rogue rhetoric

random musings by michael d. durkota

Veterans Deserve a Whole Month

My 4th annual Veterans’ Month charity promotion begins November 1. As in the past, 100% of all book proceeds will be donated to organizations that support veterans and their families. I’ll divide the proceeds between the following organizations:

As an added incentive, I’ll match every paperback purchase with a signed and personalized copy. Simply send me your mailing address and a screenshot of the purchase confirmation on Amazon and I’ll send a signed copy. Give one to a friend and keep one for yourself.

Get your copy of Once in a Blue Year on Amazon.

Get #books. Help #veterans.

Random Musings about Hunter Killer (and other submarine films)

I must admit up front that I have cherished every submarine movie I have ever seen. There is always some quality or aspect that allows me to overlook the technical inaccuracies or the completely implausible scenarios. Bottom line, Hunter Killer has far more qualities than inaccuracies than most submarine films I have seen. This is no doubt because the film is based on the novel co-authored by George Wallace, a retired submarine officer.

The film stars Gerard Butler as Captain Joe Glass. I’ve known quite a few submarine commanding officers, and Gerard plays the part well. The cast also includes Gary Oldman and a few other actors you may recognize. I was happy to see Toby Stephens (Captain Flint from Black Sails) in a new, yet oddly similar role as a Navy SEAL team leader. I miss Black Sails and wish it would return. If anyone from Black Sails is reading this, please make more seasons of Black Sails. But I digress.

The plot of Hunter Killer was unique and intricate. The film contained all the things you’d expect in a submarine drama: undersea warfare, depth charges, coy tactics, harrowing near death scenarios. The lack of communication between land and a submerged submarine means that a submarine commander is often forced to make critical decisions with little or no information; this builds suspense that borders on terror. Good stuff.

My only gripe with the plot was that the stuff between the Pentagon and the White House—the political aspects of military decisions—was a tad heavy-handed and probably a little over-acted at times (even though I love Gary Oldman). The backchannel operations with the NSA operative seemed implausible, but the sub-plot was entertaining nonetheless.

In my opinion, only three things were missing.

  • The order to dive was given early in the film, but the alarm was not sounded. I need to hear that alarm. I miss that alarm.
  • The obligatory emergency blow was down-played. If you blinked, you could miss it. If I ever make a submarine film, the emergency blow sequence will last about 10 minutes. It will be montage of various camera angles and crew reactions. There will be bug juice sloshing in crew’s mess and people hanging onto pipes with their feet swinging in the air. An emergency blow is a rollercoaster ride that very few people ever get to experience. I am eternally grateful to be one of those lucky people.
  • There is a great line about where to find the crew near the beginning of the film. The XO is concerned he won’t be able to round them up. The CO asks how many pubs there are near the base. The XO replies there are two. The CO says, “Let’s try something radical. I will check one, you can check the other.” It was great and realistic and quite funny, but I really wish I could have seen it. I was hoping for a montage of fights and girls and beer and debauchery. Just a couple minutes. Something. Sailors do bad things when they aren’t busy doing good things. It’s ok to tell that tale.

Despite those few missed opportunities, I really hope this film does well and ensures that Hollywood will invest in future submarine films. They average about one every 4 or five years. Since the time of my service, I’ve had the pleasure to have Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, U-571, The Abyss, K-19 Widow-maker, and Down Periscope. Even the latter had its moments of entertainment (I warned you, all submarine films are great in some regard).

I won’t have to wait too long for the next major theatrical release, although this one might haunt me a little more than I need. I followed the Kursk tragedy as it unfolded, and I’ve since read some non-fiction books about the events, including the failed rescue attempts. It will be gut-wrenching to put faces to these men. I will probably have nightmares for a few nights, but that is ok. It is a submarine movie and I will love it. Michael Nyqvist is also on the cast of both Hunter Killer and Kursk, so that is kinda cool for him.

Bottom line: Hunter Killer is an excellent and credible submarine drama. I will watch it again when I eventually add it to my DVD collection, but for now, it’s easily in competition for my favorite submarine drama.

Random Musings About Pilot Fountain Pens

Over the last year or so, I have acquired three standard Pilot fountain pens. I inked all three with take-sumi iroshizuku ink. Here are my reviews with a quick summary of features at the end.

Heritage 92
This was my first Pilot fountain pen. I went with the medium nib. The Heritage is only available as a demonstrator; it is clear but has black/grey accents. The pen cap and clip are more contemporary in style. The ends are squared vice rounded. I loved this pen from the moment I inked it for the first time. It is balanced and lightweight. The 14k nib inks a smooth line. The piston filling system is similar to traditional convertors and is very easy to use. The capacity is excellent.

