Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sue Grafton's A Is For Alibi

I'm very sorry to hear of Sue Grafton's passing. Immensely gifted author that always delighted. Here's my thoughts on “A” Is for Alibi that originally appeared at Macmillan's Criminal Element.

Would you indulge me in some California dreaming? Thanks.

So, “A” Is for Alibi, featuring Sue Grafton's private investigator Kinsey Millhone, debuted in 1982—a year before author Ross Macdonald died. Macdonald had created the fictional town of Santa Teresa where his own PI, Lew Archer, routinely patrolled throughout an eighteen book series. The wealthy area (described by Grafton as “a haven for the abject rich”), which—more than a little—resembles the real Santa Barbara, is where a good chunk of the setting of Alibi takes place. I can picture both detectives sitting down at Rosie’s Tavern, Archer laying his fedora on the table, thoroughly entranced by thirty-two-year-old Kinsey Millhone—she a reflection of his younger self—in a symbolic passing of the torch. Nice to envision, right?

Archer’s influence is certainly in Kinsey’s voice as she describes her latest client Nikki Fife, who served time for murder:
I had thought her eyes were dark but I could see now that they were a metallic gray. Her look was level, flattened-out, as though some interior light were growing dim. She seemed to be a lady without much hope. I had never believed she was guilty myself but I couldn't remember what had made me so sure. She seemed passionless and I couldn’t imagine her caring enough about anything to kill.
Do you hear it? That distinct cadence in the phrasing, an homage to Ross Macdonald without being a rip, building on the work that he molded from Raymond Chandler’s foundation. Kinsey arrived on the scene six years after the last Archer book, The Blue Hammer (1976). And now, twenty-four books later (X was released in 2015), she is the old pro on the scene—and the Alphabet Mysteries is undoubtedly even more popular than Ms. Grafton’s original inspiration.

In this first case that we are privy to (she’d been working as a private gumshoe before Alibi), we are allowed to eavesdrop in on Kinsey as she narrates first person (how else, right?) that Nikki had served her time for murdering her wealthy husband Laurence, a successful divorce lawyer that Kinsey had worked with periodically. Official cause of his death: he had ingested oleander that he had thought was his medicine. She now comes to Kinsey to find the real killer.

Kinsey starts by contacting Lieutenant Con Dolan, who is described as looking “like he would smell of Thunderbird and hang out under bridges throwing up on his own shoes.” He reminds me a bit of Robert B. Parker'sMartin Quirk in terms of behavior. He has respect for Kinsey (like Quirk does for Spenser), but is still going to make her earn every inch of his veneration.

A big clue in the old files is that an accountant named Libby Glass had died ingesting ground oleander four days after Laurence shuffled off the mortal coil. She had worked for a business-management firm representing the interests of Laurence's law firm. So, Kinsey begins pulling the thread, and, in the process, we learn more about her. A lot more.

Reading Macdonald, I never felt close to Archer. Respected him, yes; his points of view—certainly. But, he was more of a mentor than a friend. Kinsey, if not an improvement on the old guard, is a rewarding detour from the archaic tight-lipped detective. When Laurence's former law partner, Charlie Scorsoni, stops by to chat her up, she feels the pull of mutual attraction.
We shook hands as he left. I didn’t know why—maybe just an excuse to touch. Even a contact that casual made the hairs stand up along my arm. My early-warning system was clanging away like crazy and I wasn't sure how to interpret it. It's the same sensation I have sometimes on the twenty-first floor when I open a window—a terrible attraction to the notion of tumbling out. I go a long time between men and maybe it was time again. Not good, I thought, not good.
Newsweek has said, "Grafton has created a woman we feel we know...” True enough. She’s someone you would want to friend on Facebook or share vacation pics with on Instagram. Or, better yet, have her over for tea because that’s where you may learn more about the car accident when she was five-years-old that claimed the lives of her parents and is the continuing pain that’s still lodged deep down. She’d probably tell you how the rebellious streak through school built an autonomy within that has served her well, especially when she became a police officer for the Santa Teresa Police Department, but not kowtowing to authority or management’s treatment of women, prompting her to quit. And, maybe if she really likes you, perhaps you will learn more about those two marriages under her belt.

Still, you may have a problem getting close to Kinsey because outside of Rosie, who runs her favorite local bar, and Henry, her landlord, she pretty much sticks to herself—not counting a few relationships sprinkled throughout the series. She did, though, reconnect to family members not long ago. Weird that I’m talking about Kinsey like she’s real? Well, she has that effect on us fans.

All the ingredients for the enormously successful alphabet soup are right there in “A” Is for Alibi, with Ms. Grafton stirring it to perfection. We talk a lot about red herrings in mysteries—those pesky little traps that authors set to steer us away from the actual culprits. Sometimes, they are dropped so erratically that it’s effortless to guess what the author is up to or they come in such a rat-a-tat fashion that one loses interest in even trying to guess. In “A”, Ms. Grafton drops them with the organic precision of a Bouguereau stroke. Kinsey is drawn to or away from suspects and we go right along with her right up to the plot twist that gobsmacks her as well as us and has her fighting for her life.

