My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Thursday, February 28

Academy Awards

A few words about this year's Academy Awards show: boring, boring, boring. Seth MacFarlane was as bland as vanilla tapioca pudding and should not—NOT—be invited to do it again. Most of the winners went as everyone expected except for best director, which went to Ang Lee instead of Speilberg. The acceptance speeches were forgettable. Pretty much everything about this show was forgettable. The songs were forgettable once again, although “Skyfall” beat the pants off that awful winner in 2005, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” Just look at all the forgettable song winners in the past decade: “Things Have Changed” (2000), “If I Didn’t Have You” (2001), “Love Yourself” (2002), “Into the West” (2003), “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” (2004), “I Need to Wake Up” ((2006), “Falling Slowly” (2007), “Jai Ho” (2008), “The weary Kind” (2009), “We Belong Together” (2010), “Man or Muppet” (2011). Now I ask you, how many of those can you hum along with? As awful and forgettable as the songs from the 2000’s, the songs from the 50’s and 60’s were as wonderful and memorable: “Mona Lisa” (1950), “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (1951), “High Noon” (1952), “Secret Love” (1953), “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954), “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” (1955), “Que Sera, Sera” (1956), “All the Way” (1957), “Gigi” (1958), “High Hopes” (1959), “Moon River” (1961), “The Days of Wine and Roses” (1962), “Call Me Irresponsible” (1963), “The Shadow of Your Smile” (1965), “Born Free” (1966), “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (1969). In 1973 we had, thanks to Barbra and the Bergmans, “The Way We Were,” which Barbra reprised during this year’s “In Memoriam” tribute, singing it as well now as she did all those years ago. In 1976 we had Barbra’s and Paul Williams’ collaboration on “Evergreen.” And just to put it all in perspective, in 1939, the winner was “Over the Rainbow.” And in 1936, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” LOST to “The Way You Look Tonight.” Maybe it’s just my mental decrepitude, but I find almost all of the songs for the past twenty years to be forgettable and inferior to almost anything written in the years before the 90’s.

Wednesday, February 27

Side Effects & Casablanca

In speaking about this movie, I have to be extra careful not to include any spoilers. The whole damn thing involves spoilers. Almost anything I say would spoil something about the plot. I’m talking about Side Effects, with Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. The side effects referred to in the title relate to depression drugs . . . at least on the surface. The viewer just assumes this will be about the negative side effects so many anti-depression drugs have on the taker. But then the plot spins around and seems to be more about the effects our actions have on the directions our lives take. “Present behavior is often determined by past behavior,” Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) would say. Banks is a psychiatrist who is treating Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) for depression, prescribing a variety of anti-depressants with complicating side effects. Director Steven Soderbergh has given us a mystery within a mystery within a mystery, and it would take a second viewing of this movie to sort it all out. I’ll leave it there, except for one more comment. Rooney Mara, our dragon-tattooed lady, shows that she’s much more than just a kick-ass computer genius. She’s also a very fine actress.

Last night we decided to watch our latest from Netflix, that old classic Casablanca. Neither of us had ever seen it and we’ve both heard from any number of people what a great film it was. But after an hour, we shook our heads, turned it off, walked out, and left the building. It was just so hokey. There they all were—Peter Lorre slipping around like an unsavory eel; Sydney Greenstreet in all his corpulent splendor; pencil-mustachioed Claude Rains doing a tilt-hatted police captain; handsome Paul Henreid just doing his suave thing; Dooley Wilson on piano; Humphrey Bogart as Rick, smoking and drinking through the whole thing; and, of course, Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa, Rick’s one true love. It’s a shame what time does to the films we loved in our youth, to the music we loved in our youth. I now hear the big-band tracks from the Forties and they don’t sound nearly as good as they did when I was a young man. I hear Vaughan Monroe, Bing Crosby, Tony Martin, Jo Stafford, Billie Holiday, or Doris Day and they don’t sound nearly as good as they did when I was a young man. The same is true with films. A year ago I decided to revisit a movie I loved from my youth, High Noon, with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. And it was so very hokey, from the intrusive background music to the silliness of the final shootout. How could I ever have thought this was a great movie? Well, it was then; it isn’t now. That’s what time does. I wonder if other old favorites would also be as out of step—Shane, Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din, North by Northwest. I think I’d rather not know. Let them stay as classics in my memory instead of chapters in my hokey book.

Sunday, February 24

Piano Man & The Following

We attended a special musical feature at the Arizona Broadway Theatre last night, Terry Davies and his band doing a tribute to the music of Elton John and Billy Joel. What a really fun evening. And the house was packed, a capacity crowd of 461 there to see and listen to the songs we know and love. It was the first time we've ever been there when there wasn't an empty spot anywhere, even up in the overhead balcony. If you ever get a chance to see Terry Davies in concert, don't miss it. You'll love what he does with such oldies but goodies as Sir Elton's "Candle in the Wind," "Rocket Man," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and "Bennie and the Jets," and Billy's "We Didn't Start the Fire," Uptown Girl," "New York State of Mind," and, of course, "The Piano Man."

