Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Grateful Writer

It's Chrristmas and the writing is going slowly, with so much else to do. But the thinking goes on full tilt. And the reading -- what follows comes from encountering a slim volume used on Amazon, wherein lay the following treasured remarks. They remind me that this is a great time to take stiock and counbt our blessings, and I for one feel particularly fortunate right now -- and many of you contribute to the reasons why I feel that way as I struggle, mostly with myself, to do the work.

If you can read this, consider yourself loved, fortunate, and skilled.

My all time vavorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, said the following in an interview in 1999 that became "Like Shaking Hands With God, a Conversation about Writing," with Vonnegut and Lee Stringer. I needed to read these words, to remind myself that what I am and what I do is a blessing. He said:

"And it's important to retreat from the hoopla on television, and what television says matters and what we're all supposed to talk about. And of course literature is the only art that requires our audience o be performers, You need to able to read and you have to be able to read awfully well. You have to read so well that you get irony! I'll say one thing meaning another, and you'll get it. Expcting a large number of people to be literate is like expecting everybody to play the French horn. It is extremely difficult . . . when we think about what reading is . . . it's impossible. Literature is idiocyncratic arrangements in horizontal lines of only twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten Arabic numbers, and about eight punctuation marks. And yet there are people like you who can look at the printed page and put shows on in your head--the Battle of Waterloo, for God's sake. The New York Times says that there are forty million people in the United States who can't read well enough to fill out an application for a driver's license. So our audience cannot be large, becaused we need a highly skilled audience, unbelievably skilled.. . . . Thank you for learning to do this virtually impossible thing."

The point to me is that writing is something the writer does not for an audience, exactly, but for himself. Lee Stringer added:

"More and more these days I find that people want to boil things down to something simple, something you can grab in a second. I also see that today people are very result oriented. We don't do anything because it's the right thing to do, or for the sake of art, or for the sake of anything unless we can prove that down the road, e, y, or z is going to happen. I guess in that kind of environment it is difficult for what we call literature to exist because a book is not all that practical in short term. It's probably infinitely practical in the long term. But you're not going to pick Timequake (Vonnegut's last novel) off the shelf and learn how to scamble eggs tomorrow. So, in that context, writing is a struggle to preserve our right to be not so practical."

I am learning every day. I am learning a sad truth, but an important one. I won't change the world by writing Ghost Music. I know this; so do you. All I can do is write it, or not, and to be honest, or not, is not a choice.

But I will be read. And for that I thank you. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amber Waves of Curiosity, revised

For some reason my spell check did not work and I blithefully went ahead and posted anyway Please read the revised version instead, with corrections! My bad!

As Catherine so beautifully put it, my novel AMBER WAVES would make a great holiday gift. What more can a person want or get for under a buck?

In this book i have given you a smorgasbord of history. But, after all, history is a smorgasbord -- all you can eat,m choose what you want. One day I'm reading Carl Sagan;s COSMOS and come across the name Christiaan Huygens for the first time, and fall in love. Curious, I did deeper (to the point of visiting the Huygens summer house in Hofwijk, near Den Haag, in the Netherlands). On another trip to Holland, while visiting a good friend in Nijmegin, i happen on the ruin of Charlemagne's castle -- one of many castles he constructed throughout northwestern Europe so he could better monitor his kingdom. The encounter sparks memories from school, and those memories spark further interest. Another day I'm watching Brad Pitt as Achilles in the action adventure flick, TROY. Curious, I read Robert Graves' brief but both fascinating and entertaining account -- well, you get the point.

So this novel is my restaurant, my menu, my delights, selected from the so very many choices out there. One day you want Swedish meatballs, the next fried chicken. Or, in terms of the book, one day you want to hunt the Bull of Heaven with Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the next you crave a glimpse of Cleopatra in her bath.

This being a work of fiction, I am allowed a certain amount of license in what I present and how I present it. The fundamental facts cannot be changed. The characters ;iving through those facts -- and not always aware of how those facts will be remembered or why -- have greater freedom. What makes writing fiction so much fun is to set the characers free and let them tell me, the writer, what to say.

The truth is, no one really knows what happened back then, whenever then was. It's all our best guess. We learn new things about such people as Gilgamesh or the Frankish King all the time, revise our thinking, and press on./ We now know that Troy did exist, the Dark Ages were far from dark, and so-called golden ages pop up from time to time as a matter of course. As one of my former co-workers might say, "It's all good."

There just isn't time to learn it all.

So, Gentle Reader, if you become curios, even the tiniest bit, from my book or merely this brief discussion of my intent, make like an archaeologist and dig deeper!

Thanks for listening.

Amber Waves of Curiosity

As Catherine so beautifully put it, my novel AMBER WAVES would make a great holiday gift. What more can a person want or get for under a buck?

In this book i have given you a smorgasbord of history. But, after all, history is a smorgasbord -- all you can eat,m choose what you want. One day I'm reading Carl Sagan;s COSMOS and come across the name Christiaan Huygens for the first time, and fall in love. Curious, I did deeper (to the point of visiting the Huygens summer house in Hofwijk, near Den Haag, in the Netherlands). On another trip to Holland, while visiting a good friend in Nijmegin, i happen on the ruin of Charlemagne's castle -- one of many castles he constructed throughout northwestern Europe so he could better monitor his kinbgdom. The encounter sparks memories from school, and those memories spark further interest. Another day I'm wathcing Brad Pitt as Achilles in the action adventure flick, TRPY. Curious, I read Robert Graves' brief but both fascinating and entertaining account -- well, you get the point.

So this novel is my restaurant, my menu, my delights, selected from the so very many choices out there. One day you want Swedish meatballs, the next fried chicken. Or, in terms of the book, one day you want to hunt the Bull of Heaven with Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the next you crave a glimpse of Cleopatra in her bath.

This being a work of fiction, I am allowed a certain amount of license in what I present and how I present it. The fundamental facts cannot be changed. The characters ;iving through those facts -- and not always aware of how those facts will be remembered or why -- have greater freeedom. What makes writing fiction so much fun is to set the characers free and let them tell me, the writer, what to say.

The truth is, no one really knows what happened back then, whenever then was. It's all our best guess. We lkearn new things about such poeople as Gilgamesh or the Frankish King all the time, revise our thinking, and press on./ We now know that Troy did exist, the Dark Ages were far from dark, and so-called golden ages pop up from time to time as a matter of course. As one of my former co-workers might say, "It's all good."

There just isn't time to learn it all.

So, Gentle Reader, if you become curios, even the tiniest bit, from my book or merely this brief discussion of my intent, make like an archaeologist and dig deeper!

Thanks for listening.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Welcome to Amber Waves

In a serious attempt to get people interested in my first published novel, available exclusively on Amazon Kindle, I dedicate the next few blogs (unless somnething earth-shaking gets in the way). Yes, this is flagrant self-promoition, but, heck, it;s a ripping good yarn, if I do say so myself. So, here goes:

Welcome to Amber Waves, Nevada. Population, 218. Average lifespan, 294 years, three months, seventeen days. Of course, it only takes a few to throw off the curve. Felonies committed, only one in the last forty-three years.

All that's about to change.

MABER WAVES is a novel about immortality, mortality and confrontation. It traces the personal journeys of Jason Edwards and Edna McFadden, better known as Amber, from the time of Gilgamesh past the seige of Troy, through two and a half Golden Ages, inside the death camp at Dachau, to the rough and tumble mining town of Virginioa City and nthe little nstagecoach stopover that became Amber Waves. But Edna/Amber has begun to feel the effects of aging, while a ghost from Jason's more recent past has come back to haunt him -- or it might be the other way around -- and an agent from the FBI, suffewring from a serious case of curiosity, has come mto visit.

Through their mmemories we become witnesses to certain key episodes of history, with humor, mystery, sex, amurder, and a touch ofn the absurd running through it -- as well as that deepest of human emotions, regret. If you like to categorize a story based on other authors' works, I suggest you think of it as Thomas Cahill meets Christopher Moore.

For 99 cents on Kindle, how can you go wrong? Neverr has fun been so reasonably priced!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Off Target

Just a quickie today.

Have you seen the ad on TV for Target that shows a young boy playing with a set of soldier like figurines, then attacks them with a giant stuffed Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer? It is very funny and somewhat pointed -- Dad is watching, and obviously feels bad because his son doesn't have a proper monster to attack and destroy his troops. Flash to a monstrous T-Rex like creature in its packaging, available at Target -- Santa has elves, you have Target.

I like the ad. But what I really like is the message opposite the one Target intends. I see a young child using what he has available in order to enact the storyline he created -- in other words, using his imagination.

That;s what toys are for -- to awaken us. So don't be so shy about giving your son a Rudolph plush, okay?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Postal Blues

Back to blogs. This one is about one of my least favorite subjects, the Postal Service. Having been retired from that institution for over a year, it seems I still pay attention to the news when it blurts out. Whether that is my own self interest, watching closely to make sure my pension is safe -- I don't trust what politicians tell me -- or out of some perverse sense of loyalty to a company that went out of its way to . . . well, I shouldn't go there. Not yet.

The news yesterday reveals that the PO is dropping its guarantee of overnight delivery within the same zip code zone. Again, this business is planning to compete with other like businesses by CUTTING service to its customers and decrying, they'll get used to it. After all, the Internet ether has replaced Bill paying and catalog shopping for so many, so what if there are still a million or two people out there who don't have the Internet or don't trust the ether to protect their identities.

Not that the service is all that great. Admittedly, even as a former employee, I am aware that much mail is being lost out there. I myself have lost half a dozen packages while an eBay seller, with considerable loss. A close friend and businesswoman reported to me that a package she ailed half a year ago containing $3500 in merchandise, equipped with confirmation and tracking, was lost, and all she gets from the PO is "Oh, well." The same individual reports the loss or delay of several bills "in the mail." This kind of empirical data shows that the Postal Service has forgotten the Service aspect of its job.

Frankly, the Post Office doesn't care.