“A” Is for Alibi gets an A+ for continuing perfection three decades later. I’m certain Lew Archer is resting easy knowing Santa Teresa remains in good hands.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Writer, Heal Thyself

© Tim Wetherell - Australian National University.
“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” Shakespeare’s oft and overused quote has never seemed more applicable than in 2017, a year that has seen a deluge in tidings of geopolitical tensions, racial divisions, mass shootings, natural disasters, and sexual harassment. The weight of the news flowing at an alarming pace has been an assault on the nerves, leaving the senses raw. But beyond the macroscale, it’s also the day-to-day grind of paying bills, finding work, getting (and keeping) healthcare, providing food, shelter, comfort, that serves up a daily megrim of concerns shared, no doubt, by many.
My personal microcosm, at 47, feels like what is called in ...
For the rest of my article, please click over to LitReactor.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Bill Crider Day on Friday's Forgotten Books

When I started on social media more than ten years ago, Bill Crider was the first established writer who left a comment on my blog. I remember that day well, working a security gig in Louisiana, walking out of a large airplane hangar when I checked my latest post. BILL CRIDER left a comment on my site! Honest to hell, I walked on air the rest of the day. From that moment forward, he has continued to be an inspiration, a big supporter of my work, and the greatest of all someone I call friend. Love you, Bill.

Here's a post I did a couple years ago on Survivors Will Be Shot Again featuring my favorite character of Bill's, Sheriff Dan Rhodes.

(Thanks to Patti Abbott over at Pattinase for hosting a Bill Crider Day.)


Since Too Late to Die (1986), I’ve been routinely traveling to the fictional town of Clearview in Blacklin County, Texas to spend a few reading hours with the amiable Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Though I’m a Yankee, it’s not as far of a metaphysical journey as you would think because I grew up in farm country in a picturesque village in Tompkins County, New York—so I can relate. 
As a youngster, on any given Saturday, Dad would take me with him to some place in town, say, Mr. Whyte’s garage, when the sheriff pulled in for whatever reason. Still can see that gun riding high on his belt and the so-very-serious look on his face. “He’d arrest his own mother,” Dad warned. 
A few years later at The Park-It Market, I was buying some Big Red gum, when the same sheriff dropped off some brochures with the year-end crime report for the county. I helped myself to the free copy, since I planned on being a cop when I grew up. I remember reading something to the effect of DWI: 0, Larceny: 1, Aggravated Assault: 0, Homicide: 0, etc. Those zeroes stood out to me, made me wonder “why bother,” but I guess it showed he was tracking such things.
Then, one year, a sobering Homicide: 1. That chilling murder—in the house right across the street from where I lived—was never solved by our hard-nosed lawman. I can’t help but think that Sheriff Dan Rhodes, who also gets the occasional killing, would have cracked it. In Survivors Will Be Shot Again, he’s dealing with just that…murder:
Rhodes knelt down. The man on the floor was dressed entirely in camouflage clothing. Even his boots were camo-colored. A hood was over his head, which was turned to the side. Two bloodstained holes were in the front of his jacket. A couple of blowflies buzzed around the holes. A trail of ants crawled under the wall and up onto the man's head. Another trail led back under the wall to the outside. Rhodes didn't want to think about what they might be taking out with them. 
The body of Melvin Hunt is found at the ranch of Billy Bacon, and Sheriff Rhodes notes Billy is being a tad bit jumpy—like he was aware the corpse was in his barn before calling the police over a robbery. Yep, after a little Rhodes on-the-spot cross examining, it turns out Billy did know about Hunt and had hastily removed a sign from the property front that reads: “Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again.”
It doesn’t look so good, especially after the medical examiner says that is pretty much what happened. But, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Hunt was dressed in a similar garb of a burglar that had been captured on a previous security camera feed, and yet, he had been the victim of thieving himself when his welding rig was pilfered. Sheriff Rhodes’s investigation leads him into some thorny situations—Hunt’s neighbor who doesn’t particularly care whether the man was killed or not, a marijuana patch guarded by a lazy gator, a survivalist compound, feral hogs, and, when he goes to notify the widow of the unhappy news…vicious dogs:
Moving with an alacrity he hadn't experienced since the long-gone Will o' the Wisp days, Rhodes opened the Tahoe door, jumped inside, and slammed the door. He was just in time. The dog that had been two steps ahead of the other, unable to stop his forward momentum, slammed into the door with enough force to shake the vehicle. Or maybe Rhodes was just imagining that. The Tahoe weighed nearly six thousand pounds, after all.
I’ve been amused by Sheriff Dan Rhodes’s exploits since his debut; like an old friend whose anachronistic manner you have come to appreciate even more in the ensuing years. I chuckled while reading Survivors as Rhodes tosses a loaf of bread at a convenience store robber instead of drawing his gun, as well as his droll reference to Keith Richards when he stumbles onto a wannabe thug who, looking to get high, dimwittedly mistakes an urn for a fancy drug container and inhales the contents. Then, there’s the ongoing entertainment of Rhodes’s extreme “patience,” as he somehow tolerates the relentless one-upmanship from coworkers Hack and Lawton, neither of whom aggravatingly ever seem to get around to the point of any given story. And, to exacerbate it all, hanger-on Seepy Benton, a mathematics professor, thinks himself an indispensable Sherlock.
When not just enjoying broad strokes of comedy (the author’s timing and phrasing are spot-on), I can appreciate Mr. Crider’s unpretentious, wry jabs at narrow-mindedness in all shapes, like Billy’s assertion that the gun isn't his but his wife Nadine’s, who is worried over all the home invasions she reads about. Mr. Crider writes, “Rhodes didn't read much about home invasions, because as far as he knew there hadn't been one in Blacklin County.” Those little asides are what makes reading this twenty-four book series such a treat for the longtime enthusiast. When Billy overuses the word okay, Rhodes ponders, “…if he could shoot Billy if he said okay? one more time.“ 
Sheriff Dan Rhodes: A Texan Luddite whose keen intuition on human behavior and exalted common sense compensates more than nicely for any police procedures he finds arduous and regularly ignores. In a world of Chicken Littles, he’s a reliable, steady intellect that, though a little worn by time and care, looks at the world at an angle. 
Specifically, it’s a human comedy that he wants little part of, but as the linchpin of Clearview, he must move forward…just at his own pace. Another humorous thread woven throughout the books is that of a writing team who’ve apparently been inspired by Sheriff Rhodes and have created, to his dismay, a character named Sage Barton (”two-gun hero") in a successful series of adventure-romance novels being optioned for film. Everyone sees the resemblance to the heroic lawman except Rhodes himself.
Now, here’s one time I disagree with our humble protagonist, because the good sheriff—not to just the fictional residents of Blacklin County—to me and a number of other readers is larger than life…thanks to Bill Crider.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Longmire's Final Season