I’m watching Fox’s rather gruesome thriller, The Following, with Kevin Bacon playing a fallen FBI agent who is called back to help the bureau recapture a serial killer who has just escaped from prison. From what I’d heard about it before the pilot, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the blood bath the previews had promised. And the promise about blood was accurate. There’s blood everywhere, mostly the result of knives to the belly or eyes. Despite the gore, I’m enjoying the tension and the surprises. Joe Carroll is a charismatic English professor specializing in Edgar Allen Poe. His charisma allows him to recruit a following of young psychopaths who do his bidding even when he’s behind bars. There are echoes of other cult leaders like Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Jim Jones, with an emphasis on the manipulation of the followers. And for anyone who’s a fan of The Mentalist on CBS, he will be reminded of Patrick Jane’s Red John. Unlike Red John, who remains faceless through all five seasons of The Mentalist, Joe Carroll is evident from the pilot on. The back story of how Carroll was originally captured by Ryan Hardy is seen in brief flashbacks as far back as 2003, when Hardy goes to see Carroll for his help with the Poe references that some killer of young women has been leaving behind. I’m sure that as the series progresses we will be shown the entire beginning as a series of flashbacks. I can hardly wait.

Thursday, February 21

Words to Play With

I’m a big fan of words, English words, that is. I guess that goes almost without saying since I chose to teach English all my life. And English words can be so interesting but often so peculiar. For example, “invalid” has two pronunciations and two meanings. When it’s an adjective and pronounced “in-VAL-id,” it describes something no longer valid—having no force, null or void. But when it’s a noun and pronounced “IN-val-id,” it describes a weak, sickly person, especially one who is chronically ill or disabled. What a cruel thing to call a sick or disabled person, suggesting he’s null or void.

Another set of words involves the suffix “-ful,” which derives from Anglo Saxon, and “-ous,” which derives from old French by way of Latin. The both mean “full of” whatever is the root to which it attaches ("harmonious, full of harmony"). We have a small group of words which can take either suffix and mean essentially the same thing: beautiful and beauteous, wonderful and wondrous, plentiful and plenteous, graceful and gracious, pitiful and piteous, bountiful and bounteous, joyful and joyous, rightful and righteous, doubtful and dubious. All of these pairs are nearly synonymous, but not quite. Each one has taken on slightly different hues and one almost has to consult a dictionary to see the proper usage for each. The best example might be graceful and gracious. “Graceful” suggests beauty of form, expression, or movement, especially physical movement. “Gracious” suggests a person showing kindness or courtesy, mercy or compassion. Both describe people who are full of grace, but one a physical grace, the other a mental grace.

But we also have many words ending in “–ful” that don’t have a near synonym ending in “-ous” and many ending in “-ous” that don’t have a brotherly “-ful.” Many of them should, though, with some fanciful (fancifous) or humorous (humorful) results. For example, “sinful” might have “sinuous,” the one meaning full of sin, the other meaning full of twists and turns, like the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve with that tasty, sinful (sinuous) apple. If there’s a “righteous,” why not a “wrongeous?” For every “sorrowful,” there should be a “sorrowous,” a “hateous” for every “hateful,” a “stupendeful” for every “stupendous,” a “malodorful” for every “malodorous,” a “ridicuful” for every “ridiculous.” And to end this discussion, we should have both a “bsifous” as well as a “bsiful.”

Tuesday, February 19

Words to Live By

Here are a few maxims, a few words of wisdom compiled by Robert Byrne. Some you may already be familiar with but which bear repeating. Most you won’t have seen before now. Pass them on to appropriate people.

For my daughter Laura: Always be smarter than the people that hire you. (Lena Horne)

This, for my daughters Laura and Jeri: The best revenge is to live long enough to be a problem to your children. (unknown)

Better to have loved and lost a short person than never to have loved a tall. (David Chamberlain)

For my boy cat Charlie: Dogs come when they’re called; cats take a message and get back to you. (Mary Bly)

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. (James Thurber)

I have a simple philosophy: fill what’s empty; empty what’s full; scratch where it itches. (Alice Roosevelt Longworth)

There is more to life than increasing its speed. (Mahatma Gandhi)

For all my boozing buddies: Is life worth living? That depends on the liver. (unknown)

For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow, but phone calls taper off. (Johnny Carson)

Never play leapfrog with a unicorn. (unknown) [personal corollary: Never extend the middle finger to a young man in a small green car.]

