Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008: The Virgo Outlook

Depending on who you ask, 2008 is either going to suck or be fabulous for Virgos, of which I am one. Good thing horoscopes are all based on the notion that the heavenly bodies revolve around the Earth, right?

OK, I'm a little nervous.

The stars as they align for suggest I might have a stormy January with my boss. We've been on pretty easy seas of late. He didn't even flinch when I floated the idea of advertising a serious medical conference with a parody of the Operation Game. It got shot down by the internal client.

He's even over the Sinus Envy incident, so I hope there are not, uh, creative differences on the horizon.

Uranus is in the HOUSE!
eAstrolog suggests that what with Uranus in my house of marriage I need to tread lightly on that front, and Pluto could really exacerbate the situation. Does it matter that it's not a planet any more? forecasts a friendlier 2008 for we Virgos and notes, we are not very talkative and stand away from the crowd. That seems to fit me about like my INFJ profile from the nice folks at Myers-Briggs.

ILI's forecast continues: " Virgos live in the real world. They neither day­dream, nor wish on stars." Gotta love that irony! ;-)

Maybe given eAstrolog's prediction of marriage tumult I should go against ILI's suggestion of Virgo's: "You won't see them shouting 'I Love You' from the rooftop.'" Christine might appreciate that gesture. She's been asking for an inspection of the gutters anyway, so I'll have the ladder out soon.

Maybe's prediction is the one I should go with: "The focus for Virgo, this year, is on developing creative endeavors to better serve mankind as a whole. "

I can get behind that, and their suggestion that I'll flourish with beauty and creativity.

Maybe you chart your course not by the influence of the stars but by the application of your own imagination and determination.

I think that's how I'll focus on 2008 since I can't really control which house Jupiter is in or anything.

(Clipart from: Astrology Weekly)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Intruders

One of the good things about holiday down time is getting caught up on some reading. I sat up until I finished Michael Marshall's The Intruders last night. It was not an arduous task because it is an engrossing book, similar in flavor to the author's Straw Men trilogy yet filled with its own twists and thrills.

Like The Straw Men, The Upright Man and Blood of Angels, the tale revolves around a first-person narrator who is struggling to unravel a complex conspiracy linked to a loved one.

In this case it's Jack Whalen, a cop turned writer who's settled into a seemingly blissful existence in a small Pacific Northwestern town. It provides him a nice place to write while his wife, an ad agency trouble shooter, commutes to cities where her services are required.

Meanwhile, triggered by events that are a bit foggy, a young girl named Madison begins a strange odyssey through Portland's mean streets and beyond.

Whalen is approached by an old school friend to investigate a strange double murder in Seattle, but he turns down the opportunity only to be dragged in when Amy, his wife, loses her cell phone and he discovers she's not staying the hotel in Seattle where he though she was registered.

Strange events swirl together and Jack gradually begins to uncover a shadowy group linked to his wife. To say more would spoil the fun, but suffice it to say it's more than just a conventional suspense thriller.

The solution may not be totally new territory, but it's handled with the same deft touch that kept me reading through the entire Straw Men experience, and that provides the same rewarding experience again.

I'll be waiting for the next Michael Marshall book for sure.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

The last of the holiday errands are run.

I just poured some Peet's holiday blend from the French press. We picked it up up in Portland for the season.

I've got the fabulous British "Idol" discovery Paul Potts' "O Holy Night" at the top of my iPod playlist, along with a cool Jill Sobule song Cliff gifted me last year, and I'm kicking back for the holiday, so a happy one to all my friends.

The goofiest holiday movie I could find was "Snowglobe" from ABC family so that's what I'll be enjoying this afternoon while Christine and I make this gelatin salad that has to set before tomorrow and somewhere in there I'll be dozing off. Good times.

Feliz Navidad Joyeux Noel Gezur Krislinjden Vesele Vanoce Shub Naya Baras Mele Kalikimaka ame Hauoli Makahiki Hou! Sung Tan Chuk Ha Maligayamg Pasko. Masaganang Bagong Taon Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Please Know I'm Not Greener than Thou

I mean to talk in this corner of cyberspace about what I'm trying to do on many fronts, but I know I'm a long way from even developing a green cast to my skin in that area of thought and endeavor.

They make environmentally friendly bulbs, so our Christmas bulbs ain't helping my carbon footprint be smaller than Sasquatch's and my product choices are frequently inconsiderate of fair trade or environmental impact.

My requested gifts aren't even that green.

Green is just one of the things I'm contemplating and working toward in as informed and positive way as I can.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Season of the Green

I got a Christmas card from an old friend who told me she's been keeping up with me by the blog. Again, you just can't measure the benefits.

"I read your post on shopping bags," she added. "It made you sound greener than Kermit."

Made me smile.

Not so green
I'm not of course. Christine--who's giving away two boxes of foam peanuts this morning in some recycling cult she's become involved in--noted that we have two cars, partly out of convenience, which means we lose any green bragging rights, right there. (Sentence amended for clarification 12/23 .)

But it was also Christine who observed a bit of a remedy to the sadness about commercialism lamented endlessly as this holiday season seeps slowly away.

Bill's journal again
We were watching Bill Moyers Journal again, y'see, the same guy who prompted me to post observations about

He had on Dr. Benjamin Barber, author of Consumed, who had a lot to say about the dangers of a debtor culture driven to 4 a.m. pre-Christmas sales at Wal-Mart.

Maybe it was the Third World
Among other interesting things about the free market and the Third World, he said capitalists must get back to being capitalists of old - taking risks and meeting human needs to earn their profits.

He cited Life Straw®, as a company that's done just that, earning a fortune selling $2 drinking filters that save Third World people from river blindness.

And consumers must be smart consumers, Dr. Barber added, spending dollars wisely:

"We are the gatekeepers for our kids and our families. We have to be tougher."

Oh no, it's the soap box
Spend a dollar on a practical product--Christine noted as we watched--with, say, a company that sells something made by a Guatemalan family business that practices fair trade.

And think twice about dropping a dime at a megastore that lures you out at 2 a.m., pays low wages, provides no health insurance for employees and drives quaint local shops out of business as it fuels a culture of greed and desires that leads to a goodwill gesture making an old lady fear for her life.

I'm not as perfect as I wannabe nor as green. I don't claim to be.

That's just the kind of green I want to be.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas to the Family

At holiday time it's nice to get the whole family together. Herding cats can be a challenge, however.
I snapped this just before Oliver, the cat on the far right, hopped off the sofa. I thought I had a little time because I woke him up to put him there but he had other plans.
Anyway - Merry Christmas from the whole gang, Daisy, Monty, Ash and, of course, Oliver.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Season of Joy

I've tried to imagine it from her side of the story. The cell conversation must have been something like this:

"I'm telling you, Edith, in broad daylight. I was at this intersection, I'd been over to Macy's to pick up some stocking stuffers, and I was trying to turn left and it was impossible. I kept waiting and waiting for traffic to clear but it was noon and there was a lot of traffic.

"Then I look out my window and this CARJACKER is walking up from behind me. From out of nowhere. He was the best dressed carjacker I've ever seen, too. He had on a suit and a tie and cufflinks. Can you believe it? CUFFLINKS! I don't know what he wanted with my car, but before he could get close, I gave up and made a right turn and got out of there."

Here's what really happened as I heard it.

