin to happen: Dead animals appear in closets, strange figures disturb the Hubers’ sleep in the middle of the night.

There is more to the house at 1120 Dunham Drive than meets the eye: As Jennifer uncovers the secrets behind the home’s history, she finds herself drawn into a web of lies, violence, and sexual betrayal.

All the while, Jennifer struggles to contain a secret of her own—and to combat an act of blackmail that could destroy her marriage.

Our House is a riveting thrill ride through the dark undercurrents that might lie beneath the placid surface of a suburb near you.

The Maze

Buy it from Amazon

Get The Maze on Kindle for only $0.99


Amanda Kearns is a hard-driving executive with a broken heart. Her male subordinates think she is a “machine”; they have no idea of the real, hidden Amanda.

Hugh Jackson is a software salesman with a defective heart—a condition that will kill him in a matter of months or years.

Evan Daley is a young college graduate adrift in a career for which he is ill-suited; he struggles with the scars of a barren, loveless childhood.

Amanda, Hugh, and Evan were expecting another routine day on the job at the Lakeview Towers office complex just outside Columbus, Ohio. But this massive structure hides a secret—a hidden passageway that plunges the unwary into a labyrinthine network of endless, twisting hallways: the Maze.

Trapped inside the Maze, Amanda, Hugh, and Evan must battle their way through perilous corridors filled with half-man, half-wolf beasts called “manwolves”, killer robots, and demonic wraiths known as “watchers”.

But they face their greatest challenge in the snowy, earth-like wilderness on the other side of the Maze. Here a group of ragtag rebels and settlers struggle against a tyrannical demigod known as the Director. The Director is determined to enslave or annihilate everyone within his reach, using a combination of worldly and unworldly weapons.

Amanda, Hugh, and Evan each find love and momentary comfort on the other side of the Maze. But they cannot escape the ultimate battle with the Director. The three Ohioans find themselves forced to choose—between the draw of love and loyalty, and the instinct for self-preservation.

A riveting emotional tale wrapped within a fantasy adventure, THE MAZE is sure to appeal to adult readers who fondly recall childhood “parallel universe” stories like “Through the Looking Glass” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”.

Termination Man

Buy it from Amazon:

The novel that takes an unflinching look at the dark underside of the 21stcentury workplace.”

CRAIG WALKER is a hotshot young MBA with his own consulting firm. He’s handsome, rich, and in demand. His Fortune 500 clients—the most powerful men and women in industry—call him “The Termination Man.”

Craig Walker is no ordinary management consultant. He’s a spook, a workplace spy. Assuming false identities, Craig works undercover, building the evidence that will allow his corporate clients to terminate unwanted employees without legal repercussions. His targets are the troublemakers, the agitators, the employees whom management believes are no longer “good fits” for their hyper-competitive organizations. 

Craig Walker believes that he serves the cause of economic efficiency, and in a way, the greater good. Most of his targets don’t like their jobs anyway. In a free market, “a firing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. Sometimes an employee needs to leave a bad a situation.”

SHAWN MYERS is a manager at TP Automotive, a global giant in the automotive industry. Shawn struggles to control his lust and rage, and to escape a hideous past that might catch up with him at any moment. His forbidden desire for a girl young enough to be his daughter threatens to drive him over the edge.

When TP Automotive hires the Termination Man to remove two innocent employees from its payroll, Craig Walker is forced to reexamine his notions of justice and morality. But these questions are soon overwhelmed by the dangers that he faces from the TP Automotive management team. After Shawn Myers commits a heinous act in Craig’s presence, the Termination Man discovers that his new clients will resort to any means in order to protect one of their own.

Only $1.99

Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense

Buy it from Amazon:

During the Great Depression, a young boy confronts zombies… 

- In the present day, a software salesperson discovers that he can commune with the dead at airports.
- A business trip is cut short when three corporate colleagues stray into a den of vampires near a major interstate.
- A Russian gangster makes a killing in America---murdering romantic rivals for hire.

These are just a few of the bizarre scenarios you will encounter in the pages of Hay Moon and Other Stories

Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense…

***Hay Moon***

In the summer of 1932, the undead invaded a corner of rural Ohio. Nearly eight decades later, one man still lives with the nightmares, and a horrible promise left unfulfilled.

***Giants in the Trees***

Jim knew that his older coworker, Paul Taulbee, had a checkered past. But he was unprepared for the horror he discovered on the night he gave Paul a ride home from the office. (Get the $0.99 short at

***The Vampires of Wallachia***

Three corporate employees on a business trip stop at the wrong place for a late-night dinner: a restaurant in central Ohio that hides a terrifying secret.(Get the $0.99 short at

***Bitter Hearts***

Have you been wronged in love? An Internet company promises to make things right for you---for a price.