The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it’s unfamiliar territory. (Paul Fix)

Never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person. (unknown)

Sometimes when you look in his eyes you get the feeling that someone else is driving. (David Letterman)

Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care. (William Safire)

I’d rather have a free bottle in front of me than a prefrontal lobotomy. (Tom Waits)

For those of you who dislike some of my movie reviews: I am sitting in the smallest room in the house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me. (Max Reger)

“When life gives you lemons, open a lemonade stand.” This is just one version of this old optimism saw. But Emo Phillips took it a step further: “At my lemonade stand,” he said, “I used to give the first glass away free and charge $5 for the second glass. The refill contained the antidote.”

Saturday, February 16

Identity Thief & Jeff, Who Lives at Home

A long time ago, when I was growing up, I knew a woman who weighed about 400 pounds, give or take a pound or two here or there, mostly here. She was a very nice woman, but she weighed this gigantic amount. I and nearly everyone else would say, “She’d be so pretty if she just lost two or three hundred pounds.” That’s sort of what I think when I see Melissa McCarthy doing her comic business, as she did in Bridesmaids and now again in Identity Thief. “She’d be so pretty if she just lost (in her case) one or two hundred pounds.” Does her comic genius depend on the extra weight or would she be just as funny at 120? I’m guessing she’d be just as funny only in a different way, less physical shtick and more cerebral. After all, Tina Fey is pretty funny and she doesn’t depend on slapstick for her humor. In Identity Thief, McCarthy plays a woman who makes up for her weighty insecurities by stealing identities, becoming momentarily someone other than herself, sort of getting away from this fat, really obnoxious woman named Diana and becoming a Sandy Patterson, for example. Jason Bateman plays the Sandy person whose identity McCarthy steals, causing him all kinds of legal and financial problems until he can straighten things out. So he travels from Colorado to Florida to capture the thief, then bring her back to Colorado to explain what she’s done. He finds her, he captures her, but in bringing her back all kinds of trouble ensues—a bounty hunter, a pair of paid killers, several wrecked autos, and at least two snakes. An odd sort of bonding, an odd series of laughs, a highly forgettable film to help one while away a Friday afternoon. And please, Melissa, lose some weight. You’d be so pretty.

Last night we spent a more rewarding hour and a half with Jason Segel, who played Jeff in the quiet comedy Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Jeff is a huge fan of the movie Signs, and feels that all of life is connected and we all need to pay attention to the signs that indicate those connections. He gets a wrong number call threatening someone named Kevin. So he takes Kevin as a sign, following a young man wearing a jersey with the name Kevin on the back. All that gets him is a knock on the head and the theft of the money he got from his mother to fix a slat in a a closet door. Then he spots a Kevin’s Kandy delivery truck that leads him to his brother, who is busy following his wife and what he thinks is her lover. Meanwhile, Jeff’s mother (Susan Sarandon) is getting text messages at work from a secret admirer. All the plot threads come together, the signs really did lead Jeff to his destiny, and everybody lives happily ever after. A nice, quiet way to spend an evening, just enough laughs, just enough pathos to keep us going.

Friday, February 15

News of the Day

Marco Rubio (or Mark O’Rubio as I sometimes think of him as if he were an angry Irishman), acting as the Republican naysayer (well, they’re all Obama naysayers right now with Marco serving as nominated naysayer), says that government can’t do anything about weather or climate change, chastising President Obama for suggesting that the present administration could do something about weather or climate change. Does Rubio think that nothing can be done about it, or only that the present administration could do nothing about it? Wouldn’t he agree that our nation could apply pressure on other industrial nations to cut back on pollution? Wouldn’t he agree that some new legislation could require in this country tougher standards for auto and industrial emissions? I guess I’m just sick of the Republicans, like pouty-faced losers, saying no to everything Obama proposes. According to a recent poll, 89% of democrats favor attempts to change climate, 62% of independents, and only 38% of republicans.

We’ve never felt tempted to take a cruise anywhere, and now we know why. How would you like to have been on the Carnival Cruise liner having to share five toilets with four thousand others? The audacity of calling these “luxury” cruises. Assuming each person might need the facilities three times a day, that makes 12,000 uses divided by five equals 2400 uses per day per toilet, or 100 per hour, or once every thirty-six seconds. At least the seat would always be warm. But it wouldn’t leave much time for friendly banter between outgoing and incoming squatters. Not much time for wiping either. And then the cruise line is offering a free cruise to those unfortunate cruisers. Wow! No thanks.

The Westminster Dog Show just crowned Banana Joe their new poster boy. He’s an affenpinscher (What’s an affenpinscher?) and cute as a little black button. How much we love loveable little dogs and cats.

Oscar Pistorius, the blade runner from South Africa who captured our hearts and admiration in last year’s Olympic Games, has now supposedly broken our hearts with the possible murder of his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Oh, Oscar, say it isn’t so. We have so few heroes anymore, we can’t afford to lose another.