Over the past week, I've reviewed the first three episodes of Longmire's final season that is currently streaming on Netflix. Just click this link and you can follow along with me.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ineluctable Modality

I've begun what is considered one of the most difficult passages of Ulysses to read, a stream of consciousness, called Proteus. However, once deciphered, gorgeous passages. Here's a bit from the 1967 adaptation starring  Maurice Roëves as Stephen Dedalus.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sleep's Reprieve From a Waking Nightmare

In my daily literary devotions (reminded of my late mother's Bible studies) of Joyce's Ulysses, I came across this Henry James letter to Edith Wharton that says in part, "Life goes on after a fashion, but I find it a nightmare from which there is no waking save by sleep." Of course, one of the most famous sentences in Ulysses (the second episode known as "Nestor") reads, "History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

Was Joyce influenced by Henry James? Not necessarily according to The Joyce Project that enlightens: "The letter was not published until 1920, so Joyce could not have been thinking of it as he wrote Nestor ... But all these uses of the same image suggest that it was widely current in the culture of the time."

And farther down the rabbit hole I travel. Ulysses is an endless adventure.


Friday, November 17, 2017

My Two-Cents is Invaluable, Right?

I've been busy book reviewing again, here's three posts you may have missed in the last week:
Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes, Trading Down by Stephen Norman, and Blood Run by Jamie Freveletti. My opening thoughts on Blood:

If Jamie Freveletti had arrived on the literary scene ahead of Raymond Chandler, the famous quote instead may have read, “When in doubt, come through the door with a grenade launcher.” In her latest novel, Blood Run, her biochemist protagonist, Emma Caldridge, is three hundred miles east of Dakar, Senegal, when the armored vehicle she and three others are riding in is ambushed.

The heavy car shuddered when a second grenade exploded near the roof, and another rain of bullets hit the driver's side window. It failed in a shower of tiny glass slivers and shrapnel. Emma watched in horror as a splash of red washed over the clear divider between the driver and the passenger area.
“The driver's been hit,” Emma said to the two others.
She pressed the button to lower the glass divider, like those found in limousines, to access the front seat. She was glad that it still moved. That meant that the car hadn't yet lost power. She knew that a car taking fire, even an armored car, had seconds to escape the first hit. A vehicle that didn't move while under attack would eventually be breached, no matter how extensive the armoring.
In the days ahead I will be reviewing The Best American Mystery Stories 2017 edited by John Sandford.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Telemachus

I finished the first section of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) commonly referred to as Telemachus. This covers the first twenty-three pages of the edition I'm reading, opening with the iconic,“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” He's atop the Sandycove Martello tower in Dublin where he's residing with Stephen Dedalus (protagonist of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and an English student named Haines. There's tension between the two of them for several reasons (including the presence of Haines) though a main linchpin is Mulligan accusing Stephen of having been heartless to Stephen's mother when she was dyingMary Dedalus had asked her unbelieving son to pray for her and he refused. In return Stephen overheard Mulligan making a "beastly" remark about his mother's passing. By the end of this section, Stephen has decided to leave the tower and not return.

That may all seem quaint, as this plebeian describes it, but there's a lot more happening beginning with the robust language. After Haines assumes Stephen is an atheist: "You behold in me, Stephen said with grim displeasure, a horrible example of free thought" or after his verbal jiu-jitsu with Mulligan: "Parried again. He fears the lancet of my art as I fear that of his. The cold steel pen." And on and on the beauty of these passages build like nothing else in literature. No hyperbole. Martin Amis calls Joyce a "genius ... he makes Beckett look pedestrian, Lawrence look laconic, Nabokov look guileless." Zadie Smith says, "For me, Joyce is the ultimate realist because he is trying to convey how experience really feels. And he found it to be so idiosyncratic he needed to invent a new language for it." And none other than T.S. Eliot: "I hold [Ulysses] to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape." More well known authors make the Joyce case here.


Part of the Ulysses experience is the plethora of new words and phrases the reader gleans. Here's a few I picked out from the Telemachus chapter:

Algy - Algernon Charles Swinburne, the ostentatiously decadent late Victorian poet from Northumberland. 

Dogsbody - a person who is given boring, menial tasks to do.

Epi oinopa ponton - from Homer's odyssey that means, "upon the wine-dark sea."

Heresiarchs - The founder of a heresy or the leader of a heretical sect.

Mummer - an actor who communicates entirely by gesture and facial expression.

Terrene - of or like Earth; earthy

Thalatta - shouting joy of 10,000 Greeks seeking the Black Sea yelling, "The Sea."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Savage Conversation

I first published Frank Bill in the BEAT to a PULP webzine back in 2009, and have had the pleasure to do so a few more times in the years that followed. From the start, I was taken with the intensity of Frank’s characters; individuals living on the fringe of society, who, often through no fault of their own, are reduced to primitive survival. He doesn’t pass judgment on these creations; instead he props them up, warts and all, showcasing the driving powers behind desperation. His latest, The Savage, continues this raw vision.