Ask a carrier or a clerl or a mail handler on the job, and THEY care. But their hands are tied and their throats are being systemmatically choked. and if they want to keep their jobs in todfay's hostile climate (not that it was ever friendly -- the term Going Postal entered American jargon for a reason). they bhave to swallow hard the changes thrown at them in the name of progress, allow the work to be piled on to fewerr individuals, and, in those immortal words, suck it up.

Again, I wonder if the Post Office wants to fail. After all, how does a business that laready has cut almost half its work force since I began there three decades ago, and over 100,000 jobs in the last few years, continue to lose money? Then it hit me in one word: Congress. The Postal Service is the onbly private business answerable directly to Congress. Congress must approve any and all suggestions, adjustments, and price hikes, often tying the hands of those who actyually might know something about running a mega business. And, frankly, our Congress isn't running anything well these days, except for animosity and debt.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

British TV

The future of NBC's Prime Suspect is itself suspect. The show is facing cancelation after I think six episodes (I stopped watching after five). Once again, it goes to show that American adaptations of British television series rarely works. There are notable exceptions -- Sanford and Son, the Office come to mind -- but the failures are much more glaring and common. Coupling -- one of the funniest shows ever put together in Britain: need I say more?

This gets me to wondering: aren't there any American writers with new ideas anymore? Between so-called reality shows that don't need writers, to remakes of terrible shows from our past into feature length movies, to Brit TV fiascos, it sure looks that way. But I know differently. There are plenty of good ideas out there: my own book, Amber Waves, could supply the basis for a series that could run indefinitely -- if anyone were looking -- and provide interesting historical references along the way without getting too serious. Yes, it would be entertaining, if I do say so myself.

So Hollywood moguls, check out my tome on Kindle, and talk to me. I know this is shameless self-promotion, but look what HBO did with Rome, and Rome is only one of the places I would visit in my series.

Just don't beast it to death or miscast a Southern rebel to play the Scot.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Open Letter to the Postmaster of the United States

i was not planning to write this blog, but the local news was upsetting. For several days now there has been talk that the processing plant for the USPS in Missoula may be closed, and its operations taklen over by the plant in Spokaine. This is all part of the Postalk Service's efforts to streamline -- they want to cut processing plants in half, from 500 to 250. In terms iof cost, this may be effective: they estimate that the closure in Missoula will save a million dollars a year. This could mean a quarter billion dollars a year nationally, if each closed plant represents the same savings.

All well and good.

But jobs will be lost, first and foremost. At least six in Missoula, not counting anyone who will be offered a transfer but cannot or will not accept it. It also means more delay in the mail -- instead of the traditional and much bragged about ability to deliver overnight within yoiur own zip code prefix (first three numbers, like 599 in my case), this will mean two- to three-day delivery for first class mail. In other words, service to postal customers will be worse. Meanwhile, the price of postage goes up another penny next year. So once again we get to pay more so we get to have less.

Is this any way to run a competitive business? I don't think so. If the postal service is in direct competition with the internet, where people can shop, transact, bank, track and even write almost instantly, then how can a busiess stay in business by cutting services? Instead, you invest. You create ways to increrase service. You offer more services, better, cheraper, more efficiently. But the way the opost office is structured, innovation is difficulkt to come by, and when it does come, even harder to install in time to be useful before it becomnes obsolete. I see the Post Office as a dying institution that is not willing to live. I know its employees do not feel that way, but it appears that Congress does.

The Post Office remains the only independent business that I know of that is not independent of the whims of Congress. And it looks to me that Congressmen throughout both houses would like to see the service privatized or eliminated altogether. If that happens, packages will get delivered by others, but woe to any American who does not have access to the net.

I know there still are a few out there somewhere.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Last Blog of November

My dear friends and followers,

I anticipate that this will be my last blog for a short while. As the season progresses my time diminishes, and I fear I have too little for blogging, at least for the foreseeable future. So I want to impart some words of wisdom as my Holiday Gift to each and every one of you, for what they're worth.

First, I got quite a nice response to my most recent blogs regarding spending and celebration. My dear friend Joanne put it most succinctly: "If we spend our time loving the life we have, not obsessing about what we don't have, we don't need Black Fridays or day-after-Christmas sales. We just need one another. After all, all we take with us when we leave for the last time is the love we have inside. Me? I want all I can get so I can share it with Jim when I see him again." Jim is Joanne's loving husband who passed away suddenly eight years ago. The point is clear: we have to love one another and hold on tight.

So that is my Christmas Wish: love one another. I didn't say it first. But in a world consumed by material things -- and that's another subject for discussion down the road -- Joanne is so right: those things remain of this world even when we move on. They're nice. I like my stuff. But they all could go away tomorrow, and if I still have the love of my wife Diane and all of you, I will be fine,

Now, as to the ghosts in my head, they have been stirring things up even as I have neglected them on paper. I love that -- the writing is going on at full tilt inside my head, mapping out the course it wants to take me; the characters are writing their own stories THROUGH me now -- and that is as it should be. The great William Goldman, author of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, once quipped (I'm paraphrasing): "If the writing is going badly it won't matter if you are in the most idyllic, quiet, peaceful setting in the world, and if it;s going well you can write in an elevator."

When it's the latter, life is exhilarating.

The ghosts have added a few things, They've been talking. They say, "It's well and good that you want to write about us, remember us. But what about your own ghosts?"

I was stunned. Of course! All of a sudden the book has unfurled like a family banner and I realize that all these people are connected --= to me. The story has layers that belong together, while I have been trying to figure out ways to keep them apart. It is a revelation. And when I think, in realistic tones, that this may be my last chance at a really good novel, I start to believe that Ghost Music may be the book I was meant to write all my life, whether anyone else reads it or not.

My favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, once said regarding his best known work, Slaughterhouse Five (and again I am paraphrasing): "Sometimes a writer writes about one thing so he can write about something else altogether." He meant, in his case, writing a SyFy novel based on the idea of a single person unstuck in time so that he could relate his own experiences during the firebombing of Dresden, where he was being held as a POW. Now I think the same thing may be happening to me, and I am excited as hell!

The ghosts are talking. Listen . . .

Finally, it occurs to me that one of the themes of this book needs to be stated somewhere, so here goes. How much guilt does a person lay at his or her own feet for things they could not stop?

Thank you for listening, for caring, for being there. And if I don't see you, hear from you, or blog to you again -- or even if I do -- have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday

T'is the season. Damn the triptofan and full speed ahead -- to the local mall. Is anyone else bothered by the fact that the Christmas shopping rush has become such an ingrained part of American culture that Black Friday now is set to start after dinner on Thursday? Let us give thanks and then spend, spend, spend.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a Dutchman and I love a good bargain as much as anyone. Proof: I just got a wonderful animated Santa and Snowman on a teeter totter and paid the best price of all -- absolutely free -- because my wife's boss wanted to get rid of it and we happened to be in the right place at the right time. A happy accident. But being at the right place at the right time when the store doors open is not accidental, it is by design. And not OUR design -- we just have become so conditioned to this shopper reality that we accept it without question and actually encourage Black Friday to start sooner and sooner every year.

What is my objection? After all, it is a way for businesses to get a jump start on the Holiday Season, and shoppers too. It has become an event, like the Super Bowl, to be enjoyed and shared with loved ones, battling over the grid iron -- er, the display case. It's as American as apple pie.

For me, Black Friday is symptomatic of a deeper issue. Getting that flat screen TV has become as important as carving out an acre of farmable land. Grabbing that latest toy craze is like buying that first potted plant for your brand new house. In other words, getting and possessing things has become a substitute for owning a piece of the American Dream -- and we are being trained to believe it is THE SAME THING. It is not. In fact, we had the American Dream in our hands, the Baby Boomer generation. We had it, and we've lost it, and no number of cheap sweaters or Blue Ray players or I-Pods can bring it back.

But Corporate America encourages us to replace our dreams with goods. The saddest thing is most of those goods were made overseas. No, the saddest thing is that we are willing to make fools of ourselves, interrupt a holiday built on remembering all the good things and giving thanks, just to join the rush.

Myself, I'm waiting for Cyber Monday. And old books.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

It has that busy busy time of year, my favorite season. As once upon a time I looked a great deal like Santa Claus myself, and often was mistaken for the Jolly Old Elf by children on my postal route or in the local stores, his feast day, or the Day of Saint Nicholas, is a personal favorite of mine. Also, being of Dutch heritage (and birth), Saint Nicholas being the patron saint of the Netherlands, Saint Nick Day is a big deal to me. Diane agrees. This year we decided to do special Saint Nicholas Day presents for all the littler kids in our extended family. It has long been a tradition to give ornaments to our own children, who, even at 30 and up, still expect to get them every December 6. This year we added stuffed stockings to the mix for the kids -- and at Christmas we will be doing a very select gift exchange.

I think this could be a really good idea for the nation, if it ever could take hold: National Gift Exchange Day. It would serve several purposes, first of which is to get the commercial aspect of Christmas away from the day itself. Then, we give it in the name of Nicholas of Myra, that venerable man of the late Third Century whose generosity and love for children earned him a sainthood. Saint Nicholas in Holland became Sinter Klass, and the Dutch brought him over to the New World with them when they settled Niew Amsterdam. His name modified to Santa Claus. Third, we could take the commercial aspect of Christmas and bring it forward by several weeks. It might not affect overall sales, but it would give us all an opportunity to make Christmas a simpler, family oriented event not predicated on "What'd ya get?"

We'd have an app for that.

As for my beloved ghosts, they are gathering for the feast of Thanksgiving, and are being most kind and patient with me as I am distracted by the fun of the season and the pileup of the snow. Today, however, the snow is melting back a bit and I plan an hour or so on the book, so everyone will be happy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ghosts Are Waiting

It is almost six pm Mountain time. I spent two hours shoveling snow off my driveway and walkways and porches this afternoon, after spending the morning first at work (4 am to 7 am) and then in Kalispell during a snow storm. My first experience driving in real winter conditions besides back and forth from my house to my or Di's work. The snow scares me -- I am not used to it. And the road to ouyr house goes pretty far up the hill, so I am always worried that I might get stuck climbing it. But the last two days have boosted my confidence greatly -- I can navigate snow covered, icy roads, and I can shovel snow for as long as it takes to get the job done. And I can drive down the hill at four in the morning in snowfall. Wow. I went into this week's work schedule frightened and anxious, and tonight I feel like maybe I can do it after all. Like I said, Wow.