Custom 74
I chose the black smoke model, but it is also available in blue, clear, orange, and violet. I also went with the fine nib. I wasn’t sure how I would like that, but as it turns out, I like it quite a bit. The Custom 74 has the look and feel of a classic fountain pen; from a distance, it looks like an antique, but it certainly is not. I love the silver accents (that was one reason I originally shied away from the 823). The filling system is a CON-70 which is a pump style that is quite unique and easy to use.

Custom 823
After I filled a few pages with the Custom 74, I realized my collection would not be complete without an 823. This is THE pen; it’s the workhorse that Neil Gaiman swears by. You would think his endorsement alone would be enough for me to break out the credit card, but it wasn’t. I resisted for a while, mainly because of the color selection. I prefer blacks and greys and clears. I know that seems petty and silly, but I really worried that I would not be able to write with an amber-colored pen. However, all that changed when pilot released a smoke version. The only draw-back I saw was the gold highlights. I would have preferred silver with the black theme, but oh well, I guess gold will have to do. I had a little trouble inking it for the first time; I’m still not sure why. I even broke out the instructions even though this isn’t my first vacuum filled pen. The instructions said to only use 70 ml pilot ink. I can’t imagine why that would matter. I also refuse to use blue ink, so the bottle that came with the pen was no help. After a few cycles, it finally took a little ink. On the next cycle, it filled the reservoir with ease. I suppose it just needed primed. Although it is technically a demonstrator, the body is dark, and the ink level is very difficult to discern even with a flashlight. That doesn’t really bother me, but I thought I would mention it for full disclosure. I really liked the weight of the pen, even while I was fumbling to fill it with ink. And from the moment that gold nib touched the page, I was in love. This is officially my go-to pen from now on. I am taking the Custom 74 to work; hopefully I won’t have to buy a second 823 just for the office.

Vanishing Point
Since I am writing a blog about Pilot fountain pens, I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Vanishing point. I purchased the matte black version several months ago. I wish I had purchased the 823 that much earlier. I like the concept of the vanishing point, and it is definitely a great design, but it feels awkward in my hand with the clip in the way. Everything feels upside down and I just don’t like it. I also decided to try a stub nib and I wasn’t very pleased with that either. I suppose it would be a great pen to travel with, and I thought it would be a great everyday pen at work, but I found that I was reaching for the pilot varsity disposables instead.

 

Heritage 92 Custom 74 Custom 823
Filling system Piston vac CON-70 Piston vac
Capacity 1.28 1.23 ml 2.55 ml
Weight (body) 12 grams 14 grams 19 grams
Price (MSRP) $275 $200 $360

 

As always, I buy all my pens and supplies from The Goulet Pen Company. They ship fast, and they have an excellent selection. I also highly recommend their instructional videos. I have only been using fountain pens for about two years and I learned most of what I know from Brian Goulet’s YouTube videos.

Random Musings About Fountain Pens

I recently purchased three moderately priced fountain pens from the Goulet website. Each of them was under $30. Here are my reviews:

I filled the Lamy All Black Safari with Colorverse Anti-matter ink. From the Goulet website, “The LAMY Safari is a workhorse pen, known throughout the fountain pen community for its ruggedness, reliability, and no-nonsense functionality. The triangular grip makes it great for those starting out who have no idea how to hold a fountain pen, but it’s used and loved by fountain pen lovers of all levels of experience.” Overall, I tend to disagree. This pen looks sleek, but that is where the appeal ends for me. The medium nib wrote sloppy and uneven, it felt more like a ballpoint. I was frustrated after penning just a few lines. It is light weight (too light) and feels like a pen the waitress at Denny’s handed me to sign for the bill. The packaging is just a little better than a Bic pen you can buy at Walgreens. In my opinion, it is an inadequate fountain pen experience.

I filled the Nemosine Singularity with Diamine Onyx Black ink. The Nemosine packaging is quite nice for a pen at this price. I have seen lessor packaging with significantly more expensive pens. Per the Goulet website, the “Nemosine Singularity fountain pen features a clear translucent demonstrator resin body and cap with black trim. It has a lightweight plastic body and grip, a threaded screw cap which pushes to post, and a silver iridium-tipped German made #6 steel nib.” I purchased this one with the extra-fine nib. I tend to prefer a medium nib; however, I’ve become a little frustrated with absorption and bleed-through on cheap paper (especially at work where they buy the cheapest paper imaginable). The extra-fine nib will certainly help me overcome this frustration. The pen writes very smooth. It is lightweight and stylish. I generally lean toward demonstrator pens, but this one genuinely provided a nice fountain pen experience.