My boss was driving our seventy-something secretary to a battery warehouse to pick up some batteries for I don't know, an erector set for her grandson or something.

They came upon this intersection where an older driver was trying to turn left. Oncoming traffic was horrendous. It is the week before Christmas, and it was the noon hour.

After a few light changes with no progress, he realized she didn't understand that she needed to inch into the intersection and take advantage of a yellow, you know get out there and make 'em wait on you.

After the number of light changes they waited through crept into double digits, and the traffic behind him started to stretch back across the horizon, my boss realized he probably needed to do something.

Since everything was at a standstill, he got of his car to walk up to the woman's driver's side window and politely tell her the tactics she needed to employ.

Taking one look at this guy who was obviously up for membership in a gang of accountants and needing to complete an initiation ritual, she decided obliviously waiting to turn left wasn't so important after all.

I guess it's really kind of sad that in the season of good will, everyone's fear is heightened. That's more dismaying than the ongoing whines about commercialism, though it's the desire for stuff created by the commercialism that drives the negative acts that fuels the mistrust.

Joy to the world.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Some Other Auld Lang Syne - Dan Fogelberg's Gone

I was sad to read of Dan Fogelberg's death when I logged on to this morning. It's selfish of me, of course, but it seems particularly doleful coming at the holiday season.

His "Some Other Auld Lang Syne" has always been a bit of an anthem for absent friends, old romances and otherwise, even though its narrative focuses on bumping into and catching up with an old lover on Christmas Eve.

I was a little late to the table in listening to Fogelberg. He was singer my girlfriends listened to at first, those sweet, sentimental lyrics tugging at their heartstrings.

I bought a best of album in the '80s as friends and I drifted apart and listened a lot to "Some Other Auld Lang Syne" as well as "Leader of the Band" and "Run For the Roses."

His tunes were a big part of the soundtrack of my life.

And now "the snow turns into rain."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ahead of the Christmas Game

We've had years where we didn't get the decorations up until a few days before Christmas. This year I'm a few sleigh-lengths ahead of St. Nick.

I'm not sure why things are going better. Must just be my 'tude and the fact that The Goo Goo Dolls' "Better Days" is coming up on my play list with more frequency than Emmerson, Lake and Palmer's "I Believe in Father Christmas."

Whatever the cause, I had the tree built the weekend after Thanksgiving and we decorated it over a few early December weeknights. A few ornaments here, a few ornaments there until we were finished.

For the first time this year we've also included strings of traditional, opaque C-9s--acquired in an after Christmas clearance to replace last year's transparent C-9s. They didn't feel like the old fashioned Christmas lights that Christine remembered. From the , uh, '70s.

Shine On
We didn't have Christmas lights so much at my house. In 1959, my mom purchased one of those aluminum Christmas trees with a half-life of about 500,000 years that they're talking about in "A Charlie Brown Christmas". It was still in great shape when I came along, and she didn't give it up until about 1975. I think it still looked fine when it was snapped up in the estate sale.

You couldn't put C-9s on an aluminum tree without turning it into an electrical turbine.

But I digress. It's kind of nice to have a tree that looks like the one I used to see on The Waltons Christmas special.

I think, for this year at least, I've finally put into practice a piece of advice that I picked up a few years ago while moderating a Christmas-themed web chat with one of the psychiatrists from my company's mental health hospital. (And by moderating I mean, typing his answers.)

Make your own kind of Christmas
Create your own Christmas traditions, he said. Remember those from your life who have passed on, honor them and enjoy Christmas in your own way.

To that, I added, slow down everything else. Get the tree up early. Watch Charlie Brown the first time it airs and kick back for the ride.

Oh, and shop online to avoid the crowds. I got Christine's presents ordered early enough to sweat out backorder status, and they've almost all arrived.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What's On the iPod? - Slayride

You were expecting something traditional?

It's not brand new, but Chris Grabenstein's Slayride is a great holiday thriller that focuses on a young ad man's clash with a crazed limo driver at holiday time.

Scott Wilkinson, the ad man, is a bit anal about things such as pick up time, and when his complaint leads to the firing of Nicolai Kyznetsoff there's an angry Russian chauffeur to pay.

The novel also introduces Grabenstein's FBI agent hero Christopher Miller who's good at catching criminals but bad at company politics. I can identify with the latter.

Miller's pulled off desk jockey duty and winds up on Kyzentsoff's trail due to another crime, and it's a fast and entertaining ride.

Happily there's now a new Christopher Miller thriller set at Thanksgiving time. It's called Hell for the Holidays.

Grabenstein--a former ad man--is also the author of some restort town mysteries featuring an ex-military cop and his young sidekick - Tilt a Whirl, Mad Mouse and Whack A Mole.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Christmas Tom Cat

I'm not sure if Oliver is trying to suggest to us that he's a gift, or if he just finds the tree skirt to be warm and soft, but this seems to be his favorite spot of late.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Living in Interesting Times

It's supposed to be a curse: "May you live in interesting times."

Apparently the true origins are a bit nebulous, if you believe Wikipedia, though it's reportedly an old Chinese curse.

I thought of it when reading Charles' note that he's happy.

If you look at "interesting" from a negative standpoint, these are certainly interesting times:

  • Sub prime mortgage meltdowns
  • War in Iraq
  • Random shootings in shopping malls.

I suppose "interesting" can be viewed in better ways as well. As year's end approaches, perhaps that's a good thing to contemplate.

I'll take interesting in my personal life.

I don't know that I'm ecstatic, but I get by. Wayne turned me on to the song "Moments" by Emmerson Drive the other day. The chorus suggests: "I've had my moments, days in the sun/Moments I was second to none..."

Can you really hope for more than that?

As long as enough things happen to thwart boredom, I think I'm OK.

I've had a few moments this year, done some cool things from travel to artistic effort. That's the good kind of interesting. Maybe like good cholesterol that offsets the bad.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Izzat You Santy Claus?

This musta been when I was in college or right after, when it sounded like a good idea.

I dated a girl who was a student teacher around then, and she might even have been to blame, though I'm not certain of her guilt in getting me roped into the gig.

Anyway, somehow or other I got tapped to play Santa Claus for an elementary class. Pay was about 20 bucks in 1983 dollars.

Sure, I'd play Santa. Ho, ho, ho and what would you like for Christmas? Spread joy and merriment to the hearts of children. "Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus."

First graders are a bunch cynical little cusses.

I go in dressed in the Santa suit provided and about after oh, 15 seconds, there was a kid saying: "Those aren't real boots."

Then: "That's not a real beard."

I've only encountered one crowd more vicious. That was a local civic club when I was a reporter. I was invited to speak about news writing. I know people hate the news media, but every member had a complaint about either a.) the newspaper's advertising department b.) the circulation department or c.) the editorial page. None of which I had anything to do with.

"Doesn't anyone want to hear about how I interviewed Sesame Street's Grover?"


Being Santa Claus was not unlike being in that lion's den. "You're a fake aren't you?"

"Ho, ho, ho. Santa is real, little boy."

On the flip side of the kids who weren't spotting vulnerabilities in my Santa disguise were the ones with total buy-in. "Do you know Janie Anderson who lives in Denver?"

"The elves help me keep track of those things."

"Do you know Robbie Jones?"

"Sure, why not?"