But the ghosts have to wait. My energies have been elsewhere most of the week and will continue to be elsewhere much of the next holiday season. I have to mnake allowances. The first one is less writing for Helium, poems and reviews and such. Any spare time I find will go to my ghosts, and knowing that, they seem to have plenty of patience. Well, they're not going anywhere.

So happy Thanksgiving a few days early, and when you give thanks, remember your own ghosts with a smile.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Striking While The Iron Is Hot

I fully expected not to be writing at all this week. But my grandson got to stay over with his other grandparents yesterday and today, so I got a reprieve. And though the temperature outside dipped to 12 degrees (minus 11 Celsius) and never climbed above freezing all day, the snow has not fallen and the snow shovel is idle for the moment. I am on a learning curve here: winter has come early and I have to toughen up fast. Sometimes I don't think I can, but I have to, I have no choice. I drive into work down the hill tomorrow at four in the morning, and it's supposed to snow lightly. More learning.

We did have twelve inches of snow on Sunday last. Quick study. And they say it was unusual to get that much this early. But unusual seems to be my middle name.

As to the book -- the fictional composite character I mentioned last time took hold of me and I literally exploded with material. It has been a fruitful session that will keep me satisfied throughout the week until I can work some more. He was quite ready to share his story with me, and I hope I recorded it faithfully. As with bathrooms at my age, you should never pass up the opportunity when it presents itself.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Snow Flakes in the Ointment

Time to catch up. Please bear with; there are three bolgs below.

SATURDAY: Counting My Blessings
Today, someone new screamed at me. I don;t know his name, so I am going to give him one. I don't know his history, so I will provide it for him. I do known how his story ends. Funny -- I have always known that.

In my life, I have comfortable sheets and a flushing toilet, propane heat and freedom of speech. I tend to forget that, or take it for granted, which is the same thing. They would say, "That's the whole point. If you forget what you have, someone else will come along and take it away from you, and by the time you notice, it will be too late.

SUNDAY: Writing While Not
Off camera writing, so to speak, is more fun than editing. I feel like a stenographer trying to get everything said to me down before I lose it. I don't want to break the train of thought being hurtled at me by several anxious voices. So many voices that I have had to invent a character or two just to hold them, although most of the people in the upcoming book remain real people with real lives and real deaths.

But now, too, a fly has entered the picture: Xander, my grandson. He knows nothing of ghosts, yyet, and when he learns of them some day down the line, I hope it will be through books like the one I am writing and not in any way from personal experience. I already know that the prospects for his parents to have a better life than I did -- a father's goal for his children -- has been severely compromised. How must they worry for him? All I can offer now is vicarious ghosts. life will be hard enough.

We watch Xander next week while his parents are off for a few days to celebrate their fifth anniversary, and I know the writing will have to cease for three or four days, just when I am getting hot on the project. But this can be, and I will turn it into, an advantage. If the heat is still there after he goes home, then the stuff in my head is probably pretty good. But for now I will have to do my writing off camera. Such a sacrifice!

MONDAY: Snow Flakes in the Ointment
We've had our first real snow. I had the pleasure -- for me, first time -- of shoveling snow off the porch yesterday. Three inches accumulated, and it was pretty easy. But overnight a foot of snow accumulated and it took me twenty minutes to clear a path to, then liberate the snow from, my car. Driving down the hill was not too bad, but coming back up I lost traction and got stuck. AND I HAVE SNOW TIRES! So I just rolled back -- slowly -- until I could get traction and went the long way around to our house where the road is not as steep. But it's a challenge, and if winter is going to be like this maybe my enthusiasm for it will disappear with the sunlight. We will have to see.

Meanwhile, I get anxious about the white stuff -- another distraction. And Saint Nicholas Day is coming quickly. St. Nick is a big tradition in my house, and I have to prepare to play Sinter Klaus on his Feast Day. Another distraction! Yet, that part is fun. So the writing may slow down over the next little bit, and I have to let it. I just hope the ghosts enjoy hibernating over the winter.

Thanks for listening!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Today's Entry

Went shopping!!!

Did not write today. But a ghost I was not expecting began to sing to me and I had to stop and listen. Sometimes you write best without moving the pen.

My blogs are becomming a sort of journal of my progress or lack of it. And even when I don't write at all, I still feel like I am making a bit of headway. Truth be told, Saint Nicholas Day is coming up fast and we have to prepare. It's a big thing in our household, and even after being out of the home for literally years, our kids would be disappointed if we did nothing to makr the Feast Day of Jolly Old Saint Nick. After all, I have a job app at the North Pole for whenever he retires.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Busy Remembering

This one will be brief. I am just about to start a few hours working on my ghosts. And I was thinking about . . .

Our children are not taught to remember. They are taught to forget. Learn enough to take a test, pass it, move up, forget about it. They are told, You always can look it up. But how can anyone look up an answer if they've forgotten the question? No search engine is that good. And will anyone drive down the information highway if the fuel that drives them -- curiosity -- is in low supply and their tanks are empty?

Why is remembering so important? Does it get you a Job, the house, the girl (or boy)? Well, I knew what question to ask and so I looked the reason up. It is contained in George Santayana's famous quote: "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

Humanity has gone through hell after hell of our own creating. And yet each generation seems more than willing to make the same mistakes, to enter the same bloody ventures, to go for glory not in the library but on the battlefield. Santayana also said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

So, lets simplify, shall we? A slogan of sorts, short, not sweet:


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Task

I just spent the last few hours pouring out ghost music onto the page. I am both exhilarated and exhausted. I did not want to write today -- I DID NOT WANT TO WRITE! I goit comfortablke on my couch and tuned in an NCIS I had not seen before, and was glued. The next one -- it's a marathon out there -- looked equally unfamiliar. But the book was waiting for me. I knew I would feel terrible guilt if I did not at least type in a sentence or two. Which led to three, then a paragraph, then a page, then some fact checking and some more writing and look out, about 4,000 words went in.

sometimes you just gotta tell yourself the ghosts are waiting. they're much more patient, by the way, than I would be.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Oh joy -- the system just dumped my blog. I had promised to write a blog a day and am trying. Today got away from me. It started out with promise. I took Di to work (I'm officially a go-getter: I take my wife to work and I go get her) at 8"30 and then went into Kalispell for some Chistmas shopping and our weekly Costco sojourn. It snowed. It snowed all morning -- big, luscious, heavy wet flakes that attacked the car and my coat but melted on contact. Still, it was our first real snow of the season and kinda fun.

I picked up the mail on the way back home to find a letter from Social Security. I had just applied, so I expected this to be a verification sheet. No! It turns out SS cannot verify that I am a citrizen of the United States! So I got back into my car, drove back to Kalispell to our local SS office, it snowed a litle more of the non-accumulating variety, and I presented my Certificate of Citizenship to the gentleman there. The computer did not recognize the number! The cert was too old!! Luckily, I brought my passport with me; he plugged in that number and the system recognized me. So now I wait to be sure there are no more glitches -- ah, the joy of governmental efficiency! I will say that everyone I talked to or saw at SS was most helpful.

Back home at 3:30, too late to get deeply involved with my ghosts. So here I am, ambling on amicably with all of you! So take care, all. I will attempt to blog again tomorrow, as well as listen to my ghost music.

Until then, tot ziens!

Monday, November 7, 2011

More on the Dutch Girl

Hello, ola, 'allo, bonjour, and all that.

I wanted to mention that Mata Hari is not going to appear in this book I am working on now. It's already crowded, and deals with the next generation of victims. It's just that she is a recent, for me, example of innocent life lost to cover-up and national paranoia. She was held prisoner for months in filthy conditions kust to break her down and yet professed her innosence to the very end. They had only circumstantial proof, most of it based on falsified transmissions in a code both sides in the war knew had been broken, and other debatable sources and materials, and yet still they imprisoned her, interrogated her, tried her, convicted her, and executed her. It is sad, of course, but more than that: it is symbolic of what people with a great deal of power and a significant dose of righteousness can do to anyone they choose, and pretty much get away with it.

Part of the irony is that Mata Hari, born Margaretha Zelle, could not tell you where the troops were entrenched, even during the stagnant battle of Verdun, because she just didn't think about that stuff. And yet she was a spy?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One of the Ghosts

It occurs to me that when I talk about the voices in my head, it may make me sound a little unbalanced. Crazy, no? Well, sanity is highly overrated.

Please understand that I have encountered many stories in my 61 years of curiosity induced reading, and remember them. (Details -- I have a fine research library for them). I am busy remembering people I believe should not be forgotten ----- those are the voices in my head. I worry that when I am gone (and forgotten) that they will be, too, at last. The urgency of getting some of their stories down on paper grows when I think on that.

Like Mata Hari. I just read a bio on her. She was a woman of loose morals (for her day) convicted of spying on flimsy evidence as a scapegoat for French military failure. Then she was shot.

She was also a Dutch national. A cousin of sorts.

I read her story, the last half of which was about her arrest, incarceration and interrogation, and trial, and I think about how we hold people indefinitely on the suspicion that they are terrorists. I understand the paranoia behind that; I also understand that the government claims to have proof that each one is a dangerous person. But their rights are gone. And if only one of them is innocent, a Mata Hari incarcerated for who they are rather than what they did or did not do, then American justice is a joke for all of us.