I filled the Monteverde Monza with Monteverde Moonstone ink. From the Goulet website, “This Monteverde Monza fountain pen features a translucent clear resin body with chrome accents and a #5 steel nib. Best of all, this pen comes with three different nibs – fine, medium, and omniflex – each with their own nib unit, grip, and converter for ease of swapping.” I used the flex nib to start, because I had never used a flex and I was curious. It wrote smooth, but I didn’t get the line variations I had expected. Perhaps I just need more practice. The multiple tips are definitely an appeal if you want to try different things and don’t want to maintain multiple pens. Of course, I already have multiple pens and that is part of the fun. All that said, I wasn’t very impressed with the Monza or the omniflex nib.

All three of these pens are decent entry-level fountain pens. Of the three, I would definitely recommend the Nemosine Singularity. It is sleek and stylish. It is also comparable to the Pilot Heritage 92 but at a fraction of the price. If you are willing to go without a gold nib, then you can’t go wrong.

Random musings prior to the Genre2 launch

  • I’m eagerly awaiting the inaugural issue of Genre2. September 15th can’t get here soon enough. I have a secret about a surprise author that I am just dying to share.
  • Website maintenance is the worst possible use of time. I have not posted anything recently due to numerous site issues. They are (mostly) resolved now, but what a pain in the ass.
  • I might post something about fountain pens in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
  • Veteran’s month is coming. If you know of any worthy charities, let me know.

Random Musings from my trip to Scotland

  • The airport in Dublin had poetry on the walls. Yeats. Yes, Yeats on an airport wall.
  • There is always someone playing bagpipes on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Always.
  • Military time is standard. “Lunch specials 1200-1500.” Finally I’m not the only one.
  • Walking the streets around the Greyfriar Cemetery, it is obvious the area inspired many ideas for JK Rowling.
  • Glencoe is so beautiful it does not seem real. (photo above)
  • Learned the origin of the phrase, “armed to the teeth.” It is actually “armed to the Teith [river],” the point where highlanders were disarmed before entering the town of Doune. Doune is also home to the castle featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • The view from Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano, is breathtaking and worth the hike. (photo below)
  • I sampled about 30 varieties of Scotch whisky. They were all delightful, but my favorite was Craigellachie, a Speyside single malt aged 13 years.
  • I didn’t write nearly as much as I had hoped, but the long flights allowed me to finish reading 2.5 books.

Book Review: The Company of Demons by Michael J. Jordan

A grisly murder opened old wounds for attorney John Coleman, the narrator and main character of Michael Jordan’s debut novel, The Company of Demons. The demons surrounding him were both literal and figurative. John’s subconscious motivation to find the psychopath and vindicate his father was compelling. I cared about John even though I didn’t always like him. I had genuine empathy for his circumstances, but I also wanted to slap him around at times for being such a stupid bastard. The complexity of that emotional connection made him very real to me. Sometimes the narrator was almost too honest, too revealing. All his sins and flaws were fully exposed for the reader, but to no one else. This was a narrator I trusted, but a character that probably shouldn’t be trusted.

The pacing in the early chapters was a little slow, but the story was enticing enough to keep me reading. It really starts to pick up about 100 pages in, and then it doesn’t let off. Jordan’s control of time was skillful and disciplined. The story unfolds linearly, almost in real-time, with very few gaps, and even fewer lengthy flashbacks. The time compression before and during the trial was a little jarring at first, but ultimately necessary.

I initially had some concerns about the limitations of a first-person narrator, but Jordan was adept at putting the narrator in the right place at the right time without being heavy-handed. Jordan also created a strong supporting cast to provide alternate perspectives through dialogue, without relying solely on exposition. The portrayal of the wife and sister-in-law was a little one-dimensional and tiring at times, but given the circumstances of the interactions, perhaps that was deliberate and justified realism.

Jordan’s story is packed with suspense and plot twists. You know it’s a good story when you start reading slower toward the end, knowing there are only a few pages to go, and still wanting the story to continue. It’s always bittersweet to say farewell to characters you have started to really know and understand.