Over the years, I’ve stayed in contact with Frank—email here, direct message there—but this interview caught me up to date, finding the Indiana writer on the cusp of new ventures as his debut novel Donnybrook is being made into a movie, currently in production by director Tim Sutton. The starry light of Hollywood’s call hasn’t changed him a bit. This back and forth Q&A took a few weeks while working around the intersection of Frank’s competing schedules: a blue-collar job where he slogs the night shift, training for the run of his life, and his writing pursuits. He remains as candid and humble as ever.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Loving The Savage

Frank Bill’s The Savage feels like the desperate now. It’s not just 21st-century geopolitical fears as two world leaders seem hellbent on taking us down a real Fury Road, it’s also families throughout the American landscape being gutted by the opioid crisis, facing anxieties over losing health care, and befalling the horror of psychotic cretins shooting up music concerts and halls of worship.

Into this nightmare, The Savage doesn’t have the luxury of a slow start with the Picasso poetic likes of “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Yeah, goodbye to all that. Frank Bill delves right into it, storming the ravaged, scorched fields with these opening lines...

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ulysses Adventure Begins

My #FridayReads (as the Twitterati likes to hash tag) is going to be the same for the next year. Choosing to study James Joyce's ULYSSES. 2.5 pages (total of 783) a day. Have annotated version backup and a graphic novel for assistance.

Memorable sentences so far:

"Parried again. He fears the lancet of my art as I fear that of his. The cold steel pen."

"He kills his mother but he can't wear grey trousers."

"It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookingglass of a servant."

'You behold in me, Stephen said with grim displeasure, a horrible example of free thought."

"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

And here's the reason why Joyce's legend endures:


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Voices of the Dead

When the family reserve has been let down by the indie publishing, I go back to the daily security grind which takes me here and there, until the coffers are no longer on life support. So, there I was, at 4:30 a.m., shuffling into the Holiday Inn dining nook in Warrenton, Virginia—preparing my bolstering dose of English breakfast tea—when I noticed the woman I had exchanged pleasantries with the previous morning was unhinged. "Be careful out there," she warned. "There's been a murder at the CVS and the police told us to lock the doors. So, if you go out, you’ll have to knock or call to get back in." That deposited an image of me...

*For more, and I certainly hope I've stoked your interest, please click here for the rest of my article.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Alan's Electronic Scrapbook

If I could divert your attention to Alan's Electronic Scrapbook for just a minute. Many of you go back with me quite a distance and have similar interests in reading, music, and pop culture overall. Alan has many of those same likes (recently he joined me on a months long reread of The Dark Tower series) plus is an outdoors buff—like many of us—with a passionate look at gardening. He writes, "I support organic fork to fork growing and producing, as well as being self-sufficient and cooking from scratch."

Wholeheartedly recommend following Alan if you get a chance, well worth your time. Oh, he's also at the other haunts like Twitter as well.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Minimalism vs. Possession Obsession

I have too much stuff. And not just books (which there's a shitload) but trinkets, notebooks, files, etc. Items that I rarely look at but feel the need to possess. Stacked up everywhere, spreading like a contagion. Reminds me that d and I occasionally talk about the time we lived in Virginia in a one-bedroom apartment with absolutely no furniture save two lawn chairs that we dragged inside from the third-floor balcony when company arrived. Bedroom had a mattress, lamp, and zero other furnishings. Now our happiest time will always be when our daughter entered the frame but occasionally we recall the earlier era when we had next to no possessions. Life seemed a lot more, say, manageable.

So I was drawn to Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things directed by Matt D'Avell and featuring minimalists who believe in more happiness through less clutter. Here's the trailer for you. Now, I'm not sure I could ever scale it back as far as the minimalists do because I like a lot of books surrounding me and couldn't imagine Joyce's Ulysses orphaned on the shelf. (Though if I could only have one novel, what would it be?) But after viewing Minimalism on Netflix, I scoured through a few containers inspired by not just the film but my previous lifestyle and tossed away old newspapers, magazines, and papers guilt free. It felt damn good... and hardly made a dent. Still, like my hero Sisyphus, never give up. I'm going to try again today.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Old Man and the Sea (1999)


Top hand-painted animation! From Alexander Petrov's adaptation of Hemingway's classic.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sammy

Sammy came into my life in 2000 and I brought him from Virginia to New York where he eventually lived with my mom and dad. When dad passed away in 2005, Sam was someone for my mom to take care of even though she wasn't a pet person. However, there was no doubt that six years later when they were separated a mutual bond had developed. Mom, in her eighties, had a hard time hearing Sam at the door ready to come in, so he would climb onto the roof to the side of mom's front door and leap down onto the air conditioner causing a loud enough din for her to go open the door and let him in. Also amusing, when it was getting dark and she was ready for him to come inside, she would call in a loud, vociferous shout, "SAM! SAM! HERE, SAM!" Like she was calling a person. It worked. And we all loved that chemistry.

My nephew Kyle took care of him next, though as with my mom, looking back, maybe it was Sammy taking care of him. Not a cat person either, he also fell to Sammy's charms. Once my sister Meta stopped by to see her son, looked through a window, and saw Sammy sleeping while wrapped around Kyle's neck as my nephew typed away on his computer. I treasure that image. For the last several years, my niece Kayla and her husband Kevin took extraordinary care of this kind soul and gave him tons of loving attention with all the comforts that I'm eternally grateful for. She called me today to say Sammy was on his way out. Though, seventeen years is a good, long time for a cat, I can't help feel profound sadness over this wonderful creature who made a difference in our lives.

Goodbye, and love you, old friend.

Friday, September 8, 2017

I'm Reading...