History shows us many things. The worst lesson is this: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I hope I am not repeating myself, but, hey, this is therapy for me as well as a chance to share with you. Writing is much harder work than I ever imagined. Maybe it;s because I am more serious about my craft now, or just that at last I have time to actually work on it. I do know that someone once said (sorry, can't remember who at the top of my bead) that a writer will do just about anything to put off writing -- I understand that now. It;s one thing to jot off a review of a film or book. It's also easy to start an idea and run it through a few paces. But the work comes in trying to make the material sing the right notes, true notes, and see it all the way to its conclusion, which lies down the road a fair stretch,

I have a responsibility to do the best I can by the voices in my head, even if they are all my own voice. Thursday I wrote/rewrote seven pages in three hours and felt drained afterward. But very happy with the results. So now I have set the bar. so, patience, all of you, it will take time. Patience, Me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I cannot always be profound. I am often profane, and being over 50 -- significantly over 50 -- I have it on good authority that it's okay to be that way. But profound? That comes in spurts, and even when I think I am being so, I may not be at all.

What I wish I could do, what I dream about doing, is writing a bestseller, I just don't know how. I understand that there is no real formula except being at the right place at the right time with the right editor in the right mood. I also know that if you don't submit, there is no chance at all. And yet, the submissions game is a hard one to play, and harder to come back to again and again. I have never been very good at rejection. I tend to want to pack up my marbles and move onto the next project, instead of persevering. Does this make me a coward? I don't know. But I still dream, of a million bucks in royalties and how to spend it.

Then I get sidetracked. Something grabs me and seems SO important, for a while. I run out of steam, or I begin to doubt that I am the one who should be telling this story, and it all collapses. The project gets put away, waiting for me to rediscover it. Ghost Music is like that -- I wrote it in 1997, then set the Ms aside. At least four other books, in various stages of development, are also tugging at me. If I can only stick to It, I might be able to write them all. Publishing, well, I will find a way.

At least I have job security well into my retirement! So wish me luck. More, wish me warm fingers and a strong will.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Daisy Bell Is Ringing For Me and My Gal

Another blog, another day. Or is it another day, another blog? Either way, I am going to give you all a ghost of a chance to forget about ghosts today and remember an old chestnut instead. My European friends may not get the reference, but here goes.

When I hit college I joined a very impromptu barbershop quartet. First, we were not strict about there being only four of us. Second, we sang whenever and wherever we wanted, often by the Cowell Fountain at the tops of our lungs, just for shits and giggles. One of our favorite songs was "Daisy," also known as "Bicycle Built For Two." Everyone remembers the lyrics:

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do/I'm half crazy all for the love of you/It won't be a stylish marriage/I can;t afford a carriage/but you'd look sweet upon the seat/of a bicycle built for two.

But we feminist liberals at UC Santa Cruz loved the second verse more:

Billy, Billy, here is my answer true/I'm NOT crazy all for the love of you/And if you can't afford a carriage/There won't be any marriage/"Cause I'll be daamned if I'll be crammed/On a bicycle built for two.

Years later Diane and I got into a debate as to whether the second verse was real or not -- it was a friendly disagreement we hit upon from time to time over the years of our marriage (which was stylish, by the way, and no bikes in sight). It turns out that she was -- ug, hate to admit it -- RIGHT. The second verse is one version of several so-called :"answer verses" added on for fun. The other key variety substitues damned.crammed with switched/hitched. Further, it turns out the original verse is merely a chorus throughout a muich more elaborate song, the lyrics for which can be found online at Wikepedia -- type in Daisy Bell. The article is interesting and fun for the curious -- which I always encourage you to be!

And remember: you can't stay serious all the time. Bad for the face.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More on Ghosts

I ask myself: why do I spend so much time among the dead? The quick and quirky answer is that they don't talk back much and don't eat into my food budget, but that's glib. Truth is, they talk back a lot. Sometimes, they scream. I am busy remembering them. And learning what I can from them.

How do the dead help the living? Two things they have shown me clearly: Beware that love is not enough. And cruel people often succeed in attaining power and LOVE to do anything and everything they deem necessary to keep it.

How we are taught to be goes out the window.

Monday, October 31, 2011

More Ghosts, Just in Time For Halloween

I was talking about my ghost music, and the fact that I feel compelled now to write about the ghosts of futures passed. there is a long roll call. Not all of them are particularly nice or good, although some are, but all were victims in one way or other, most were silenced, many erased and nearly forgotten, and all stuck here in my head. They do not rage or fuss. They only remind me gently to remember them, especially whenever I hear a certain piece of music like the Sixth, or come across a name in the line notes.

The truth is, these ghosts will not let me go. They’ve had a hold on me for more than half a century, since I encountered the first of them staring up at me from the pages of a history book. I was curious even then – and they saw it, smelled it. They teased me, cajoled me, infiltrated my consciousness and my memory – acting as if my memory were their own, collected – and became part of me. Their ranks swelled; each encounter I had brought a lifetime of histories along with it, like a promiscuous lover. I am a walking dictionary of other people’s lives, because of them.

It is only natural, right, and necessary that I allow them out.

on a much lighter note -- and nice way to finish -- when i came home today the deer did not run away. They were grazing on my lawn and I slowly walked to my front door, talking softly to them, and for the first time they did not bolt and run, in fact staying in the yard wuite a while longer after I went inside. I always knew someday I would have the best grass in the area . . .

Happt Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tomorrow's Blog Today

It looks as though Diane and I will be taking tomorrow off, at least the first bit, so I thought I would get tomorrow's blog in today. I have spent this afternoon working on my new project, but it is a hard go. I had forgotten that, as easy as it is to write, it is exponentially diffiult to edit, to re-write. Between fact checkinbg and keeping the story straight -- and interesting -- takes all my energy. I am exhausted at the end of it, but in a good way.

So the Blog is a break. So is listening to Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony, one of his most interesting works. In my book on him I all but dismissed this opus, much to my later embarassment, because now I realize it is a masterpiece, and I know why its emotions are so precise. This one piece IS my ghost music, but you will have to read the book to find out why,

As River Song would say, "Spoilers."


Okay, it's time to get political. Maybe just for a moment. In the weeks while I was virtually hibernating, several surveys were coinducted and information releasewd, some of which is downright shameful for an American to have to acknowledge about America. While the protests agaiust Wall Street (and by extension, Corporate America) continue to grow, and grow more hostile, recalling to many the 1960's when our vested interest was our own lives . . . it turns out that there is much statistical evidence to support and substantiate what the proesters are saying: America is falling down and the gap between the well off and the rest of the country is growing.

Survey says: one in six Americans live below the poverty line. One in eleven people seeking work cannot find it. And one in four American children goes to bed hungry every night. We know how poor much of the rest of the world is, how a billion human beings planetwide eeks out a living on a dollar a day or less. But this is America! A dollar here may buy you a burger but won't cover the tax on it and certainly won't get you something healthy to eat. Our standard of living is high, which makes our poverty line higher than for other areas of the world. And yet 17% if us are poor. In America!!

Meanwhile, CEO salaries and bonuses have multiplied exponentially even when the corporations they represent are losing profits. We have spent billions of dollars to assure ourselves of the deaths of a handful of individuals abroad -- Bin Laden, Kadafi, Hussein, And yet people are starving within the United States. Our priorities are screwed.

If they sray that way, America runs the real risk of slipping further down the list of Industrial Nations. After all, we barely have any industry left. We seem to consume and consume, those of us who still have income and credit. But as the gap widens, history shows, that disparity will lead to more and more derision, and eventually to violence. This is not the direction I want to see for America, and yet as long as Corporate America is run by greed and Washington elects to bicker and quarrel and stonewall instead of act, it is the direction we will take.

There are long term problems that need to be faced and conquered. But first we have to get rid of short term thinking. Any suggestions as to how?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My New Project

I recently found a book length manuscript I had written in 1997 and started reading it. Oddly enough, I like it. It is unrelentingly sad, but it is honest and true and beautiful in its portrayal of the uglier aspects of Mankind. And if the Holocaust told us to keep busy remembering, then this is my effort to record some names worth the time and energy. I call it "Ghost Music."

I know it is funny how you see several ideas or projects ahead of you, and you flit from one to the other until one grabs you and says: WORK ME. I have begun the transcription/rewrite of this first draft, written in pen in two journals. I do not know if this will be the project that won't let go of me until it is done, but I suspect so: my brain keeps thinking about the lines and how to make them better. I also don't know if the book will ever have any appeal to a wider public, but that does not matter. The material matters -- to me.

And I ask myself -- how can so much sorrow bring me such joy? Because I think I got it right. And because these ghosts remind me of how lucky I am. And, finally, because I have been busy remembering all my life and now it's time to share those memories, even of lives lost long before I was born.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Greetings from the Big Sky

Here I am, trying to ease myself back into the habit of blogging, a habit I have not yet completely made for myself. My blogs are sporadic and that has to change. There is always something to write about -- look at me writing about writing about stuff! There have been surveys and reports and information coming out, and then there is all that treasure trove of old material I have yet to sort through. So much work! It feels really wonderful to have so much to do, a lifetime's worth of words. Funny how having so much to say sometimes translates into saying nothing at all for long periods of time.

Meanwhile, tonight;s temperature in the Big Sky will be well below freezing, but Diane and I will be cozy in our propane heated home. So watch the skies!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Debit Charges

Today Bank of America announced that it will charge, starting in 2012, $5 for any month in which you use your debit card for a purchase. Once again, banks are scrambling to find wqays to re-capture the revenue they lost when Congress declared limits on how much they could charge for overdraft, over the limit credit balances and late fees. They already charge most of us just to use their services, and now they want to add to it. This means that cash customers -- and debit cards ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE SAME AS CASH -- now will be penalized for not using credit.

What I don't understand is how they can get away with charging us to use our own money. They already hold that money and use it for loans, and charge the loan customers a higher interest rate than they pay us. In addition, these fees will impact most the people whose economic status in America has already been badly shaken -- middle America. Do they care? Do we still bank with them, pay the fees, and smile when we bend over?

Bank of America is the first bank to do this, butthe rest will follow suit. What each of us has to decide is how to respond. Maybe we should all pull out our cash, start dealing locally on a cash and carry basis, and slide back a hundred years to keep these greedy uncaring corporations from raping us yet again.