The Company of Demons is really two books in one: A serial killer thriller and a Grisham-esque courtroom drama. If you like either of those, you can’t go wrong with Jordan’s debut. I’ve been shying away from my Kindle; I realized I missed holding an actual book in my hand. The print version of the novel did not disappoint. The simplicity of the cover is what originally caught my attention on Twitter; it is even better in person. The overall design and printing are quite nice as well.

Follow Michael Jordan on Twitter @mjordanauthor and check out his website.

Neil Gaiman Rocks

I served on a submarine for several years. There isn’t much room for books on a submarine—the library was a drawer with maybe 20 tattered trade paperbacks—and, this was the pre-Kindle world. So, when we were at sea we told each other sea stories to pass the time. Some of the stories were personal (hellishly exaggerated childhood stories) and some were retellings of stories we had read. A friend once told me the story of Sandman over the course of many days at sea. Each day he picked up exactly where he had left off the day before. He described the images and captions and wove the story for me. Death was my favorite character before I even saw her depiction in the comic, but he explained every detail of her with stunning accuracy. When I eventually collected the comics for myself, I was thrilled that I was already a fan of the author; I had read (and loved) Neil’s Don’t Panic a few years before.

Neil challenged my imagination during those many days at sea. He inspired me to pick up a pencil and write. I had scribbled stories and poems in grade school, but never with much purpose or conviction. Neil made me realize I wanted to be a writer and tell stories like he did. I wanted to write stories that other people would want to retell.

Now, Neil is everywhere. He has a show on television (American Gods), a show on the radio (Anansi Boys), he has a film or two in production. He has countless books. And comics. His advice on writing and craft is sage. His generosity is endless. His contributions to the arts seem to have no bounds.

To this day, every time I see him or hear him, I am reminded to just keep writing, to just keep creating. Write. Finish things. Keep writing. I keep the message as my wallpaper, my daily inspiration.

I encourage everyone to read his books, give his books as gifts (there are ones for children, and adults, and adults that want to be children), and follow his twitter feed. Listen to him read The Raven or A Christmas Carol. Support PEN American and UNHCR, and any other cause Neil supports. Let him inspire you to do more, to be better this year.

Neil’s tweet for the new year 2018:

We love you too, Neil. Keep doing what you do.

Random musings for 2017

My creed for 2017 was “Wake up. Try not to suck.” I was moderately successful. Some random musings for the year:

  • My life is so much better now that I stopped watching The Walking Dead Dumb.
  • I discovered the novels Denis Johnson and Jennifer Egan. I don’t know what took me so long.
  • I may add “Bat Wrangler” to my resume. See Flying Vermin if you are curious.
  • I attended 5 concerts, the best of which was either Blue October or Sammy Hagar. I change my mind every time I think about them.
  • I watched Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones, and Peaky Blinders, but my favorite binge series was The Punisher.
  • I decided that Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber is probably the best piece of music ever composed.
  • I published a few stories and poems; one was even nominated for Best of the Net.
  • I grew a beard for the first time in my life.
  • Looking forward to 2018, especially with the new venture at Genre2.
  • Official creed for 2018: Drink coffee and be awesome.
  • Unofficial creed for 2018: Just write the fucking story.

Flash Reviews Volume VI: Veterans’ Month

Veterans deserve more than a day. This month is dedicated to Veteran Authors. Buy their books! Post reviews! Support veterans!

Rajani Chronicles I: Stone Soldiers, Brian S. Converse

“The day was gray as the rain fell softly in downtown Detroit. It was a spring rain, meant to wash away the snow, blackened from passing cars, which still clogged the gutters and sidewalks; yet it only succeeded in giving the day a feeling a melancholy for all those who bore witness to the tragic scene laid out before them.”

To be fair, I typically cringe at descriptions of weather in the opening line, but I enjoyed the way the scene was set in the second line and the way it gradually transitioned me into some ominous present action. I enjoy a good tragedy. I also like the word “melancholy.”

 

Secrets Revealed, Willis Bullard

“My last official act while still in the military was working under assumed identity trying to retrieve information from a usually friendly country on a group of terrorists that were planning to conduct an attack against a significant embassy in Germany. I was working with the State Department in conjunction with agents from the CIA conducting an investigation on possible espionage activity within the embassy.”

This sounds like the plot for the next season of Homeland, so it scares me just a little that this is non-fiction. Non-fiction as in, this shit is real. I love the last line of the prologue, “Buckle up… this gets bumpy.”

 

The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

This is one of my all-time favorite opening lines. Salinger was drafted into the Army, landed on Utah Beach, and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. Oh, and he met Hemingway while he was over there. Hemingway said he had “a helluva talent.” I tend to agree.

 

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