Valuing again, the inverted (at times discordant) panache of Times's Arrow by Martin Amis. In the top five of his best with Money, London Fields, The Information, and The Zone of Interest. And what is your current read?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Noxious Is Harmful

Definition of noxious from Merriam Webster: "physically harmful or destructive to living beings noxious waste noxious fumes." Some of the synonyms of noxious: poisonous, toxic, deadly, harmful, dangerous, pernicious, damaging, and destructive.
Glad there's a reporter there in Crosby, Texas to question such an obvious divergent technique from this chemical company spokesman.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Smiley's Legacy

I've long been a fan of fictional master spy George Smiley ever since seeing Alec Guinness in the legendary Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People. Read all the books at least twice and have compiled a handy refresher course over at Macmillan's Criminal Element. The reason for my look back is that there's a new Smiley out this week by John le Carré called A Legacy of Spies. 

Thelonious Monk - Solo Monk (HD FULL ALBUM)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Clear-Headed Act

“However great a man’s fear of life,” Doctor Magiot said, “suicide remains the courageous act, the clear-headed act of a mathematician. The suicide has judged by the laws of chance—so many odds against one that to live will be more miserable than to die. His sense of mathematics is greater than his sense of survival. But think how a sense of survival must clamour to be heard at the last moment, what excuses it must present of a totally unscientific nature.” Graham Greene's The Comedians (1966)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Beach Essentials

We were at Colonial Beach, Virginia yesterday. These were my beach essentials.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Seven Words For David

I carry this blue notebook around, filling it up with words and definitions that I've never heard before or want to use in a story or article. Once the book is bursting with knowledge, I buy a new one. All definitions come from Merriam Webster except convivial that I found at Dictionary.

Arbitrage - the nearly simultaneous purchase and sale of securities or foreign exchange in different markets in order to profit from price discrepancies. First known use: 1875.

Rive - to wrench open or tear apart or to pieces. First known use: 14th century. Just used this palabra in my latest article at LitReactor.

En prise - of a chess piece; exposed to capture. First known use 1825.

Triumphalism - an attitude or feeling of victory or superiority. First known use 1964.

Convivial - friendly; agreeable. First known use 1660-1670.

Abrogate - to abolish by authoritative action. First known use circa 1520.

Specious - having deceptive attraction or allure; having a false look of truth or genuineness. First known use: 1513.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I May Get Some Flak...



I may get some flak for this one but its an issue that has been needling me for a while:
Book vs. Television: What TV's Sheriff Longmire Is Doing Wrong article is live at LitReactor.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Don't Try This At The Gas Station

Man fueling his car on the other side of the pump climbed back inside his vehicle and began to text. He finished what he was writing and forgot what he was doing there in the first place and pulled away ripping the hose clean off the pump. He jumped out, startled, asking me, "should I tell somebody?" I looked at him with narrowed eyes (yes, those narrowed eyes) and said, "yeah, good idea." Darndest thing.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Transgemination

I had such a kick working with Glenn on Transgemination. The kind of book still giving me chuckles on the third pass. Science fiction, horror, thrills, and lots of humor. It is now available in print and for the kindle. Here's what its all about:
What would YOU do if you stumbled upon a mysterious simmering gooey thing in your backyard? Farm boys Karl and Stew are forced to answer this question when they happen upon an otherworldly blob thing in their cornfield. Before they know it, their normally tranquil farm is transformed into a chaotic, surreal nightmare of sorts, and quickly becomes the epicenter of national attention. Follow Karl and Stew as they struggle to maintain their sanity in this humorous, sometimes outlandish but thought provoking sci-fi novella, replete with bizarre creatures, explosions and even a love story. A must read for fans of retro sci-fi/horror B movies, woven with real science, as only Glenn Gray can do. Buckle up for a fun, yet harrowing ride.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Robert Mitchum at 100

Mitch would have turned 100 today. I've written three articles for Criminal Element celebrating the actor's centennial. In the first, I take a look at his Westerns. A sample:

Innovative Western artfully directed by Raoul Walsh that noir historian Jake Hinkson (The Big Ugly, The Posthumous Man) calls, “… one of the premier examples of Neurosis In The West.” Controversial topics like repressed memory, hallucinations, and a passing hint of incest are broached in this cutting-edge production. 
Both Montgomery Cliff and Kirk Douglas were considered and rejected for the role. Mitchum, known as “the soul of film noir” for classics like Out of the Past (1947), took the dark, tortured outsider and easily adapted it to the Old West while hardly missing his fedora and trench coat.

Damn Good Coffee

I'm enjoying a "damn good" cup of coffee (bypassing usual morning tea) as I prepare tomorrow's Twin Peaks 11-13 episode recap for Criminal Element. Check here for my last write up on the offbeat, subversive revival.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Making Old New

Scene: a few days ago at a hotel in Virginia. Me: ridiculously happy contemplating how to best preserve this forty-year-old backgammon board my sister Sharon gave to me. It's in rather good condition though needs some glue in a few spots where the felt is coming undone but what should I use for the latches that are rusty and worn with age?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The End Has Arrived

After ten months of journeying toward The Dark Tower, I have reached the pinnacle with a small but loyal ka-tet. I originally started my read of King's magnum opus in the 1980's, broke off for a couple of decades, and have now finished it. Here's my last dispatch from on top and what we found behind that final door. Spoilers, my friends, spoilers.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Passing of Sam Shepard

Sorry to hear that Sam Shepard has died. Many top films in a stellar career but one that I immediately think of is Blackthorn from 2011. I reviewed it in my Under Burning Skies: Best of 21st Western Movies article.

Rest in peace, sir.

An Uneasy Evening

A great memory from Eddie Muller: An Uneasy Evening with the Noir Legend.

Richard's Storyville

I enjoy reading whatever Richard Thomas writes including his recent column at LitReactor: Storyville: Adding Diversity to Your Fiction.