Oh, gee, I wish I had something cheerful to write about today, but the news is just too overwhelming. If you don't feel like a slave yet, maybe you are staring to feel like an indentured servant. Even your hard earned money has bewcome subject to hidden fees -- and some blatantly open.

Once upon a time Americans believed in integrity. Sadly, integrity has gone the way of common sense, compoany loyalty, competitive products made in the USA, and jobs. And when they figure outr a way to charge for using the ether to voiuce our opinions, I guess I'll shut up, too.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Just for Fun

After talking politics and other sad things lately, I thought it might be time for a "lesser" observation. We here in Montana particularly know the following to be true -- the most subversive man America ever produced was Walt Disney. How do we know? Because of one word that still lingers in our memory banks after seven decades that Uncle Walt made a household name: Bambi.

How many great hunters return from a successful trip only to hear a wife or child say, "I won't eat Bambi!"

It's almost enough to put you off. Except for that other word: venison.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Did They Die For This?

Ten years ago America was brought to her knees by nineteen men and an investment of $500,000. Over three thousand citizens of the world perished, and we declared war on a word. :Terrorism" is a tactic, not a philosophy, and ten years later all that has changed is that America has spent herself into near insolvency and her people have, as well. We mourn the dead, grieve with their families. The wound has not healed -- there remains a gaping hole in our consciousness.

But the question begs to be asked -- was our response over the top? We toppled one dictatorship, certainly, and killed Bin Laden (after ten years of hunting). We have engaged in the longest and most constly war in our history against an enemy whose numbers remain small, whose governments pose no viable threat to our or anyone else's national security, and whom we vastly out-gun and out-man. And yet we haven't closed the deal (moxed metaphor, I know, but this is America the land of the Businessman).

If our enemies are nothing but anarchists, let us define the term. Anarchists actively pursue the disruption or dissolution of the existing order with no clear alternative to present; the lack of order IS the goal, by any means available. This sounds a bit like Congress to me, where a handful held the economy hostage in the hopes of further lowering public opinion toward all members of Congress -- in the bargain they are betting the voters (those that show up) will side with no government at all. Anarchy. Is that what the victims of 9-11 died for?

Thank you, Catherine, for cluing me into Jon Carroll's commentary in the San Francisco Chronicle today. In it he suggests strongly that the Republican Party is not the party of opposition, but now only of obstruction. I hope he is only partially correct. But I always state the one obvious point -- follow the money. Find out who stands to make a profit out of anything our :deciders" decide -- or stonewall.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Standing Still

Digging through my stuff I came across a book: "The Next Century," by David Halberstam. I had forgotten it, and flipped through it to remind myself of its contents. In 126 pages, the author showed us the likely outcome of the collapse of the Soviet Union, then the rise of Japan because of that nation's focus on practical education, and finally on us. He was not kind about us, but uncertain. Could we compete in the modern world with our service-oriented economy? Was the rest of the world catching up with us and surpassing us on the global market? Would our standard of living be sustainable into the next century?

Halberstam's book came out in 1991, twenty years ago and ten years before "9-11" pushed us into a collision course with national bankruptcy (fueled by all that unchecked spending on two wars and everything else as if we had the money to spend, plus sponsoring that very attitude among our people). The housing bubble was a symptom pf our economic malaise, not its cause. The cause was a combination of corporate greed and political myopia.

Niel Degrasse Dyson recently asked (paraphrasing) how we would create jobs unless we actually manufactured something. But he's just a scientist; what does he know? Still, I look around at the lack of industry or industriousness across the nation as we sit back and are spoon fed reality TV and fat-laden cheeseburgers with sugar coated french fries. And I see others streaking ahead of us. I am reminded of an exchange in the play, "Inherit the Wind" (by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee -- being an author myself, I can't pass up an opportunity to mention their names).

Matthew Harrison Brady asks his former friend Henry Drummond, "Why have you moved so far away from me?"

Drummond replies, "Perhaps it is you who have moved away by standing still."

America is standing still. Perhaps our politicians should be thinking about THAT.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Amber Waves Discount

I have dropped the price on AMBER WAVES to 99 cents. There are many independent writers selling their wares on Kindle at that price and I want to price myself fairly and competitivelty. I WANT TO BE READ!

To those of you who paid $2.99, I thank you. Your sacrifice has been a great encouragement to me. But let anyone and everyone know that there are many books at Kindle for under a buck. How can you go wrong? You get a great book for less than just about anything in the world these days except at the 99 cent store. And you lend encouragement and hope to aspiring writers who could not publish in the competitive Best Seller only environment that has taken over Publisher's Row.

Plus, there's an app for downloading a Kindle product directly onto your personal computer, and it's free. But Kindles are cool, too.

The Ugly Americans

Watching the political process, or lack thereof, over the past few months, brings me to a dire conclusion: the people charged by the people with running the show are clueless about what is really important. They listen to select minorities pounding away while the -- once tragically called -- Silent Majority is left scrambling to maintain a decent standard of living. One in five AMERICAN children goes to bed hungry every night. One in eleven Americans is out of work, and if you're Hispanic or Black the numkber is worse. Now I am told by my union (ah that other ugly word to those in power even though only one in eight American workers belongs to a union) that the US Postal Service wants to pull out of its agreed upon contributions to its workers' retirement benefits. An echoing in my head are words, always words, but once upon a time a man's word was his bond.

So I am here to remind you, and I hope you pass it on to anyone and everyone who might listen. Not my words. Not even new words expressing new ideas. They come from a speech made in 1944.

when you read them, think about all that we have achieved as a people over the past eighty years, since the Great Depression began in 1929, all that we have gained regarding the rights and protections of our working force, of Middle America. We remain the backbone of the country, and yet Congress coldly and assuredly is working toward destroying Social Security, Medicare, unions, health care, and personal freedom, all in the name of profit. Not my profit. Not your profit. So here come the words. Let them echo in your head, too, and resonate throughout this once great land.

“The Economic Bill of Rights”Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union[1]:

“ It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”[2] People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.

For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Editors Are Fine

I am sitting here, listening to massively large raindrops pelt my roof while the sky over the lake remains blue, confident that words will come. They always do -- I am never without words for long.

I just sold an article to the online magazine "Clever" because the editor saw potential in the article I originally submitted, and suggested to redirect my focus. She liked the result. I like the fact that an editor will take the time to encourage and suggest.

So thank you, Dianne.

Can't be gloom and doom all the time. Once in awhile you just have to smile.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Wisdom with Age?

They say age brings cynicism. I say it brings retrospect, but hope doesn't exactly disappear just because you become disappointed in our lack of progress. After all, after all we have seen, we still buy on credit, eat fatty and sugar-loaded foods, support war, and ignore climate change. But not all of us. And the numbers keep growing among the, dare I say, opposition.

There is a book that says old is fifteen years older than you are right now. That means age, like hope, is a relative thing, and depends on your own heart, your own approach. You choose. You can choose misery or happiness, regardless of what the world outside is up to on any given day. You do not have to bury your head in the sand to remain hopeful. You can see hope being smothered and still believe in it. Stay curious, have fun, and dream.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Liberals In Montana

There are liberals in Montana, although they're quiet. Is it because of that liberal thought pattern that says, "Hey, I could be wrong," among so many who are convinced they can't be? Or am I wrong about that?

Could it be that we are embarassed because the liberal agenda is so all over the place that there really isn't one? Or is it that the Democrats and the President have taken to believe that appeasement is a good thing -- and call it compromise?

Truth be told, I know many concervatives who these days are shaking their heads, too. Quietly.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bring Back Hope

From several directions lately, I have been hearing the same thing being said: hope is gone. In America, at least, hope is gone. Americans don't dream anymore. We can look around at the reality out there and see two glaring things: most of us look to satisfy our needs and more so our wants on a daily basis even if we have to mortgage ourselves -- and our kids -- to the sky; and, two, as a result, for the first time since people have been keeping track, our children are going to have it WORSE off than we did. Wouldn't it be good to downsize our expectations and upgrade our aspirations?

As Niel Degrasse Dyson commented on Bill Maher on August 12, for our economy to recover, for the United States to regain some promise in the world, for us to create JOBS, don't we have to MAKE something? What do we make now? We consume, we expect, we indenture our future. We have lost our standing in the world, and our footing to climb back up.

So. What do we do? What do we MAKE? Dyson mentioned how hopeful he always felt as a youth, growing up in the 60's. There was constant talk of tomorrow -- the city of tomorrow, the space race and where it would lead, even the imaginary exploration that captured us for nyears, Star Trek. It was all there. It was all killed (my own suspicion is that hope died with the everlasting involvement in Vietnam), The odd thing is that the future is still out there, and if America does not lead the way someone else will. So instead of bickering among ourselves over our small group private interests, maybe we should look for some united front on which we can all -- dare I say it -- pin our hopes,

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back in the Groove

It's been a while. The chance to sit at the keyboard for any length of time has been hard to come by, moving into our new digs up here in the Big Sky Country. I also have been neglecting my writing, but for good reasons. Hopefully, I'm back now. More hopefully, someone will notice.

The world continues, and I continue to watch it. The word is out that blogs and tweets are becoming the opportunity for people with opinions to express them, no matter how vile their terminology or outrageous their thoughts. Ah, freedom of speech in the instant electronic age means we get that much more chaff to sift through to get to the grain. I want to be part of the grain, not the chaff.

Still, no one seems to notice. I feel like I am screaming in the dark in the middle of a forest. Hey, that's exactly what I am doing. Yet the thoughts are there, and the facts are there, and sometimes the solutions seem so obvious. But nobody is listening, and why should they? I'm just a retired mailman with a bachelor's degree in history who likes to read and write. Nobody needs my advice.

And yet . . .

Here are a few observations and ideas gathered up since Congress decided to hold the economy hostage for a better photo op.

My idea of a stimulus package: two cups of coffee before breakfast.