I heard all the Christmas wish lists and went for the door, made it all the way to the front exit before one of the teachers tracked me down.

Inches away from a clean getaway.

"The kids are enjoying the party so much we'd like you to stay a while longer."

I should have signed up for a gig as Scrooge. It probably would have gone equally as well.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Aliens in the Ad World

My boss has been leading an e-mail discussion at work about the use of Ripley-menacing style aliens in New Mexico tourism ads. It's sort of like the Geiko cavemen in that they're placed in domestic situations, discussing New Mexico as a great getaway.

It kind of makes sense. Roswell, NM, -- aliens.

The ads have generated some controversy, however. Some have claimed, according to what my boss read, that the aliens don't reach the desired older and wealthy demographic.

Older, wealthy people are noted for not having a sense of humor and for not detecting humorous subtleties, after all.

Sarcasm doesn't really come off as well without inflection, does it? Kidding!

The proof, I suppose, will be in the tourism measurements.

I certainly get the message from the commercials and I think I will go to New Mexico and wait for Predators to show up, too. That's going to be a good fight.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Horror Writers at the Strike

Variety--which has reportedly been unpopular among striking writers due to the perceived slanted strike coverage--had an interesting article Tuesday about the creativity on display along the picket lines.

Horror screen writers were reportedly seen dressed as priests in front of Warner Bros. conducting an exorcism.

At least everyone is keeping a sense of humor as things drag on.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Great Gift For Writers

I ran across this great sweatshirt in the new Christmas Signals catalog, a great source for highbrow gifts in general. This new offering reads: "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel."

That's certainly a sentiment most writers can identify with when they hit that level of pissed off that exceeds the normal level of aggravation.

Who hasn't wanted to place an arrogant public servant or snide relative into a chapter for catharsis?

Consider it for the writer in your life and the friends who might want to avoid portrayal on the printed page.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The life and death of movies

With home theaters, big screen television and other temptations to make you wait for the DVD, the movie industry clearly needs new dazzle to lure moviegoers to theaters. The enhanced 3-D digital of Beowolf certainly present an enticing carrot.

Spears and Grendle come right at ya, and it's all in all a pretty wowing movie experience, but I felt like I was witnessing spears being driven not into sea monsters so much as moviegoing with the flip side of the experience.

The digital theater in town, where you had to go for the 3-D version, offers dazzling clarity. Still, I have to wrangle with Christine to convince her to go to that Carmike-owned establishment over the locally-owned theater closest to the house. She doesn't worry as much about crystal clarity as I do.

But for 3-D she agreed.

Only to be subjected to what she hates most about the Carmike theater, where we used to get a Fantanas concert every time we went. As Entertainment Weekly once put it "enough with the $3%@*(&^*%*% Fantanas."

It's the holiday movie season so there are more commercials than ever. We got an extended music video about the National Guard then a host of paid commercials, then a string of previews including a cool new I Am Legend trailer.

Then came the message to put on the 3-D glasses, a demo of 3-D effects, a preview of a a 3-D U2 concert video--Bono comin' at you--and a preview for Journey 3-D with Brendan Fraiser.

Then more previews.

"This has been going on for half an hour," Christine said.

She was right of course.

Once Beowolf started and we settled in and enjoyed it, but I'm going to have a heck of a time making another "it's worth it for the digital experience" argument.

Enough with the overabundance of commercials. I know I'm not the only one saying it. That's because it's true.

Keep it up, theater chains, and I will wait for the DVD.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Monks Sleeping in Doorways

When we were still figuring out Portland's Max rail system early in our visit, a man noticed us reading the posted schedule at one of the stops and paused to give us some pointers so that we could hop over to the Saturday Market and ultimately to the convention center across the river.

A moment later his companion walked back to where we were standing to explain even more about Fairless Square, Portland's free transit area. Hop public transportation within those blocks and you can ride free to any point within the fairless boundaries.

I'm not sure if the couple was homeless or just a little weatherbeaten but I wondered even as I appreciated the kindness.

I know Wayne has written eloquently about encountering the homeless in Chicago, and it's hard not to be in proximity to those down on their luck or facing other adversity and not be affected or to think about the world's disparity. In sprawling towns and cities, in the car culture, it's more removed, something you see on visits to the Salvation Army.

I know there are issues of individual responsibility mixed in with bad luck, that in many cases choices have been made, but in other cases choice may not play as great a role.

In Portland, I had to turn my head down and walk away from one man who approached me menacingly, babbling not help requests but incoherent ramblings. I was more annoyed that frightened as was the young man he approached next.

As I walked to dinner a lot of evenings, it was the hour people started to bed down in doorways, quilts spread, ski caps pulled down against the chill.

I passed one church with a sign forbidding camping, but around the corner at another I saw a young man curled under quilts and blankets with his dog at his side.

I wondered what brought him to the spot, to the spartan existence with hound as sole companion, wondered if addiction or misfortune was to blame.

I wondered more if for him there was hope.

Then I walked on.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I'm makin' a pictcha

I can't quite believe it, and for a while I thought I was dreaming, but I've splashed water on my face and it's true.

I shot scenes for a movie last night.

It was kind of a plum extra opportunity. I got to be an attorney in scenes with Matthew Broderick in his new film.

This came about because I heard they were filming The Mist last summer and thought it would be cool to be an extra in a Stephen King flick, so I sent in a headshot and list of plays I was in in college.

I think The Mist was actually already finished, so I didn't hear anything and kind of forgot about it.

Then in Portland on Wednesday I got an e-mail from the casting agency saying they'd been looking for me and getting only voice mail. Would I be available to be an extra on Friday?

I was in the business center at the movie-themed-boutique Hotel Deluxe, so I had to go up to our room and ask Christine, who was showering: "Can I be in a Matthew Broderick movie?"

"Where have you been? Having a soda at Schwab's?"

"No, no I got an e-mail. Hmm, maybe I never told you I wanted to be an extra in The Mist."

What's The Mist?"

"It's a movie with the guy who played The Punisher but that's not important right now. Apparently I have the right look to be an attorney in a different movie."

She said sure, and so I found myself in a suit from about 5 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. today. It was a job roughly like playing one of the judges in The Cain Mutiny Court Martial must have been, but still a blast.

I could wind up on the cutting room floor, but I got a front row opportunity to watch Broderick work as well as seeing a big crew in action.

I'll tell you if I hear when it's going to be released.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Books I Found at Wordstock

I'd just wandered into the main room at Portland's Wordstock--I made it home last night by the way--when I met William L. Sullivan, author of several hiking and travel books including Listening for Coyote and now a novel, The Case of Einstein's Violin, a thriller with humor and science backed by input from his son, who is a scientist.

The premise is that Einstein left behind a theory in a violin case he once owned. Ana Smyth inherits it and sells it on eBay, a mistake that soon puts her on the run from spies and other nefarious types.

She's soon globe trotting to places such as Germany, Italy and Greece, all places Sullivan has visited and hiked as well so there's authenticity to the locales.

I've read only the first chapter so far but it looks like loads of fun.

Christine purchased a couple of other books by Mr. Sullivan, a non-fiction account of how he and his wife built a log cabin over about 25 summers, Cabin Fever: Notes from a Part Time Pioneer.

The account has a real-life murder mystery built in, so I'll hopefully get to that after Christine.