Whole Lotta Writers

Open Culture brought this to my attention: 1,500 hours of audio & video featuring 2,200 writers.

Morning Read: Microsoft Is Hustling Us With...

Microsoft Is Hustling Us With "White Spaces" by Susan Crawford.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My Influences... And Yours?

I'm back at LitReactor with a new article. Please share, stop by there/leave a comment, write home to mom, etc. Here's a sample:
Like many writers, I was reared on a never-ending veneration for big guns such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf. Authors who’ve passed some ‘immortal’ litmus test for stuffy academic types to get overly excited about. Harsh? Perhaps, because most of the top tier lit club have deservedly earned their marks. But along the path I’ve learned some of the best prose originates from sources other than these writing titans. Here are two actors—who apparently fancied putting pen to paper over starring roles—and one journalist that I would stack up with the best of the best and have returned to often for inspiration.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Royal Excursions

We stopped at the charming Royal Oak Bookshop where I picked up the eclectic trio of Visiting Mrs. Nabokov (1993) by Martin Amis, The Backgammon Book (1970) by Oswald Jacoby and John R. Crawford, and a math book on Algebra. We also went to a nearby park where we enjoyed about an hour until the sun heated things up a little too much. Still, a fun excursion.
Royal Oak Bookshop in Front Royal, Virginia.

Bookstore's Simone making Ava feel welcomed.

At a nearby park heading off for other worlds.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Interrogation

I'm publishing Glenn Gray's next book Transgemination and he talks about that and a lot more in this interview with S.W. Lauden.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Subversive, Expressionistic, and Harrowing


“Gotta Light” is a subversive, expressionistic, and harrowing episode with prolonged scenes—even by Lynch standards—of no dialogue. “As soon as you put things in words, no one ever sees the film the same way,” he was quoted as saying in The New Yorker. The sobering result: we hear the eerie, discordant “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” by Penderecki as we bear witness to the first atomic bomb test at White Sands, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, and are pulled into the mushroom cloud among the swirling atoms of hellfire and destruction.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

13 Is Who's Lucky Number

I'm not familiar with her work but have heard that Jodi Whittaker is a fine actor. I'm looking forward to her portrayal but more importantly a fresh direction to the series that I thought had become very stale last year. If you haven't already seen it, here's the big reveal that sent shock waves through the universe. Your thoughts? And not long ago, I rated my Time Lords in this order:

Matt Smith
Tom Baker
David Tennant
Patrick Troughton
Jon Pertwee
Peter Davison
Christopher Eccleston
Paul McGann
Peter Capaldi
William Hartnell
Sylvester McCoy
Colin Baker

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Our Visit To Luray Caverns

Drapery formation, about 1/8 inch thick.

Dream Lake.

Water reflection of stalactites.

Speleothems of stalactites, and columns.

The wishing well.

Did You Hear The One About...

I have a dry sense of humor and in conversation can be witty if “I’m on” but note to self: no more joke telling. For god’s sake, just stop! Yesterday a humorous number died a painful death as soon as it left my lips, and the drive-by expression on the recipient’s face, well, it’s a look I’ve never got used to seeing. Now that I’m closing in on the half-century mark, it’s time to throw in the towel and just accept the fact that I should never begin any conversation with the words, “Hey, did you hear the one about …”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cranmers At The Park

Our daughter snapped this photo of little d and me at the park, today, playing backgammon. We were under the pavilion where a nice breeze kept us comfortable ... a pleasant break from the ninety degree temps with humidity. I brought two books to read, The Dark Tower and Orwell's Facing Unpleasant Facts, but much more enjoyed gammon with the mrs and going for a walk with the photographer.

Hope you are all having a top weekend.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Books Acquired, Manners Lost

We were at McKay’s in Gainesville, Virginia, enjoying the atmosphere among the stacks of secondhand books with a swirl of all sorts of people devouring a common passion. Ava and d headed toward the kid’s section where they hit a motherlode of ‘Junie B. Jones’ which has totally enamored our daughter. Me, being in an essay and memoir frame of mind, I bought Roger Ebert’s Life Itself, E.L. Doctorow’s Creationists, Sloane Crosley’s How Did You Get This Number, and Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell. I read so many fictional books as a freelancer that I find myself more and more in the non-fiction section for entertainment.

Small observation: it used to be when someone passed in front of you in an aisle there would be a polite, “Excuse me.” That was the norm … or at least it’s how I seem to remember it. Look, I’m not someone who longs for the good old days. I know people are people and remain largely unchanged, but I don’t believe I’m mistaken that common courtesies in libraries and bookstores were the standard and only occasionally would someone fail to live up to it. Agree? Disagree?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Love you, d

And a happy anniversary to this lovely lady. We are celebrating ten years. Love you, d

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hooch

Met a truck driver today, in passing, who travels with a one-year-old conure parrot. The bird, Hooch, sat in a cage next to the driver, Turner, in the cab. No need to feel sorry for Hooch being in a cage though, the clever bird knows how to open the door any time he pleases, as he much prefers being perched on Turner’s shoulder. When Turner gave Hooch a playful toss in the air, the bird flew up then landed on my shoulder! And Hooch kept saying “aye,” Turner explained that the bird’s way of telling him that he wants food. These two are good friends and meeting them was a unique, inspiring experience. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

72 (This Highway's Mean)

Becoming Cary Grant

Do you enjoy documentaries? I do and can watch just about anything on any topic as long as it is done well. In the case of Becoming Cary Grant (2016), I very much admire the subject and director Mark Kidel has crafted an evocative film that uses Grant's home movies, interviews with relatives, and words from an unpublished autobiography. The Showtime presentation is currently available on Amazon Prime and here's a NY Times review that sums it up quite well.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Low-Key Fun

Is everyone having a super 4th? I hope so because the Cranmer's are kicking it albeit a bit low-key... the way we like it. We went to two different parks for the little one and had a blast at the swimming pool too. I brought along a book—Thomas Paine: A Political Life—and manage to squeeze out a backgammon win against Little d. Very satisfying because she puts up a mighty fight. And now for some fireworks!