Seriously, if we wanted to jump start the economy, instead of bailing out big business and hoping they will get back to hiring people, I would give every taxpayer in America $100,000 cash, tax free, and watch them spend it. If they pay off their debts, that helps the banks. If they rush out and buy houses and cars and whatnot, that helps recreate demand, ergo, jobs. The last stimulus was a bust.

My idea of Utopia -- doctors make house calls and Congressmen ride along, or, better still, all politicians get out of that bubble they're in and spend time in the real world where the rest of us live. Better still, flush the politicians out of the system. Elect housewives, accountants, historians and scientists instead -- we'd have purpose, balance, perspective and more than one eye on the future.

Now, what would you do with one hundred grand? What does your congressman do with his?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Off Line For A While

Dear Readers,

Just a quick note to let you all know I will be off line for a short time. Not that anyone would notice. But for the time being I am occupied with the delight of moving into a much larger accommodation. As wonderful as our kids have been to take us in, we now have a place to call our own and they can get their regular lives back as well. Yet we are only a mile and a half away from them and our grandson. It's what we call a win win win situation. Plus, once the dust has settled and been properly swept up, I can get back to writing again. So few projects, so much time!

So the Amber Waves sequel will have to wait. First my book on the Occupation. Then maybe a more lighthearted effort and a memoir and a horror novel that's been hiding in my closet like a Bogey Man, waiting to attack! But for the moment, silence. A short moment, I expect.

Thanks, and keep watcing for more. There will always be more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Reviews Are In

Dear Readers (and may your numbers grow),

The first reviews of AMBER WAVES are in, with positive feedback all around. One of you commented that he did not see the surprises at the end coming, which means I did my job. Another said it screams "sequel." As I mentioned in my last blog, I might revisit Amber Waves and its inhabitants someday anyway -- and a third gentle reader saw the blog and said, "Might go back there? Pleasde go!"

IUn all instances I feel I did my job, and I feel that the characters have more to say and more growing to do. There are other projects standing in the way, of course, but the delight is that I have plenty of material and ideas to keep busy for a very long time. So watch the skies! Or at least the ether.

Friday, July 1, 2011

a day without sunshine

Yesterday was an odd day in one respect: I never went online, not once, not no way, not no how. I never even looked at my computer. I was just a bit too busy with real life stuff. And yet, I cannot really call it a day without sunshine: Diane and I got to spend the better part of the entire day doing real life stuff together, and we had fun doing it.

And yet, that means I did not write yesterday. Strictly speaking, I write every day even when I don't write, because I can compose in my head ore refine something I have already written. I rely on notes to help me remember but I find really good stuff (good in my opinion, at least) sticks with me or comes back once I find a pen.

And today I summarized my novel's basic premise for a tie-in on Helium. I was told a long time ago that a good writer can summarize his book in 25 words or less; more than that and he may not have a clear idea of what it is he is writing. I am proud to report -- despite how many words I have spent to get HERE -- that I did it in seventeen words! 17! AMBER WAVES summed up like this: "about people, often mistaken as gods, who do not die, coping in a world where people do."

Cool, huh?

They're interesting people, the residents of AMBER WAVES. I might go back sometime.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Amber Waves Is No Field of Dreams

Dear loyal friends and readers,

I am stymied -- AMBER WAVES is not selling. As if I would find isntant success! As if half a million people would "discovert" me and glom onto my work, clamoring for more. I have to admit that Shoeless Joe Jackson did NOT whisper into my ear, saying, "If you write it, they will read." But I swear it is a funbook worth aanyone's time and better tham much of the formulaic fiction out there.

Make room, Christopher Moore. Move over, Niel Gaiman. Thomas Cahill, this might have been what you wrote if you wrote fiction. And remember me in the great writer's garret in the sky, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams -- put in a word with the Big Guy Marduk for me!

The rest of yoiu, give AMBER WAVES a try. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be glad you did that Kindle thing or direct to Personal Comupter App. Trust me on this. AMBER WAVES may be no Field of Dreams, but it is the first square in a magnificent Traveler's Quilt.

The Joe Blogz Blog

I missed another one. But in fairness, I have been very busy. Who said retirement would be boring? I haven't even had time to work on my Dutch novel in a few days, given the level of activity up in the Big Sky. Diane works part time for a Vet up here, but last week had to work all five days due to the other Tech's family emergency. And I have been pushing broom at a local gas station slash convenience store slash casino called Joe Blogz. I love it, though I hate getting up at 4 am Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but it's only three mornings a week. And I like all the people I work with. It's my job to clean up before opening and so far the evening crews are so fastidious that they make my job easy. And once our living situation is settled (unsettled at the moment for good cause), I think the writing will flow in literal buckets. High quality buckets, of course, from Montana and Holland with love.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Three Blog Night

I missed the last two nights for good and busy reasons, but now I want to mke up for it by dividing tonight's entry into three blogs. Bear with -- none will be too long; in fact, just right!

Blog One: AMBER WAVES demonstrates my feminist side. In fact, when Di read it she commented, "You really are a feminist, aren't you? I thought she knew that -- but what one perceives intellectually about another one does not fully believe until seen in practice.

Blog Two: Farewell, Columbo. I will remember Peter Falk always, but not just as Detective Columbo, the trickster cop. He was brilliant in so much and two supporting performances stand out in my mind: Joy Boy, the wisecracking but immensely pragmatic number two to Glen Ford's superstitious mobster in "Pocketful of Miracles"; and as the persistent and silvertongued narrating grandfather who read us all "The Princess Bride." Thank you, Mr. Falk.

Blog Three: Lost In Holland: Even as I settle down in the beautiful lakeside community of Lakeside, Montana, I still find myself wishing I could go back to Holland again, to visit. The Dutch connection remains strong. A key part of AMBER WAVES takes place there, and the stories of my family and my travels are anchored there. An amazing country with an amazing history and a powerful influence on the world, a large piece of my heart belongs there and always will, as my upcoming stories are likely to reflect. So, as they say, wait for it!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mixed Day

This has been a very good day overall. I will not get into the boring details, but suffice it to say that things are going better than I had any right to expect, and little breaks added to the joy.

The downside is a simple one: AMBER WAVES is stalled. I am too busy to figure out ways to un-stall it right now, to sell myself better as it were. I keep hoping for miracles. What else can a writer do, having written? Write more, of course.

Meanwhile the bug bad world keeps rotating and the people on it keep pretending we are far more important than we are. Ah, philosophy . . . there must be a book in that somehow. Meanwhile, my dreams of matching Stieg Larsson's sales output -- a book a second at one point -- is a bit exaggerated. Oh well. I don't know if I could handle such overwhelming, rapid success. I do know I'd like to find out.

So, that's it for today, sort of a silly blog because I am feeling just a little silly today. Maybe it's just a self-defense mechanism because I spent part of the day mired in other people's hell, but that, as they say, is another story.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Keeping up with my promise

I have promised to blog every day, even oif no one catches on that I am here. Even wolves cry in the emptiness.

I have started assembling my book on World War Two and the occupation of Holland. It is not a unique story, and yet I thinbk it has a unique outcome. After all, this is my family I am writing about. The book may be fiction, but it is filled with my fatgher, my mother and my brother and my sister's ghost. And it leads to the factual stories to come.

I live in an exciting time, for many reasons. People who know me know the hell that Diane and I have been through over the past nine months. We are on the other side of it now, and I hope I am a better writer for it. So, even though I am "reassembling" old material, I am really re-writing it with an ear to the tragedy inherent in the material, and I hope to do it justice.

Humor is there, too. Humor is always there. But I am writing about a time without color, a time of sorrow.

Meanwhile, the few of you who so far have grabbed onto my book AMBER WAVES (thank you!!!!!) report that they like it. May it catch fire!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Amber Waves Back On Sale

First, the news: AMBER WAVES is back on sale, with a brand new cover designed by my dear friend and nephew Erik Rutgers, a drawing called "Library." I cannot imagine a more appropriate cover. Thank you, Erik!

After 61 years of living and much of it spent with a pen in hand, I have gathered a great deal of material onto sheets of paper, floppy disks, CDRs and DVDRWs. The few times I ventured out into the competitive world of publishing have met with encouraging rejections (with the notable exception of "Shostakovich" -- it remains much harder to get fiction published than non-fiction). Not enjoying rejections, I rarely submitted. Anxious about failure, I rarely risked.

The internet has changed all that. Rejection has become much more objective, not dependent on a slush pile reader having had a good night's sleep or missing their morning coffee or being in the mood for a comedy when picking up a drama. As long as the content of my work is not pornographic or objectionable (sex, violence, religion and politics are fair game as long as they are handled with taste, and that remains a gray area at best), e-publishers tend to let you in the door. Then it's up to the reader to decide.

Consequently, it has been 32 years between my first two books. Book Three, drawn from existing material and based on family experience, may be out in 32 days! It's not that I'm writing formula after formula (anything but), it's that I am revising manuscripts I did not have the courage to send out into the cold, cold world one publisher at a time hoping for one lucky break.

It's time to make my own luck now, and let you decide if I've entertained you or not.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Keeping My Promise

My novel is off the shelf while Kindle processes the additions - a short bio note on me and Erik's cover design. It takes 24 hours to update, which should be over by this evening. Still, I promised to write a blog every day as I try to learn the ropes of self e-publishing. I need patience more than anything else because I am still unknown to most of you and it is only with great luck and somehow sparking your interest thyat this is going to change.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Download Kindle Titles on Your PC

Great news for all of you who want my book but don't have Kindle! Or just for anyone who wants a Kindle edition of any book . . .

My dear daughter Beth found out that Amazon Kindle offers a free app that you can download onto your PC or cell phone/Blackberry/whatever. Then you can order and download any book you want. To sweeten the deal you get three books free -- three public domain books like Treasure Island.

I did not know you don't have to have a Kindle to download a Kindle edition. So, in an act of shameless self-promotion, if you have a PC you have no reason to avoid what I sincerely believe is a ripping good yarn -- mine!