More books
I picked up Life on the Ledge: Reflections of a New York City Window Cleaner by Ivor Hanson at the table of its publisher, Two Dollar Radio, which seems to be a cool house with a cool mission.

The book is Hanson's memoir about window cleaning but also a meditation on his life after playing in a band and realizing rock stardom was not on his horizon.

More stuff I bought
It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden from the Portland Museum of Art gift shop.

The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction from Murder by the Book.

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox from Powell's on Hawthorne Street.

Turing's Delirium by Edmundo Paz Soldan from the big Powell's on Burnside

What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the New by Eric Alterman, a staff pick at the big Powell's.

City of Tiny Lights by Patrick Neate from Powell's Burnside

Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina, Brenda Davis and Victoria Harrison.

And again a big thank you to City of Readers for getting me around town and pointing me in the right direction many times.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More Notes from the Road and More Wordstock

After walking some streets filled with beautiful yellow ginkgo leaves, I went back to Wordstock Sunday to browse a little more and to attend a "Wordstock for Writers" session led by Lauren Kessler.

It was called a "12 Step Program for Writers: How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself and Start Writing." Workshop sessions, I find, are always inspirational and you always glean useful ideas. I won't give away her seminar here, but happily I was already doing a lot of the 12 steps. A few others should help add a little electricity to my motivation.

Powell's with a Map
Went back to the main Powell's on Burnside for the afternoon and got their map this time, then cruised the shelves looking for things that wouldn't hit me in the face at Barnes and Nobel.

Powell's is color coded - Orange for home, garden and cooking, Gold for genre, Green for new arrivals, Blue for Literature etc. etc.

I wound up with a stack of books and not a heavy hit to my plastic.

More later on the books I found at Wordstock and Powell's.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Notes From the Road - Wordstock Moments - Avi on Writing

Wordstock is lacking in mud, though Charles' quip was a funny one. What we did find plenty of yesterday were books and authors.

Christine got to see Roscoe Orman aka Gordon of Sesame Street read from his children's book, Ricky and Mobo, based on his own childhood. It's a possible gift item for our nephews this Christmas.

We also sat in on a session with young adult author Avi, which was loads of fun. I'd read some of his books when preparing to write Deadly Delivery, so I was anxious to see him speak.

He discussed his writing of a new YA on the Monitor and the Merrimack, part of a series called I Witness, then took questions.

One young audience member asked "What should you do if you want to be a writer?"

"Read, read, read, read," he answered. "Then read, read, read, read and when you've done that, read, read, read and read some more. ... If a writer took a year and did nothing but read his writing would improve."

Sounds like fun to me!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Notes from the Road

I'm in Portland for a few days, following a book called "City of Readers" that guides you to various bookshops.

Powell's is like Mecca. I've mail ordered from them but never visited, so had a blast wandering the various color-coded rooms at the main store and dropping in on their satellite home and cooking shop on SE Hawthorne where we also browsed their mega-mini shop of used and new titles.

We also dropped in on Murder by the Book just down the street, a cool mystery shop. Christine, who's been reading the Poirot books by Agatha Christine decided to pick up the first Campion title.

Today we hope to hit Wordstock, Portland's book festival. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Who Gets Hurt By the Writer's Strike?


I like Heroes as much as the next geek, but the screenwriter's strike won't impact me on the episodic television front.

Even if the networks expend all their first-run episodes before it's over, and even if, gasp, Lost gets delayed or, say it ain't so, 24, I've got 80 hours of stuff compiled on my DVR.

Since I watch in increments roughly equivalent to the length of Robot Chicken--one of the skits, not the whole 20-minute show--it will take me a while to burn through it all.

But, I'm still going to be impacted by the writers' efforts to get a fair shake on DVD sales, and yeah I think it's an effort to get a fair shake. They created the material after all. Who else should make money off it? Guys in suits who basically talk to each other for a living?

So, more power to the artists.

But how am I hurt by this strike?

The Daily Show probably ain't gonna be new again until it's over and ditto Bill Maher, which subs for me on Friday nights since TDS is only on through Thursday.

The only way I'm going to know what's going on in the world is by watching the actual news and we all know how reliable and accurate their interpretation is.

The horror. The horror.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Paper Trails

I read an interesting post on author paper trails by TeenAuthor aka Jacob Martin on Library Thing's What Are You Reading Now group message board. I thought it was worth passing on.

A paper trail of authors is a line of authors connected in one way or another, or perhaps authors who led you one to another.

He sites this example:

Terry Pratchett -> Neil Gaiman -> Alan Moore -> H.P. Lovecraft -> Lord Dunsany

It's sort of like a personal - "People Who Liked This Book Also Purchased..." exercise, and it's kind of fun.

Did an author lead you to read another? One of his influences or imitators?

In my recent reading I suppose I could do this one:

Dan Brown -> Raymond Khoury -> Steve Berry.

I'm not a big fan of The Da Vinci Code nor Angels and Demons, which I read first, but I might never have sampled Khoury had Da Vinci never come along, and I enjoyed The Last Templar quite a bit. That's sort of whetted a Templar appetite, so The Templar Legacy from Berry is on my "to-read" stack.

Looking further back at books I've read (or books I could package together on ebay) I might link:

Mike Resnick -> Glenn Cook -> William Hjortsberg because of Stalking the Unicorn, Old Tin Sorrows etc. and Falling Angel, fantastical detective stories all. Each of those writers pens different kinds of novels as well, so such connections might lead to other genres or sub genres or reading horizons.

Another might be John D. MacDonald -> Carl Hiaason -> James W. Hall, different though alike in that they set crime novels in Florida.

Or Charles Gramlich -> Karl Edward Wagner ->Robert E. Howard ->Edgar Rice Burroughs.

You could probably do some kind of paper trail for Wayne too, but I'm not sure exactly where it might lead.

Wayne Allen Sallee ->Nelson Algren -> Superman comics -> Robert Mitchum films -> ???

It occurs to me that for writers this might be a valuable exercise. It means examining why you like certain works. Knowing what you like about others can certainly fuel your own creative spirit, I believe.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Backburner Category

The ad club from back home used to have a backburner category. That was the slot for entries that never saw the light of day for one reason or another. Read that - client didn't get it.

One of my favorites was for a barbecue place. It was shot like a Clint Eastwood Western and the restaurant's beef plates managed to distract gunmen from a showdown.

Flash to the present
I managed to create a backburner print ad this week. We have a doctor who's going to do a free forum on sinus problems.

Now, I should tell you our last free forum was about the connection between neurology and urology problems. We used a picture of a doctor's gloved hands pointing at--now old fashioned-- X-ray film of a brain. The headline was "Problems that start here may trickle down."

Ran in the paper, brought in a crowd. Didn't hear anything negative.

So, I'm thinking of clever lines and I'm making notes of things associated with sinuses and everything and I came up with -- "Do you suffer from Sinus Envy?" as the headline.

Free Sinus Forum, time date.

Jealous of those friends who don't get a runny nose when the flowers are in bloom? Come to our forum to learn about symptom relief.

The artist designed it, and I showed it around. Got some "It's cute" and "Sounds OK" remarks.

The Acid Test
Then I showed Christine who works down the hall. I really probably should have photographed the expression with my cell phone.

"You can't run that."

"Why not?"

"It's offensive to women."