*You on Twitter? Today is a perfect day to follow The Quotable Paine that I contribute to almost daily. Radical Paine's Common Sense (1775-1776) is the pamphlet that convinced the rebels to start this whole American experiment.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Where The Breakers Are

I am putting together my next write-up on Stephen King's THE DARK TOWER VII that will appear on Macmillan's Criminal Element blog around noon tomorrow. For the most part a solid section that includes our heroes preparing their next move.
"We go through the door to Thunderclap station," Roland said, "and from the station to where the Breakers are kept. And there ..." He looked at each of his ka-tet in turn, then raised his finger and made a dryly expressive shooting gesture.
"There'll be guards," Eddie said. "Maybe a lot of them. What if we're outnumbered?"
"It won't be the first time," Roland said.
Our passages for the week included Part Two, I: The Devar-Tete – VII: Ka-Shume and I hope you will join us to discuss or just stop by and listen to our palaver. A lot transpired including the return of Randall Flagg, Mordred Deschain hunting Roland and company, and our team wandering through the eerie chamber where the now quieted remains of the wolves of the Calla are suspended. 

And the Tower looms...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Gram Parsons - Return Of The Grievous Angel

Immutable And Ineluctable

Richard Burton. Say the name and Elizabeth Taylor jumps to mind. But there was so much more to the man besides Liz & Dick, scandal, and great acting chops that were highlighted in movies like The Spy Who Came in from The Cold, Where Eagles Dare, and 1984. He was a damn fine writer and he's included in an upcoming article I'm putting together over this holiday weekend. Here's an except from his life-long journal that was published in 2012:
The more I read about man and his maniacal ruthlessness and his murdering envious scatological soul the more I realize that he will never change. Our stupidity is immortal, nothing will change it. The same mistakes, the same prejudices, the same injustice, the same lusts wheel endlessly around the parade-ground of the centuries. Immutable and ineluctable. I wish I could believe in a God of some kind but I simply cannot. My intelligence is too muscular and my imagination stops at the horizon, and I have an idea that the last sound to be heard on this lovely planet will be a man screaming.
How sobering is that, right? And there's many more entries like that in The Richard Burton Diaries. And the dead live again, Richard's words are featured daily on Twitter which I regularly check. Burton ... fascinating guy. Back to work I go on a piece I'm calling My Unlikely Writing Influences.

The Doctor Falls

I haven’t remarked too much on Doctor Who this season because I thought it was a lackluster ride. The actors were ready but the scripts, for the most part (besides a stout debut), were meandering, lifeless. Not so with the climatic “The Doctor Falls” that had plenty of action, heartfelt emotion, and one helluva final surprise that I won’t spoil here. Most poignant scene was a solo Twelve (Peter Capaldi) preparing to do battle with an outnumbered enemy (anyone for an upgrade?) saying that he goes, “Without hope… Without witness… Without reward.” Refreshing in this age when humanity seems to be all about winning as opposed to doing the right thing. Mention is, appropriately, made to the leader of the free world.

It would seem we have said goodbye to Bill (Pearl Mackie) for the time being. I thought she was excellent but like the idea of companions with shorter duration's. That being acknowledged, I don’t want to see Nardole (Matt Lucas) disappear just yet. He was a superb foil for Twelve with just the right amount of snarky wit. Back to that conclusion. Wouldn’t it be awesome if that older gentleman ended up being a companion to Twelve in the Christmas episode and for a few episodes into the next season. Yeah, here’s hoping.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ada

At a used bookstore today, I ran across The Calculating Passion of Ada Byron by Joan Baum. Long been enthralled with Ada (1815-1852) known as the first computer programmer. Here's an excerpt from the book:
She had also dared to dream, to imagine what computers might do with their power to repeat and loop and change course in midstream. And she had exercised her imagination when time and place were against her, when women were excluded from the halls of learning and generally dissuaded from pursuing subjects like mathematics, even in the drawing rooms.
Never heard of Ada? Here's a fun, short documentary, narrated by Hannah Fry, that spotlights this remarkable 19th century mathematician.

In 1977, When Voyager 1 And 2 Blasted Off, I was...

I was seven years old, in '77, and fascinated with the space program especially the Voyager missions. Of particular interest to that early me was the gold-plated audio-visual disc on both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 that contained the sights and sounds of our world intended for intelligent life. From The Atlantic is a fascinating article about one reporter's attempt at Solving the Mystery of Whose Laughter Is On the Golden Record.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The June That Was

I'm hoping you all had a great month of June, I did. Our daughter graduated from kindergarten which, as you can imagine, was the highlight. She loves school and told us today she can't wait until summer vacation is over to go backfingers crossed that attitude stays through 12th grade, right?

Beyond that I released Nik Morton's Continuity Girl through BEAT to a PULP books and published a final short story from the late William E. Wallace. Also, I continued to work on a Thomas Paine project (I help run The Quotable Paine on Twitter) and am nearing completion on Glenn Gray's Transgemination. That novella is "a must read for fans of retro sci-fi/horror B movies, woven with real science, as only Glenn Gray can do.

I expanded my reach as a freelance writer with an article appearing at LitReactor. As I've mentioned before this is a big deal for me because I've respected the top tier quality that appears there, especially the work of Keith Rawson.