So, on my seventh day as a novelist I have learned that the availability of my book is far greater than I had imagined. Now I have to wait for you all to discover "Amber Waves." You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Five and counting

Hello again! This is the fifth day since my book came out on Kindle and we've sold six copies so far. Not bad for an unknown writer self-publishing. It's a thrill just to be saying that.

But not to bore you all, lets change the subject. Now that Mr. Wiener is out, I wonder if we can get down to talking about issues? While Wienergate was going on, the Republicans in the House have managed to cut funding to the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program. Like trimming from the needs of hungry women, infants and children will bring the national debt in line or balance the budget. They also are attacking Social Security again while trying to get further tax breaks for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Are these guys real? Do they have any sense of fiscal responsibility beyond protecting their own wealth? At least the Republicans show a united front. The Democrats cannot seem to agree on anything concrete or meaningful. That means the Republicans are likely to push their agenda forward because they have one. Like it or not.

As long as we fail to pay attention, our entitlements will be stripped from us as surely as our rights. Or our amber waves of grain may shrivel up and die.

Oh, for a good, entertaining read!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day Four

Here I am again, pleased as punch about the book. I still don't know how to promote it or myself, but I figure this is a learning curve for me. My day job has me pretty tired today, so I will put off until the weekend serious thought. My wonderful nephew Erik has given me art work for the cover, so now I have to figure out how to format it for Kindle. Being the technophobe I am, it scares me a little. Perhaps intimidates is a better word. But I managed to overcome my fears to submit the book in the first place. What's a cover?

Or, to paraphrase the great American philosopher Snoopy when asked what the title of his novel was: Why worry about four words when I have 100,000 to write?

Amber Waves.

I figure if I am subliminal enough you will be compelled.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 3

I feel as though my life has just begun again at 61. It is a remarkable, happy feeling, especially bafter the last very trying and difficult year. Today the book is available on Kindle in the UK and Germany. I have no idea how many people will give me a try, or how to expand my appeal, but I am working on that, step by step, just as I am working on the next book. And it's fun. The world of physical publishing has gotten so competitive that the few publishers who remain are constantly searching for the Next Bestseller and small authors with small books have fallen by the wayside in many instances. I have to believe that if my voice is worth hearing, you all will find me. And my goal is to enlighten and entertain, mostly entertain. So join me on the ride!

Meet Helen of Troy and Socrates and Cleopatra and Charlemagne and Christiaan Huygens, and the Great God Marduk within the pages of my book. Meet the Travelers as they journey through time and history. Meet the lady who inspired the town of Amber Waves to be born. Meet the ex-Nazi retiree. They're all here, waiting for you!

And let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 2

Day 2 as a published novelist! Friends and family have already started buying and at $2.99 I don't feel they can go wrong! Initial feedback is excited, and I thank you for that. Now I have to find ways to spread the word that I am here.

Much more to follow!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Big News

It has been awhile since I have written, so long that my followers few have disappeared. That's okay, for a while I disappeared. Even now I am not sure how much I am coming back at the moment, but I have an announcement for what it is worth, and I feel a degree of pride not just in what I have done but in the fact that I found the strength to do it.

I published. My novel, Amber Waves, is available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. It is the story of a man who cannot die, living in a world filled with people who can. It is fast paced and funny and entertaining and makes a few good points along the way, and introduces you to several amazing characters, a few of them historical. All in 300 poages, at $2.99!

Do I sound like a proud parent? If you want a delightful summer read, please check it out! And thanks.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Finer Points of Drinking

For S and G's. Published on Helium.com:

The choices great, rewards too --
Red or white, gold or blue.
Never drunk, the more to taste,
But do not a sample waste.
In my freezer I keep gin,
On the wine rack rests my Zin,
Absolut and Grand Marnier,
Medicinally, every day.
Single malts, the rich man’s sport
Unless you like a tawny port
Or fine Chateau-neuf du Pap.
Duvel beer pulls out the stops.
Moving on, my spirits high
I guess I’ll give this wine a try.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Poem

For your consideration, a new poem . . .

The Cycle of Love and Pain

Two nightshades off of a plumb,
A couple of bubbles on the square.
Falling in love is a bit like that.
No room for anything debonair.

Tulipomania, the market crashed.
Circle the flower carts, the roses have toes.
Being in love is a bit like that.
We sprinkled shared tears and watched orchids grow.

Blank verse poems written on Iambic columns
Carved of rock hard pent-a-meter.
Losing your love is a bit like that:
Like hummingbirds visiting an empty feeder.

The stages repeat whether rhyming or no,
We all always want to give love a go.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The King's Speech

Having unfavorably reviewed "Dutch Girls" I thought it fair to give Colin Firth his due . . .

Film Review: The King’s Speech (2010)
Directed by Tom Hooper. Screenplay by David Seidler.

The harshest criticism of “The King’s Speech” is that it is solid. “Entertainment Weekly” calls it satisfying but square. I think this means that it is a film with no surprises. As with many historical dramas, the end of the story is already known to us; it is the journey there that matters.

Executed with delightful precision, this is an actor’s film dominated by a troupe of actors who always hit their marks. That alone, to watch such skilled performers become so completely the characters they play, gives the film a nearly documentary veracity. We literally become flies on the walls of a behind-the-scenes drama about one man’s struggle with stuttering.

The importance of his impediment comes with the importance of the man. Shakespeare knew that truly great tragedy involved potentially great people who found themselves in situations far greater than their own lives. Tragedy was the arena of kings. As we meet Prince Albert, he is not yet king but we already know he will be -- and King of Great Britain when the Second World War broke out. The gravitas underscores Albert’s personal struggle with the demon that plagues him -- his inability to communicate effectively or with the confidence of a Royal.

Albert is the second son of King George V, the king who guided Britain through the First World War and can see the second one coming. George is charismatic and confident, but troubled by the prospect of who will succeed him, eldest son David. Albert is second in line. When George dies, David becomes King Edward VIII, perhaps the least suited individual ever to take the throne. When he abdicates within the year in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Albert becomes the reluctant but necessary king, taking the name George VI.

Most of his reluctance comes from his stammer. Even as Prince Albert he was infinitely better suited to being monarch than his brother, something even their father recognized. But he cannot make a speech. No doctor or therapist has been able to help. Enter Lionel Logue, an Australian born speech specialist with his own ideas of how -- and where -- to practice. The film focuses mainly on the efforts of both men to become a team, one who is destined for greatness regardless of his own fears and the other who gladly would have embraced greatness if it had befallen him but would never attain it.

Through a series of witty and touching encounters we peer inside both men’s very souls. It is a remarkable thing to witness, and both men are so sympathetic that we find ourselves caring deeply about the outcome,. And would have, I think, even if Albert were not the man who would be king. It is a story of two men of totally different backgrounds united by a common purpose, who become friends. At times it is heartbreaking, particularly in the moments Albert reveals deep hurts within himself, but never sentimental.

At this writing Colin Firth has already won the Golden Globe for his performance as Albert and is the frontrunner for the Oscar. Geoffrey Rush was nominated for the Golden Globe for his role and Lionel Logue, in a supporting role, but the award went to Christian Bale for his work in “The Fighter.” An Oscar nomination for Rush would be well earned. Firth dominates the film as a complex, deeply flawed leader-in-the-making whose flaw is glaringly, embarrassingly visible. Rush is beautifully pained yet both exuberant and patient as Lionel, a remarkable, fiercely intelligent man whom time and society had ignored until now.

Helena Bonham Carter is loving and supportive, and regal, as Bertie’s wife Elizabeth (mother of Elizabeth II and later much beloved Queen Mum). Jennifer Ehle is equally supportive in the smaller role as Mrs. Logue. The rest of the cast is a who’s who of leading actors taking marvelous supporting roles: Sir Michael Gambon as George V; Guy Pearce as the whiny, self-absorbed David/Edward VIII; Anthony Edwards as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin; Derek Jacoby as the manipulative Archbishop of Canterbury; and Timothy Spall, with a rare chance to play the good guy, doing a fine turn as Winston Churchill.

Albert became king in 1936. But it is the speech he gave on September 3, 1939, that climaxes the film. The speech announces to all citizens of the United Kingdom that Germany and England are at war for the second time in his lifetime. In it he addresses his subjects, his people, at the gravest moment of their history and must show both his concern for their future and confidence in ultimate victory. With Lionel Logue at his side, he speaks with all due deliberation, and not a single stammer, for nine minutes, and is truly the leader his people need at that grave moment.

One critic noted that the film did not address David’s sympathies with Germany, which indeed would have been interesting but distracting to Albert’s story. It is also noted that the timeline is compressed for dramatic effect, that Logue actually began working with Albert in 1926, much earlier than the film implies. Another critic mentioned that Churchill did not have as obvious a presence in the 1936 court as the film suggests. It is known that Churchill was very fond of George VI and suspicious of Edward VIII, and that Churchill’s admonitions regarding Hitler went virtually ignored until it was too late, but adding his presence to the film gives historical recognition for many of us who are vague on the inner workings of British politics in the time leading up to the war.

Otherwise, the film is as accurate as any drama based on factual events can be. And as compelling to watch.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dutch Girls, the movie

Once upon a time I promised myself to throw myself whole heartedly into blogging -- anything to be able to write every day. Looking back, I have not done very well, averaging about five blogs a month. That is not going to change anytime soon, I fear, as my life rushes toward a major move to the beautiful and exotic country of Montana. But once I am settled, I hope to be more dedicated to this fun task to which I have committed myself. And maybe, just maybe, I will have more of you following me if I can find the right sorts of things to say.

For today, though, I just want to offer for your enjoyment the following review. I offer it for two reasons, one, that it is shorter than most of my reviews, and two, that it proves that -- contrary to my own opinion -- I don't always like everything I read, hear or see. Here goes:

Dutch Girls (1985) Directed by Charles Foster. Screenplay by William Boyd.