"I showed it to a lot of women. They said it was cute."

"Did they know what it means?"

"I didn't, uh, get clarification on that."

My boss was at a meeting. I waited for him to get back.

"Remember the ad about the urology forum?"

"Yeah, it worked pretty well."

I held up the ad proof. "What do you think of this one?"

He came around a few seconds later when I used the ad proof to fan his face.

"You can't run that. Not here. Maybe in San Francisco."

"I showed it to a lot of people. They thought it was OK."

"Did they know what it means?"

"I'm sure they've heard of Freud."

"Yeah, why don't you go back to the drawing board? It's clever, but it's going to get us all fired."

Sometimes it does help to run an idea by other people.

Our ad will read - "Do you suffer from Nose Woes?" Rhyming dictionaries can come in handy.

But if our ad club had a backburner category. ;-)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Night of No Time

I didn't realize until recently that Samhain opened a period known as the "time which is no time."

That's sort of a deliciously chilling concept for some reason. It's a factoid I picked up in a lecture by a Wiccan at a Unitarian Church recently, but it prompted me to read a little more on the web.

Read a little further in some of the online texts and you learn that on the opening night of the period "the natural order of the universe disolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to re-establishing itself in a new order."

Witchies an and goblins and long-leggedy beasties may be scary but the more ancient concepts are a little more world wrenching.

Of course it being the end of the old year, it's also a time of reflection and contemplation, a time to take advantage of the "no time" to view past and future.

Hope that's interesting. Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gathering Memories

My mother hasn't recognized me for a while now. I've blamed myself, of course, more than her dementia. If I'd visited more...if I'd left more pictures...if...

A few months ago, one of the nurses who has worked with the elderly for quite some time told me that her condition, unlike Alzheimer's, is cyclical. He predicted she would recognize me again at some point, and she did today.

This a.m.
I strolled into her room at the nursing home with my pumpkin spice latte, prepared to sit and drink it and converse with her as a stranger. I could probably chart her illness by the number of times Starbuck's has welcomed pumpkin spice in and out of season.

"Do you recognize me?" I asked.

"Sure I do."

She's masked her lapses for so long now I've become accustomed to white lies. "I remember that name but I can't put a face with it," is her most common.

"I've visited and you haven't recognized me," I explained.

"Maybe it's because you don't come by very often."

"I've been in Omaha."

"Maybe it's because you don't have as much on your chin."

I rubbed my goatee. "I've got about the same amount of facial hair I've had for a long time," I said.

"Well, you need to keep it."

This from the woman who tormented me about my beard in college until I shaved it to shut her the hell up about it. I, uh, still have a few issues. Doesn't everyone?

"In college, you weren't too wild about my beard," I said.

"How long were you in college?"

"Four years."

"That's quite a while."

"Most people go four years. Some people go longer. You went to college four years."


"Do you remember college?"

I remember her remembering college. She had five Saturday classes, slept on a sleeping porch with wet hair, mastered organic chemistry, preserved her lab implements in pristine shape only to have them stolen by boys who had not and needed replacements. Upon protest she was repaid her lab implement deposit just the same.

"Not much," she said.

"You know who I am?"


"Who do you think I am?"

Ah, ha, can't play a game with a direct question, eh?


Wow, it wasn't masking, and the nurse was right.

We pulled out her scrapbook called Gathering Memories created by hospice workers with information gleaned from me.

In the pages of memory
Once we got past the calligraphy "G" in gathering she thumbed through it. My father's name did not jog her memory, but she remembered their last dog and knew the clipping a worker had used was not really his picture.

Since Samson's picture was a fake, so too must be the picture of herself snapped at Valentine's Day while she wearing a red hat and drape. The person in the picture was old. Couldn't be her.

And the person in the nursing home bed couldn't be my mom. But it was.

Time is not gentle nor kind. Time is just time and life is what it is. At least she knows my name again, for a while.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What's on the iPod? Omaha

There are lots of songs named "Omaha."

I happen to have the one by Moby Grape but it's not great as an anthem for the next couple of days as I'm here in Omaha on day-job business.

Found a great record store down in the Old Market section so maybe I'll browse there a little more for a better choice.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The My Garden Sandwich

Temperatures have been unseasonably warm which--along with a late planting of cucumbers--has kept my garden going longer than I expected.

I've been enjoying a veggie-heavy sandwich enhanced with available ingredients, and I've been pretty pleased with the flavor.

On a sub roll, I've been using:

  • Cucumber slices
  • Orange bell pepper (though I will soon use red because that's what's just ripened)
  • Clippings from Territorial Seed Company's Micro Greens salad assortment (slightly cooler temps seem to have killed whatever was eating them)
  • Tomato (from my grocer's produce section, the tomato plants gave out already)
  • Veggie cheese, American or Swiss (ditto-grocer. I don't know how to make it.)
  • Vegenaise® - from the health food store and very, very good.
  • Sliced turkey
I have done the sandwich without the meat and found it to be just fine as well.

I hope it's healthier than average, and it does have the spiritual benefit of being grown as the result of my own effort.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover

Charles was mentioning bad reviews the other day. Sometimes they come from people who haven't even read the book.

For example, I was signing books once upon a time. Night Brothers was new and I was at a Waldenbooks in a mall. I can't really recommend mall book signings. I've known of people who had successful mall book signings but they were wearing black lipstick and nail polish. That catches the eye.

I digress
Bayou Bob Petitt and I were doing a signing at a mall once and a lady kind of shuffled by and said: "They write horror fiction!" Unspoken subtext: "Let's get out of here. They're probably dangerous."

At that same book signing a mother and grandmother came along. They had a son/grandson who was a Koontz fan. I was signing Night Brothers and Robert was signing the paperback of Razored Saddles in which he has a story.

"His grandmother wants to buy him a signed book," the mother said. "He likes Dean Koontz, but she's not going to buy him a book with a cover like that one." She pointed at Night Brothers.

So they picked up Razored Saddles which has a skeletal cowboy on the paperback front. "Fine, I thought. "Wait until you read '"Yore Skin's Jes Soft 'n Purdy," He Said.' Maybe that'll teach you not to judge a book by its cover."

I get back on point
But so anyway I was at a mall, and this guy ankles up to the card table I was sitting at.

"You shouldn't be writin' that stuff about our state."

Did I mention this was in Louisiana?

"Why not?" I asked.

"Makes us look bad. You ought to be writin' sumthin' historical or sumethin'."

"It's got some fairly carefully researched historical content," I said. "There are flashbacks."

"Yeah, but it'll make everybody think Louisiana's full of all this spooky shit."

If I was writing straight historical, I'd probably have to include voodoo, I thought but didn't go into it.

"Stuff like this, and Paul Harvey, I got a bone to pick with him too," the guy went on.

About then the staff ran him off, leaving me thinking: "It's not me, buddy. It's you."

By the way, for examples of just a few of the wonderful, enlightened people in Louisiana:
Check out the Louisiana Connection on Charles' blog.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good Movies

Is it me or are there 50 good movies suddenly appearing? I'm perplexed about what to choose at the multiplex.

Maybe it's because I'm such an eclectic.

The detective thriller lover in me would love to see Gone Baby Gone based on the Dennis Lehane series entry with Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan as Lehane's heoric duo.

My inner political activist wants to see the socially-conscious thriller Rendition.