***Gate Time***

Traveling software salesman Josh Gardner had never been afraid of airports---until he discovered that some of his fellow travelers were not what they appeared to be. (Get the $0.99 short at

***By the River***

The old man who lived on the houseboat warned people about the shadows lurking beneath the waters of the Ohio River. But some failed to heed his warnings.

***The Girl She Used to Be***

Thirty years ago Allison disappeared on the night that her college boyfriend was planning to give her an engagement ring. Now Allison is back--- but she’s not the girl she used to be.

***The Caliphate***

When a terrorist organization stages a bloody takeover of a Canadian city, two friends are forced to confront their innermost demons---and each other.(Get the $0.99 short at

***The Wasp***

Leo had always been afraid of wasps---especially wasps that learn to assume human form.

***The Red Devil***

A security guard at a car dealership learns that death lurks in the nocturnal hours in a city torn by gang warfare.

***The Robots of Jericho***

Pete Greer suspected that the industrial robots purchased by his company were more than mere machines. Alone in a West Virginia factory with them over an extended summer weekend, the robots threaten his sanity---and his life.

***Last Dance with Emma***

University of Minnesota graduate students Eric and Randy travel back in time for hedonistic purposes. But when they visit New Year’s Eve 1978, Randy unexpectedly falls in love. Determined to secure an impossible future with a doomed young woman named Emma, Randy battles his friend, and the cruelty of a random universe. (Get the $0.99 short at

***Gaia Cried Out***

When Kara Teller met Nicholas Naretti in the student union of her university, she believed that she had found the ideal man. But there is something horribly wrong with Nicholas’s friends…And Kara reluctantly discovers that Nicholas harbors sinister intentions of his own. 


Robert and Susan Craig discover that the politics of the twenty-second century in America can be deadly. A leisurely time travel voyage lands them in a cell in the bloodiest days of the French Revolution. Condemned to the guillotine by the Jacobins’ Committee of Public Safety, they suspect the hand of the rising American demagogue, Senator Barry Olsen.


Corporate middle manager Greg Hensley simultaneously desires and loathes his new subordinate, Jessica Tanner. A bit of research into Jessica’s past reveals that Jessica may be dangerous. But Jessica is not the only one who is hiding evil secrets.

***The Dreams of Lord Satu***

Rapid GeoWorks salesperson Marc Jonas was ordered to visit the remote planet of Kelphi. His boss, Larry Dozier, told him to do whatever was necessary to make the sale. But Kelphi is a world where psychic spiderlike creatures occasionally devour the planet’s human population. The Kelphiaristocrat known as Lord Satu wants Marc’s mind, and possibly his body as well. (Get the $0.99 short story at

Only $2.99

My 5-star supernatural thriller:

Eleven Miles of Night
Jason Kelley is a young, struggling filmmaker looking for his first big break. When the semi-famous cable television ghost hunter Simon Rose approaches him about a freelance project, Jason is understandably thrilled.

He isn’t fazed by the fact that his assignment is a walk down the Shaman’s Highway, an eleven-mile stretch of rural Ohio roadway that is reputed to be haunted by malevolent spirits, hellhounds, and demonic forces. Jason is an agnostic in regard to the supernatural.

He isn’t prepared for the reality that awaits him on his walk through eleven miles of night—nor the more human violence and heartbreak that he will face along the way.

Blood Flats

Buy it from Amazon

Meth, murder, and the mafia—a vast tapestry of a southern gothic crime novel with a Dickensian cast of characters.”

***Lee McCabe is home from Iraq, but home has changed.***

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and recently discharged U.S. marine Lee McCabe never imagined the dangers awaiting him in Hawkins County, Kentucky. While Lee has been in the Middle East, a network of violent methamphetamine traffickers have established a foothold in the county, corrupting, intimidating, or murdering anyone who stands in their way.

***Charged with murder and marked for death***

Lee quickly discovers that his neighbor, Tim Fitzsimmons is a meth dealer. When Fitzsimmons and his girlfriend are killed in a drug-related hit, Lee attempts to intervene. The law and the community blame Lee for the murder. The meth traffickers target Lee for death, knowing him to be a witness to the crime.

***Enemies motivated by passion, greed, and desperation ***

Sheriff Steven Phelps has his own personal reasons for hating Lee: Twenty-five years ago, Lee’s now deceased mother had a youthful affair with the sheriff. The sheriff planned to marry her--until she jilted him to be with the man who became Lee’s father. Phelps is torn by his duty to justice, and his obsession with the doomed love of his adolescence.

Lester Finn is a classics-quoting, self-aggrandizing local hoodlum and meth dealer. He is caught between the law and the Chicago-based mafia, which wants a greater share of the southern methamphetamine trade. From his bar, the Boar’s Head, Lester controls a sordid regional enterprise that consists of gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution. Lester is torn by his grudging respect for Lee---and his need to see the ex-marine dead.