Not every project even a great actor enters into can be a masterpiece, or even a memorable role. There will always be those parts he nor she wished they had never done, or wished had been done better. This is true particularly of their earlier works, before they made a name for themselves and could afford the luxury of selectivity. Tony Curtis once remarked how fortunate he felt he was to have been involved in a dozen or so worthwhile films in a career that spanned decades. Mandy Patinkin once commented how fortunate he was to be part of just one in particular -- it made his career worthwhile.

Having just seen “The King’s Speech” in the theater, which will stand as one of Colin Firth’s best roles, I rented “Dutch Girls.” “Dutch Girls,” released in 1985 when Firth was just coming into his own at age 25, appealed to me for two reasons: first, my affinity for anything to do with my native country, no matter how frivolous; and second, my admiration for Firth as an actor. And though Firth is the best thing about this earlier movie, unfortunately the film itself set low goals and reached them all.

“Dutch Girls” is a coming of age story about a boys’ field hockey team in England that goes across the channel to play exhibition games with teams in Holland. But the boys can only think about Dutch Girls, who are reputed to be easy. These boys frankly want to smoke, drink, and get laid, and the matches, much to their irritating coach’s consternation, take a far back seat on the traveling bus. The fact that the girls are nowhere as easy as the boys expect, coupled with the stuffiness of the boys themselves, should make for a fine comedy of errors. The errors occur, but largely are not funny.

Firth’s character, Neil Truelove, is the most interesting -- an insecure and shy young man who always steps back for his best friend. It is Firth’s awakening that we witness. The girl he meets and becomes attracted to is sweet, smart, self-assured and patient. She will help him grow up, but not in the way he originally sought -- by treasuring him for himself, and by honestly helping him figure out that his best friend is no friend at all.

Timothy Spall plays Lyndon, an oafish slob with no regard for anyone’s personal space or property. Neil and Lyndon are housed together with the family of one of the opposing players, and while Neil acts with decorum, Lyndon cannot even be bothered to flush the toilet. Yet at the end it is Lyndon who acts like a true friend, helping complete Neil’s short journey to self-realization.

All this should be either very funny or very endearing, or both, but is neither. It is played more like a ribald juvenile comedy without any zest or sex. The sequences in Amsterdam’s Red Light District may be the only truly real part of the film -- they make sex for rent look as sleazy and uninviting as it truly is. Yet this sequence is also uninvolving, frenetic and even irritating to watch.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the film is that it is irritating. There is potential to really explore these characters, even in so short a time frame, yet the only character who grows even a little is Neil. There is no depth beyond that, and I felt as though I were nothing more than a still shot camera taking snapshots of a brief holiday in the rain.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

I wrote this poem thirty years ago, when I was at the height of my "religious period," if you can call that chapter of my faith journey that. Odd to think that recent events in my life have made me look back at earlier work with a small degree of admiration and not a small degree of agreement. Not to put too fine a point on it, lets just say my faith journey continues -- call it my journey to spiritual awareness if you like. This poem basically says I am grateful to recognize that I am on such a trek, and that it is the trek that matters.

Here goes:

Now, when I talk to you
My heart is filled with thanks.
There are times I feel desperate
And alone and very very scared
And petition you to please come help.
There are times I want success
By yardsticks of wealth and fame
And petition you to move mountains
On Publisher’s Row
On my behalf.
I ask so much of you that sometimes
Just once in a while
I want to offer thanks.
You gave me a will and a mind that ask
And you lend me an ear that listens.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Wall

The Wall is a novel by Jeff Long, published in 2006. This is my review for Helium:

Some writers surprise you. I read “The Wall,” by Jeff Long, because I had read and thoroughly enjoyed three other books by him, “The Decent,” “Year Zero,” and “Reckoning.” Each of those was decidedly different from the others, yet unified by a strong sense of both story and character and a deft hand at holding back the key strokes until just the right moment, though the clues are there. “The Wall” continues the trend that Long has established in his writing.

If you had told me that I would enjoy a full length novel about mountain climbing -- let alone hate when it was over -- I would have scoffed. Mountain climbing is not a subject that calls to me, possibly because I have a healthy fear of heights. So a climb up Yosemite’s El Capitan, even one that turns into a desperate rescue mission, would seem to me worthy of a short story at best. But Long weaves his magic, mostly through the perceptions -- eyes, ears, tastes, smells and mostly touch -- of Hugh Glass, a 50 something mountain climbing veteran looking for one last hurrah with his best buddy, Lewis. Yep, that’s Hughie and Louie -- but these guys are no joke.

They mastered El Cap decades ago, and are legend for it even though others came after, went farther, and did it faster. They were pioneers. Now they want to retrace their steps and forget all the years in between.

Hugh’s wife Annie died in the desert a little while before the story begins. Lewis’ wife Rachael wants to leave him, has outgrown him. For Lewis, the climb is an odd chance to win her back. For Hugh, the demons he keeps at bay are even more personal -- and buried so deep that Lewis cannot manage get Hugh to talk about it. Although Lewis wants to act as friend and listener, and Hugh has thoughts of helping Lewis accept Rachael‘s leaving, the code of “real men“ applies, and both men are more comfortable discussing the logistics of their climb than the tragedies in their lives.. Both men seek to escape their sadness at the wall. More, to transcend it.

But a trio of female climbers gets in trouble and Hugh finds himself in the middle of a rescue attempt spearheaded by young Augustine, a man with demons of his own. One of these is Andie, one of the three women in peril. In an environment where even the smallest mistake can be fatal, these men must climb the sheer El Cap -- the Wall -- and retrace the steps that brought the women into mortal danger. When they reach their goal, the danger is just beginning.

Long weaves a spellbinding tale, mostly because Hugh Glass himself is so stoic and closed-mouthed. Yet Glass is our point of view. We see the world as he sees it, we feel every inch of the Wall as he climbs it, and even the uninitiated can understand the process as he describes it. The intimacy is powerful and makes the climax unforgettable.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dirty Harry Turns 40

In honor of the film's 40th anniversary, and in keeping with the spirit of this blog, I offer for your consideration the following review.

DIRTY HARRY, 1971. Directed by Don Siegel. Screenplay by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, and (uncredited) John Milius and Terence Malick.

“Dirty Harry” is a remarkable film, one of those rare cinematic events that extends and defines a genre. 40 years old this year, the film has not aged because we are still asking the same basic questions it poses. The film has been lauded as one of America’s finest efforts and has spawned a great many similar stories, including three sequels.

Starting with Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt,” in 1968, stories centering on hard boiled cops who disregarded the rules and the orders of their superiors became a fan favorite. These films included “Coogan’s Bluff,” which was released the same year as “Bullitt” and also starred Clint Eastwood with Don Siegel directing, and Academy Award winning best film for 1971, “The French Connection.” The ultimate car chase sequence in “Bullitt” became a standard others tried to equal or top, but in “Dirty Harry” the action, though none stop, does not depend on imitation.

Clint Eastwood portrays Harry Callahan, another maverick cop patrolling the streets of San Francisco in his own way. For Harry, justice does not require kid gloves in the application -- Miranda is a hindrance to be avoided. In many ways, Harry is an extension of the character Deputy Sheriff Walt Coogan, but here even more of a “loose cannon.“ Facing a brutal killer named Scorpio, Harry proceeds with just the right combination of righteousness and revenge to satisfy all the members of the audience who believe in the ideals the justice system stands for, but realize that system’s shortcomings when it comes to protecting its citizens instead of its sociopaths.

The dilemma is broadly stated here. Just how far should and can you go against the rights of a suspected killer in order to save innocent lives? The audience may wonder at the answer. Harry Callahan has no doubts.

Scorpio starts a grim and deadly game of cat and mouse by coldly killing a young woman swimming laps in a pool with a difficult shot from his high powered rifle. He leaves a ransom note demanding $100,000 or the next victim will die. Harry finds the note and is assigned to the case. After a diverting but defining robbery sequence that even plugs Eastwood’s own directorial debut on the marquis of a local movie theater, the chase begins in earnest as Scorpio leaves an increasingly brutal trail behind him, then takes Callahan’s pursuit as an opportunity to flaunt his own invincibility. The end result may be predictable, but the journey is harrowing and well told.

New York City, and then Seattle was supposed to be the setting for the story, but the filmmakers decided on San Francisco instead. The City’s recognizable scenery, plus the success of “Bullitt” three years before, probably drove the change in locale.

Eastwood is perfectly cast. The original concept for Harry Callahan intended to portray him as a grizzled 50ish veteran police officer jaded by his experience. Among those considered for the role were Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra. Wayne actively campaigned for the role, but at 63 was considered a bit too old. Sinatra became the frontrunner, but had broken his wrist while filming “The Manchurian Candidate” eight years earlier and found it painful to wield the trademark .44 Magnum Callahan handles like a toy. And with the success, both critical and financial, of “Bullitt,” making the main character a younger, cooler individual offered the filmmakers the chance to appeal to a wider demographic as well. With his steely eyes and quiet menace, Eastwood made Harry Callahan his signature role.

The character of Scorpio is one of the greatest villains in film history, and Andy Robinson, at the time an unknown actor with an angelic face to contrast with the hellish brutality of this killer, is spellbinding. What motivates him is not the story here. What he does, how he does it, and how to stop him are the driving forces in Callahan’s story. What Scorpio is -- a monster -- is abundantly, convincingly clear. Amazingly, the part was offered first to Audie Murphy, but Murphy was killed in a plane crash before he could answer. Robinson played the part so convincingly that the real life pacifist found himself receiving death threats and had to change his phone number to an unlisted one.

“Dirty Harry” forgets the car chase. Instead, it places the most innocent among us -- our children -- in jeopardy at the hands of someone lacking any moral code. This is a brilliant stroke: no society feels more vulnerable than when its children are at risk, which makes the undertone of the film, the underlying theme all the more real and important. By the dramatic conclusion, we find ourselves agreeing with Harry that he must do whatever he has to in order to stop an uncontrollable monster, procedure be damned. In a society squeaking with moral ambivalence, this film poses interesting questions on what is going too far, with slam-bang action to boot.