And of course my horror and comics fan self can't wait for 30 Days of Night in which vampires take advantage of those long Alaskan nights.

There are so many hours in the weekend. I wonder which door will thrill and which will disappoint.

Guess I'll flip a coin in the ticket line and hope for the best.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Sad Situation

I don't know all the facts, but this situation with Ellen DeGeneres's dog sounds very unfortunate.

Just reading that account it looks like a case where the letter of an agreement compromises its spirit.

If the dog was in a good home, why not just investigate to make sure? Why yank it away just because it's technically against a policy?

Where's the caring and compassion in that?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Old Long Since

I dreamed about a girl from high school. Not that kind of dream. She wasn't that kind of girl.

In the dream, that I now don't remember well, she was at a laundromat or something innocuous, and I woke up wondering why she was putting in an appearance lo, more years than I can count since I saw or thought about her last, that latter being when she was appearing as an enemy spy in a short story I never sold or needed to sell. I was reading Ludlum a lot back then.

The dream was a little discomforting as is high school.

It wasn't until later that I awoke to the reason. It was when a conflict at the day job reappeared. It was something that I thought was over, or that I thought I was over at least.

And I thought that right up until I stopped keeping my mouth shut and told my co-workers I'd felt a little dissed by some decisions.

In the midst of it the long-ago face from dream slashed into my mind and I realized some conflicts from back in the day mirrored the current situation.

It was almost like a contrivance from a novel, yet it was my everyday.

Not sure it's something I can use, but it certainly reminds again the cyclical nature of life and relationships.

Yep, sometimes people stab you in the same place.

Fir ald lang syn

Friday, October 12, 2007

Apparently Blogger is adding some improvements

So of course everything is #(_) ( |( |= @ up!

I'll be restoring the usual look and links as soon as I figure out the work arounds or until someone gets back to me from Blogger Help.

When does hell freeze over? I'm sure they'll get back to me right after that.

What's in the Mail Box? - Werewolf Magazine!

In the Better in the Mail than in the Trunk Department: My story "Lync" appears in Werewolf Magazine No. 7 which I received the other day. (Please don't miss the most important part below. The order link had grown old and had to be removed. This post is preserved for archivable purposes)

"Lync" focuses on a slightly futuristic society in which a designer drug brings out the lycanthrope in addicts. The heroine of the story is on an evening jog in the park when she gets on a werewolf's radar and has to run and ultimately fight for her life.

The Beast Within
It has some social reflection mixed in, yuppies and social climbing etc.

I almost completely rewrote the piece for Werewolf Magazine, but the core story is years old. I began it as a submission to an anthology Wayne was involved in, but it didn't pan out for that so it sat around in my files producing a warm feeling for me but little else.

Out of the trunk
Then--following a kind note from the Dracula Horror Series author Robert Lory telling me I should get things out of my files and into the world--I ran across the listing for actually Werewolf's sister publication Blood Moon Rising and sent a different story. After a couple of e-mails with the editor I dusted off "Lync," decided I didn't quite like the main character's portrayal and retooled it a little.

Hopefully it's mainly a good action short story with a few extras in the mix, what ol' Bayou Bob Petitt would have called the lagniappe.

Charles and Sphinx and some of the Southern contingent will know what I'm talkin' 'bout. For others - Lagniappe in Wikipedia.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Finding My Way Out of the Amazon Jungle

Amazon persists in selling animal fighting periodicals even though the activity they cover has been outlawed in all 50 states. Apparently there's still a good market so they defend the measure on free speech grounds.

I am anti-censorship and pro-free speech in every way, but cruelty is where Jeff Bezos and I stop seeing eye-to-eye, and Mr. Bezos it's on your watch.

As the above-linked SF Gate article notes:

"At last count, Amazon was selling 27 books, monographs and magazines about cockfighting. If your passion in life is watching two tormented birds tear each other to pieces, in a bloody pit surrounded by shouting gamblers, Amazon is the place to go."

For writers Amazon is a "can't-live-with-them/can't-live without them proposition." Yeah, things I wrote are for sale at Amazon. Fact of life. Can't change that so maybe it's hypocrisy to write this post.

But I am looking at ways to cut the money I give to Amazon.

I cut the Amazon affiliate links from this blog.

Beyond that, not buying from Amazon is not as easy as it sounds if you're an online shopper, but I'm trying as is Christine.

Christine's mom e-mailed her to see if I'd updated my Amazon wish list last month. My birthday was coming up and she was going to send me some things.

Christine told her we'd prefer not to have gifts from Amazon and directed her to The Portland-based retailer has a large inventory with easy access to used books and if you're willing to roll the dice, they have sales. You can pick up some items at big savings while supplies are available. (Happily they sell Charles' books and those of other friends as well.)

So, my mother-in-law shifted gears. She's sent us Christmas gifts for years from Amazon, not just books but stoneware and other items.

This year my $25 gift card came from Powell's.

Christine gave me copies of Spook Country and Michael Marshall's The Intruders from Powell's.

Getting some CD's for Christine's birthday has proved a little trickier. I went to and suddenly I was shopping Amazon.

Christine searched herself and found a site called Online Classics or something like that. Shopping cart courtesy of Amazon.

I searched a little further.

Borders - partnered with Amazon.

Virgin Superstore = Amazon.

Barnes and Noble had the CDs but wanted a fortune.

Best Buy - didn't have what I was looking for. Beethoven, specific album, OK?
Plus a Spanish classical guitar album.

Then the choirs of angels sang. I remembered They ran a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago advertising free shipping to get you to try them.

I ordered a few times then dropped away because I forgot my password.

I started over. They had both CD's, they gave me free shipping on the combination and all went fine.

That's another $35 that won't go to Amazon because of their support of animal fighting periodicals. I'm sure that will hold up the application of maybe one rivet on Jeff Bezos' rocket ship.

And it raises a question -- if they own the online retail universe, why do a few animal fighting magazines matter so much?

Mr. Bezos, turn your thoughts from space just a moment to focus on the suffering you're condoning on earth.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Meeting the Shadow Divers

The event for which I built a ton of U-Boat model kits rolled around last night, and the kits, which served as centerpieces, were a hit. My co-worker's husband did a fabulous job of panting the subs a gun-metal gray.

It was all for a medical staff dinner at my day job featuring The Shadow Divers as speakers.

The divers, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, told my co-worker, the event's planner, that they'd never seen model kits used in any events to which they'd been invited to speak.

For their presentation, they discussed their discovery of an unidentified U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey and the seven-year effort to explore the wreck and find some identifying artifact. It was ultimately identified as U869. (That site includes a list and picture of the crew members who died aboard the ship.)

The divers showed videos from PBS and History Channel documentaries about their efforts to create a sense of being-there.

The cool part, from my perspective, was that afterwards, when the divers started signing books physicians began picking up model kits to have them sign.

I hadn't expected that, so I nabbed one of my best ones and hung around until they'd finished with the doctors to get autographs on it.

"You put a lot of care into this," Richie Kohler said as he passed it on to his partner.

John Chatterton looked up at Christine who was with me. "You realize he's now about this close to being a U-Boat fanatic," he laughed.

All in all, a cool evening, and a nice display item for my office.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Behind the Scenes - Ben Stiller The Heartbreak Kid

Here are some shots from my visit to the set of The Heartbreak Kid while they were on location last fall in San Francisco.