Okay, on to July ...

Duolingo's New Approach To A Difficult Language

I may look into this: Duolingo invented a new way to teach one of the most difficult languages to learn.

Haruki Murakami: Hardboiled, Surreal, and Bewitching

My article: Hardboiled, Surreal, and Bewitching: 3 Haruki Murakami Short Stories

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Tower Looms

We begin our reread of The Dark Tower VII at Criminal Element. An excerpt:
The Dark Tower is very close, but our ka-tet is spread far and wide. Roland and Eddie are in 1977 where they have just finished meeting with the author Stephen King. In 1999, Father Callahan and Jake are about to storm The Dixie Pig lounge where Susannah is being held along with Mia, who is about to give birth to an unholy demon: this child has the DNA combo of Roland and Susannah and a “co-father” in the Crimson King. So, we are very close to our destination, the stakes are high, and it’s anybody’s guess who will live to see The Dark Tower. 
The Dark Tower looms on the horizon for both our ka-tet and you, our loyal readers, as we count down the days to the premiere of The Dark Tower film. The plan is to finish the series on the Tuesday before the premiere, so we'll be splitting The Dark Tower into four sections (about 200 pages each) and meeting here at our usual time (Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET) to discuss major themes, motifs, and reactions.

Subliminal Advertising

Book Cover Has Some Extremely Clever Subliminal Advertising.

Eight Writers On Why They Run

Peter Hessler, Joyce Carol Oates, Malcolm Gladwell, and others weigh in about finding inspiration on the trails.

I Before E Except After C: Uh, Maybe Not

Nathan Cunningham: i before e except after...w? 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My New Gig

I'm very pleased to say my first article for LitReactor is now live. Big deal for me because I've admired the high quality output that is their standard. Please take a look when you get a chance.

Monday, June 19, 2017

No Sizzle, Just Fizzle

The acting throughout this show has been one triumph after another, with special mentions going to Kristin Chenoweth, who was a bright spot, along with Emily Browning, who was a standout through the season. It pains me to say this because I’ve always enjoyed Gillian Anderson’s roles, but Media has been a bit of a letdown, especially the breathy impersonations of starlets—there’s no sizzle, just fizzle. 

More of my article here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Closing Time

Those who knew William E. Wallace, knew he was a straight-shooting, no bullshit kind of man. That honesty pervaded his fiction writing where he composed gripping, hardboiled perfection. I had the honor of publishing a short story called "Fundamental Breach" for BEAT to a PULP and was jazzed when he said he had another for me though I knew I wouldn't be able to publish until this year. I'll never forget what he wrote back, "I will send it to you. Let me know if it works. I probably won't be around anymore in 2017, but I would love to have something appear out of nowhere after I am gone -- "ghost" written, so to speak. . ."
That matter-of-fact bluntness tore me up to read. I wish I could have worked with him more but I feel fortunate for the times I did. He had such a driven spirit, continuing to spin stories and play slide guitar right up to the end. Sir, thank you, for not just your incredible output as a writer but for being a damn fine human being that I called friend. 
And, here's one more from William E. Wallace … "Closing Time."

Nik Morton's Continuity

Nik Morton talking about BEAT to a PULP's next release Continuity Girl can be found here.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

From Westlake with Love

Once again, I'm talking 007:
The James Bond I prefer, the “real” James Bond, is the one that exists outside of the bloated, by-the-numbers films. The highly profitable franchise produced few faithful adaptations, the genuine articles being Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), the loyal-in-gritty-spirit For Your Eyes Only(1981), and Casino Royale (2006). Otherwise, cinema JB is a cartoonish, pale comparison to the Bond that I highlighted in “The Gadgetless and Tired Assassin.”

That’s the 007 who has the feel of a tired public servant who's one martini away from turning his gun on himself or drinking himself into an oblivion. Not a handsome man—he has a visible scar on his face—but undeniably charismatic. He’s particularly ruthless, as in “The Hildebrand Rarity” (1960) where he covers up a murder by dumping a body overboard. There’s no bullshitting that the secret agent has a license to kill, and he takes the opportunity to use it if need be.

For the rest, click here to read From Westlake with Love: Exploring Donald Westlake's Lost Bond Novel, Forever and a Death.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Dean at 100

I take a look at Dean Martin's Westerns on what would have been his 100th birthday.

Song of Susannah Part II

The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah is zipping right along and I certainly appreciate all of you clicking over and upping the web traffic. Keeps me gainfully employed.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Most Interesting Man in the World

I enjoyed this human interest article on The Most Interesting Man in the World. You may remember he was the spokesman for Dos Equis beer for a number of years. Sample:
During the course of his career, he worked with Burt Lancaster and John Wayne, Shelley Winters and Joan Fontaine; caroused with playwrights Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller; crossed egos with Dustin Hoffman; painted houses with Nicholas Colasanto (the guy who played Coach on Cheers); slept with a bevy of starlets, including Tina Louise, who played the hot marooned actress on Gilligan’s Island, and “six vegetarians, nine Buddhists, 18 nurses, six teachers, countless receptionists and one runner-up to Miss Florida.”
And full article here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Across the Rio Grande

I feel AMERICAN GODS is blowing it. The Coming to America segments have been my personal favorites thus far in the first season of GODS, so much so that they often steal the show. But what a disappointment this week’s opening turned out to be.

Maybe it was the slow-mo action scene that lacked any palpable tension as a group of immigrants crossed the Rio Grande. Beforehand, there was a bit of praying, a quick shot of hand holding, and some grave instructions but little else. When one man who can’t swim begins to drown, Jesus is already there to lift him up, and then we see Christ walk across the water.