Paulie Sarzo is a Chicago mobster, a rising star in the Coscollino crime family. He despises Kentucky, Lee McCabe, and most of all, Lester Finn. But Paulie has an important mission to accomplish in Hawkins County: If he fails to eliminate Lee, he risks the ultimate punishment for failure in la cosa nostra.

***A journey toward death or redemption***

Dawn Hardin is a former golden girl, honor student, and premed whose life has fallen into a downward spiral of meth addiction and prostitution. Dawn had a tumultuous relationship with Lee before he went to Iraq. Now she tries to help him wage war against the mafia, even as she struggles with her own inner demons, and a family that wants to deny her existence.

The Hunter is a mysterious figure who compels Lee to go on the offensive against the forces pursuing him. But will the Hunter offer any concrete assistance, or only advice?

Brett St. Croix is a journalist who offers to tell Lee’s version of events. But Lee suspects that St. Croix has a contrary, private agenda of his own.

Ben Chamberlain lost his wife to a meth-related murder. Will he assist Lee; or will Ben’s desire for revenge destroy them both?

***A battle in Blood Flats***

Pursued from all directions, Lee embarks on a cross-country journey toward the town of Blood Flats. There he faces a showdown---in which he must pit his wits and determination against the ruthlessness and superior resources of his enemies on both sides of the law.

Majoring in liberal arts (mailbag)

From my YouTube channel: A viewer is very interested in the liberal arts (English literature, history, etc.), but knows that his career prospects will be limited with a four-year degree in one of these fields:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A book format for every purpose

The analysis one finds on Forbes is more concise and organized than what one finds on most literary sites.

The basic storyline here won't surprise anyone who keeps up on such things: Ebooks aren't going to put print books out of print anytime soon. 

This is the latest iteration on mainstream media's fascination with ebooks. 

Back in 2000, ebooks were huge. Then everyone discovered that it wasn't much fun to read a 400-page novel on a desktop computer screen. The real takeoff for ebooks would have to wait for the introduction of a cheap, portable reading device. 

Then Amazon came out with the Kindle in late 2007. Suddenly ebooks were huge again. Printers would be going out of business any day! 

Now the media is cautiously pessimistic on ebooks again, because their market performance hasn't lived up to the original hype.

As organized and visual as the Forbes information is, it doesn't give the more important explanation: Some books (those with lots of graphics, maps, and tables) were never well suited for the ebook format. Nor are doorstop-sized nonfiction titles. 

Ebooks are best for fiction, and concise nonfiction works that don't rely much on visuals. 

That doesn't mean that ebooks are "failing" or even "fizzling". It simply means that ebooks, like print books, have their ideal range of application. And that range doesn't include every book-related need.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The 10 best science fiction films?

Basically I agree with this list, with one significant omission: Although everyone has seen the first Star Wars (1977), no list of this kind is complete without it.

More 37 years later, I can still recall watching Star Wars in the cinema and being blown away. It really did revolutionize the scope of what a science fiction film could be.

The latest PC battle line: "body image"

Did Victoria's Secret Just Make Another Body-Image Blunder? 

"A few weeks ago, Victoria’s Secret received backlash for its latest campaign. The main image featured the brand’s traditionally willowy models lined up with the caption: The Perfect Body. While it was meant to highlight the brand's Body line of underwear, the visual sparked an outcry as critics claimed that the ad perpetuated unrealistic body standards. More than 32,000 people signed a petition asking Victoria’s Secret to apologize for and change the campaign."
Of course Victoria's Secret models have exceptional physiques--just like most professional athletes. But why is it now politically incorrect to reach a high level of physical fitness?

Glen A. Larson 1937-2014

From back when television was worth watching…

If  you watched television during the 1980s, you watched at least a few shows created by Glen A. Larson. 

Larson was the creator of at least two of my favorites, Magnum PI and the original Battlestar Galactica. (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century wasn't bad, either.)

There was nothing about Larson's shows that was either offensive or ideological. Just good, compelling entertainment, of the kind that is all too rare on network television nowadays.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Horror fiction: better than most horror movies

"King’s horror fiction often focuses on internal threats, those that can’t be seen or predicted. His best novels explore very human fears and anxieties, elements that are difficult to bring to a visual medium. The novel isn’t inherently a superior storytelling medium (we’ve moved past that reductive argument long ago, especially with the second Golden Age of Television), but it does seem more suited to King’s particular take on horror, where the internal, human terrors are privileged over the external ones. His novels are certainly filled with creatures and monsters of all types, but his most poignant works muse on themes that are of this world, hardly supernatural or ghostly."
This isn't true only for horror fiction and the novels of Stephen King, by the way. I've found that many mainstream "literary novels" don't translate well into film. 

The first one that comes to mind in this latter category is Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road is an engrossing novel, but a very mediocre film, precisely because so much of the conflict is internal to the main characters. Without the internal insights that the novel provides, the movie is kind of dull, really.