You can see Ben Stiller here and Malin Akerman is near the wall talking to a crew member.

I believe it was an architect's office or law office that was redressed to look like a florist's shop.

Below is a a broader view of the set-up.

Now, by "behind-the-scenes" set visit, I mean, I was riding by on a street car I'd hopped around Fisherman's Wharf and we passed the location headed back down to a stop closer to my hotel.

You can see Malin Akerman--no kin to Forry I'm sure; it's spelled differently--crossing the street. Click for a larger view.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

California Baggin'

I was kind of expecting someone to look at me and say: "You mus' be frum Cal-if-ornia or somethin'."

It was the debut of our new cloth shopping bags from at the grocery, and I-- though often a head-butter of convention--felt a little self conscious. It's one of those contradictions they tell you to look for in creating multi-dimensional fictional characters.

With Flowers In My Hair
I certainly would have been more in place in say San Francisco where they've criminalize plastic bags, I believe.

In Ireland you fork over 22 cents per plastic bag. OK, not cents, but it costs you some coins with harps on them, so I wouldn't have been out of place there either.

Christine--complete with a Life is Good T-shirt--and I were the only ones at the local store doing a green thing, though. They sell their own branded bags, but I don't see them in wide use, and Christine even bought drawstring produce bags.

I kind of worried about those since you can't see through them. I feared the produce manager's henchmen might come out and shake us down as suspects in a plot to mix in pricey New Zealand apples with the Jonagold's from Washington state.

I got in trouble for buying from New Zeleand a few weeks back. I was in trouble with Christine not the produce manager. They were A.) pricey as I mentioned and B.) Shipped a long way, which is bad in green terms. Believe me, I know what it's like Living with Ed.

The need
Despite my reticence on the initial excursion, I see the need for reusable bags, and you can too in the work of photographic artist Chris Jordan whose works in his "Intolerable Beauty" collection provide a visual understanding of how much we use every day in this country.

It's not on his website, but you can see his rendering of the number of plastic bags used by Americans in just fives seconds in his recent Bill Moyers Journal appearance. That's where I discovered him.

Even if you buy into the conservative notion that it's really impossible to hurt the planet--I'm acknowledging not agreeing with that idea--there still seems to be a high degree of waste. Certainly it's energy that could be channeled in better ways.

Yeah, it was a little embarrassing at first but by the time we were bagging things in the checkout line, I was glad we weren't choosing paper or plastic.

Further reading
Citizen Times: Breaking the plastic bag habit

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How Will I Die?

As you know I sometimes pause to speculate on how I might purchase the agrarian real estate some day. Happily there's now a place to get answers:

How Will I Die Quiz

How Will I Die Quiz

You will die at the age of 108

You will be killed by Rosanne Barr when she snaps one day in the street

Find out how you will die at


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's on the iPod? - Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter

I don't know when it crept into the public domain, but apparently someone let the copyright lapse on Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

If you can't make it to the theater to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, this flick is not really a substitute but it's free.

It's available on and Public Domain Torrents, though oddly there aren't a lot of seeders. I can't imagine why with a Golden Turkey classic like JJMFD. (I also can't figure out why JJMFD is in public domain yet it's companion in Shockorama Billy the Kid vs. Dracula isn't?!)

At any rate, I'll be watching on the treadmill at the gym over the next few nights. When the program director on my local channel when I was a kid screened it in a weak moment one Saturday afternoon, I only caught the tale end of it.

Jesse and his buddy Hank were already in the Daughter of Frankenstein's clutches, so I didn't see the complicated tale of betrayal that led them to that fearful place.

Now I'm getting caught up--fortunately there's a long-ass expository scene at the beginning that gets things set up. The daughter of Frankenstein has fled from Europe to the old West and is devoting her time to completing her father's experiments. Her earliest attempt fails because she doesn't read the directions correctly.

Jesse James, having diverged from historical accounts of his life, is busy avoiding Jim Davis of Dallas and things just go downhill from there.

I haven't noticed any of the mic shadows and other flaws that made the director, William "One-Shot" Beaudine infamous, so the video iPod may be the film's perfect medium.

It's not a classic, but did I mention it's free!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Autumn's Emergence

It doesn't seem quite like autumn, but I see by the calendar that we're approaching the October country. A few more days, and it might be time to watch out for Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.

Autumn, as I've written here before, is my favorite season and a favorite time to read scary stories.

I don't think I'll re-read Something Wicked This Way Comes again this year, but it's a perfect autumn tale, set in autumn which is likewise a character.

Another excellent autumn choice is Fear by L. Ron Hubbard, a dark and chilling tale with a twist. It's been mimicked a few times so the ending may not seem quite a surprise, but it's still a classic psychological horror tale with a wicked opening passage:

"Lurking that lovely spring day, in the office of Dr. Chalmers, Atworthy College Medical Clinic, there might have been two small spirits of the air, pressed back into the dark shadow behind the door, avoiding as far as possible the warm sunlight which fell gently upon the rug."

By the time the professor finds his lost hat, many shivers have crept up the spine.

This year, instead of turning back to one of those classics, I've picked up Basil Copper's Necropolis. For some odd and inexplicable reason our local library owns an Arkham House edition.

It's dubbed a Gothic mystery and is set in a foggy Victorian England. The focal character is a contemporary of Sherlock Holmes. Hopefully it will be a nice choice.

Beyond reading, I need to fit in a screening of some of the Universal Horror tales. They don't air those as readily on cable any more, but I hate to miss The Black Cat and the uber spectacular Son of Frankenstein.

Yes, it should be a good season.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I have an assignment for the day job that's not too bad, eh? Building model kits. I guess there's good and bad, but generally it's an interesting assignment.

Our hospital system is bringing in one of the people involved in the sunken U-boat discovery chronicled in Shadow Divers . He'll speak to the medical staff at their annual meeting.

We have a vibrant wound healing program, and because it utilizes hyperbaric oxygen chambers, wound medicine is called diving medicine.

Our wound medical director met one of the divers at a conference and yadda, yadda, yadda - "Sidney, could you help us build a bunch of U-boat model kits as center pieces?"

The request came from my co-worker whose husband is a phenomenal model kit builder with a Trek emphasis. I think he's reconstructing the entire ruins of Wolf 359.

My model background
I usually build kits of Dracula and other Universal monsters. I was going to build a Tor Johnson from Plan 9 kit, but that was around the time Christine and I were getting married and she felt there were better uses for my fortune. It's a lovely radiant cut.

I haven't built model kits in a few years. There was an unfortunate incident involving Christine's breakfast-nook table and some paint thinner.

But since it's for work I'm building Revell U-boats.

A lot of U-boats.

Fortunately I have until October 10 or so, and my co-worker's husband is going to spray them all a gunmetal gray. It would be fun to paint them with the precision this model-builder achieved, but that would be impractical.

I'm a little nervous because Scott (my co-worker's husband) is a perfectionist and I find myself not wanting to disappoint. I hope I will get faster with my next builds, but there's a surprising amount of detail even though there are not a million little pieces.

Cementing the hull without separations requires all of the rubber bands, chip clips and clothes pins I could find, and I have big fingers that make the assembly of the conning tower and the deck guns a little challenging.

The near-sightedness in my left eye comes in a little handy, though.

I find it satisfying, and a nice break from writing. I'll try to keep you posted on my progress.

Ships completed so far: 1


Ships completed so far 9/24: 4 1/2

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It Cuts Both Ways

My buddy Robert the photographer extraordinaire and I were leaving paid parking yesterday when I realized we'd failed to get his card validated in the area where we were shooting group photos.

"I can get that stamped, I said.

"Nah, it'll be 60 cents," he said. "Don't go back in."

So, three minutes and $2.00 later we had the Robertmobile on surface streets again.

"You know," he said, "I acted a lot more polite at the booth than I felt when I realized the charge. Sometimes manners just kick in and you grin and go on."

And sometimes manners don't. I worry I'm turning into an asshole.

Time passages
Flash forward - it's today and I'm in line at a sandwich shop. A guy somewhere between 55 and 155 is hanging out at the counter between ordering stations. I don't know why, but I really hate disorder and confusion when all I want to do is stand in line, order, pay and go sit down.

But there's confusion and re-direction and the clerk asks the person in front of me - "Can I help you?"

But the person in front of me has already placed her order with another clerk working the take-out station. Great - she's placed her order and is, I don't know, rolling pennies. Maybe it's time to GO ON TO THE NEXT PERSON IN LINE!

That would be me. After a little more confusion the clerk sort of looks my way.

"Do you want to do me?" I ask. Not the best choice of words, but I wasn't expecting to have to do any prompting, you know, to buy food in a restaurant.

Turning phrases
She gets my Reuben and iced tea on record, and as I'm paying the old guy wakes up and starts babbling.

"Do you?" he asked. "What does that mean?"

I ignore him. I'm just trying to order a sandwich not send cryptic signals to anyone loitering at the check-out counter.

"What? Do you? I didn't catch that," he repeats.

I finally look at him and glare and say: "I didn't throw anything in your direction."

He doesn't know quite what to say to that, and as he starts stammering I move on, feeling almost immediately like one of those jerks in neckties that I hate.

Unlike Robert, my underlying manners burned out in a burst of impatience some time ago.

Maybe the old guy was hanging out at the counter because he didn't have anything else to do, and maybe he was babbling just to make a joke and be friendly in that folksy yet annoying way old guys have.

And maybe my rapier-like retort did more damage to me than to anyone else.

You always think back on situations, and the things you should have said.

Sometimes when you say them, you wish you could take them back.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Alternating Green

I believe I can dub our spring/summer garden a modest success. The production was moderate, but anything it lacked in quantity was compensated by the spiritual enrichment.

Brandywine tomatoes proved to be the largest but our plants didn't produce that many. The Cherokee purples were the most interesting and the Mexican Midget cherry tomatoes the most plentiful and the tastiest. Peppers were a mixed bag also, with some hot peppers proving the most prolific. We grew enough red and orange bell peppers for a few rounds of fajitas without requiring supplements from the grocer.

It's the spirit that counts

Given the spiritual benefit, we've decided, especially since it's hot for most of the Texas autumn that we'd try a winter garden, and I use the term winter loosely.

Seeds for this round are coming from the Territorial Seed Company, another provider of heirloom seeds and more.

The Micromix
I've sunk a few radishes and otherwise mostly varieties of greens including kale and a micromix (pictured) that should sprout ready for clipping, washing and salad preparation in a couple more weeks.

I think my results in our square foot garden will remain only supplemental to our diet, though we're hopeful to sprout enough kale for a soup Christine wants to make soon, and it all may save the cost of a few bags of Dole romaine mixes.

It continues to feel good to get back to the land.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Getting a Little Wordie

I found a potentially useful tool at least for those of us who love words.

It's Wordie, described as Flickr without the pictures. It's a site that lets you create lists of your favorite words.

Got words you want to use in your writing?

Got words you want to remember to excise from your writing, like suddenly as Kate mentioned recently?

Wordie is the answer.

The Word So Far
So far I'm just getting started but I threw in a few Lovecraftian words as a start, another scary-sounding word and a word picked at random from a copy of The Hustler by Walter Tevis that was on the shelf by my desk.

It occurs to me that it could be useful in compiling words you want to use in describing a setting, or for brainstorming advertising copy.

"Write down everything you can think of about the product," an ad writing teacher once said. "Then use that to come up with your ad headline."

Word UP
Wordie's a great place to do just that, or to free associate in the quest for the ultimate metaphor.

Give it a try and see where it takes you.

(Special thanks: I discovered Wordie via 40 Unusual Websites You Should Bookmark and the collective efforts of all those who love and use Digg.)

Life Imitates Emily

A woman lived with her mummified aunt for a year, according to a Reuters report.

It's almost like the tale of Miss Emily Grierson, though William Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily" is pure Southern Gothic and the real-life version is set in Vienna.

According to Reuters the modern case may involve financial coverups. I don't know that Miss Emily was motivated by benefits payments or anything so crass.

Is there a lesson in this?

Well, I guess it's - if you decide to rip from the headlines, make sure you're not ripping off someone who anticipated human behavior ahead of itself.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

If You're Going To Write About Murder...

...maybe it's a good idea not to write about one you committed.

According to news accounts, Krystian Bala has been convicted of a murder that bore strong resemblance to his novel Amok.

He claimed he read about the murder in news accounts and incorporated it into his work.

I don't know that the matter should really dissuade writers from finding inspiration in headlines for fear of being accused. Bala had ties to the victim that became apparent after a tip, and police said there were details in Amok that only the police or the killer would know.

Other dangers of ripping stories from the headlines are worth remembering:

Someone else--such as Law and Order--could be ripping as well, and your novel will not seem fresh.

Real life recounted in print is journalism. Make sure there's something worthwhile you can do with characters and situations to add meaning.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pay It Forward - Thriller Writing Tips

I haven't seen the new Kevin Bacon thriller Death Sentence yet, but reading about it led me to an item I thought I'd share - Brian Garfield's Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction. Word up is they helped John Grisham with The Firm, so they can't hurt.

The new movie is based--loosely, I think--on Garfield's sequel to Death Wish, the novel and not the movie, and when I discovered that I bounced around Garfield links and found the thriller tips.

Unseen wonders
I can't tell you if the movie is any good, but once upon a time I liked the book. I found it in paperback on a variety store's rack. I'd read Death Wish because I couldn't see the movie. There was a time when I was too young for things.

I'd also read interviews in which Garfield expressed his dismay over Charles Bronson's portrayal as a hero in the film adaptation of Death Wish.

"Fill your hand," Bronson as Paul Kersey née Benjamin utters in the brutal final action set piece of the film, harkening back to a host of Western gunfighters.

Based upon
As I read, I discovered Death Sentence was Garfield's answer to his concern. Asides even featured characters voicing some of the same things he said about vigilantism in newspaper interviews.

Sentence focuses on Paul Benjamin's move to Chicago where he continues his vigilante ways until his notoriety spawns another vigilante more vicious than he.

He ultimately has to track down and face the other shooter and come to terms with his life and his losses.

It's far better than the inexplicably brutal Death Wish II, and worth a look if you enjoy a thoughtful page turner.

Other Garfield works I've enjoyed include Hopscotch inexplicably adapted for film by Garfield himself as a comedy; Recoil and if you can find back issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine look for his spy stories featuring cold war operative Charlie. Those are a load of fun.
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