Recent news from Arizona State University about campus fight clubs, a two- to twelve-person pool brawl at a campus perty. Just good, honest youthful fun. And, according to local news sources, fight clubs are popular and numerous on the ASU campus. What possesses young people to want to pummel each other with feet and fists? I don’t know. Is the adrenaline rush enough to overcome the pain? I wouldn’t think so, but I’m a pacifist. And I’m also averse to pain.

One last news comment. Has any First Lady since Jackie O been more charming and beautiful than Michelle Obama? I don’t think so.

Tuesday, February 12

Blogger's Block & Bad Guys

I’m suffering from severe writer’s block, or in my and Danae’s worlds, Blogger’s Block. There just doesn’t seem to be anything worth writing about. “Even if it’s crap, get it on the page,” some writers instruct. But who wants to read crap? Or maybe it’s not only that no one wants to read crap, no one is reading what I have to say, crap or garbage or words of silver and gold. Word crap, verborrhea. I wonder if there’s an antonym for verborrhea. How about verboconstipa? That’s what I’m suffering—verboconstipa. All the words are there, but the linguistic sphincter is squeezed like a fist. In some cases, that’s a better affliction than the opposite. Too many people today are so full of words they just can’t wait to find someone on whom to pour those words. Such a nice list of words for that—bombast (suggesting a barrage of words like hand grenades, or mouth grenades), prolixity, verbosity, verbal plethora, verbophilia, euphuism, grandiloquence (these last two suggesting not so much an outpouring of words as a fondness for purple prose, a straining for effect rather than meaning). But enough about crap, bullshit. What about this lack of ideas or words? I could write about the weather, the wave of severe blizzards sweeping across the east coast. But what can I say except that I’m really thankful I live here in Arizona and not back there. I might write about any movies I’ve seen lately, but I’ve either already written about them or I haven’t seen any movies lately. We did watch the pilot of FX’s The Americans last night, with it’s odd use of protagonists for whom the viewer doesn’t know which to feel, an empathy for them or an aversion to them because they’re bad people embarked on a bad mission. The main characters are a couple of Russian spies, deeply embedded in cold war America. They’ve been trained to be as American as apple pie, living apple pie lives with two apple pie children, waiting for orders to do whatever spies do. But they both seem to be so normal, such good people. Do we root for them or do we despise them? I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what the writers do with them in future episodes. I’m reminded of other fictional characters with this same double nature. John Sandford, in one of his Prey series, included a hitperson named Clara Rinker, a very likeable young woman who just happened to kill people for money, most of whom probably deserved to die, in some way connected to one mob or another. But still, she was a killer. Do we like her, root for her, or do we despise her? Lawrence Block has a series about a hitman named Keller. Keller kills people for money, and he’s very good at it. And, like Clara Rinker, he disposes of people who probably deserve to die. He, too, is a very likeable character and the reader really does root for him.
I remember reading Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay a few years ago, a novel about a man named Dexter Morgan, whose foster father early on recognized the boy’s psychotic need to kill. So, instead of shipping him off to psychologists, he convinces him to channel his psychosis by killing serial killers. A psycho killer who kills psycho killers. And the reader sympathizes with Dexter. That’s rather creepy, but there you have it. The television series based on Dexter takes it even further, making him a loving husband and father, the flip side of his dark side. Hard to decide these days who are the good guys and who the bad. It’s like the popularity of the Twilight series, the many fans of these fanged characters. I mean, they’re vampires, for God’s sake. And the fans of the walking dead. I mean, they’re zombies, for God’s sake. Even Clint Eastwood’s main character in The Unforgiven is duplicitous (I know, I know, it means he’s a lier, but I want it to mean he’s a two-sided character). Is he an evil man who became good and then became evil again when he goes to fight evil and does evil things? The line between evil and good is no longer as clear as it once was, when good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black. Now, everyone seems to be wearing gray.

Whoosh! That’s a lot of words for someone suffering from Blogger’s Block. The sphincter may have loosened.

Tuesday, February 5

Les Miserables

I don’t quite know what to say, and that’s pretty unusual for me. I usually have something to say about nearly everything. We just saw Les Misérables and were both pretty miserable for the nearly three hours it ran. I’m a lifelong lover of music and musicals, but this one was more laughable than moving. I saw it on stage and was impressed with the singing and the set designs, but this film’s sets felt more like bad Disney than good theatre. Maybe it was the voices. Hugh Jackman can sing with the best of them, but Ann Hathaway and Russell Crowe should stick to straight drama. Especially Russell Crowe. He might be a great “gladiator” and have “a beautiful mind,” but he stunk as Javert. I could hardly wait for him to leap into the Seine near the end, and I almost felt like cheering when he did. I’d even rather have had them use real singers dubbing in most of the score. I mean, Audrey Hepburn had Marni Nixon dubbing for her in the film version of My Fair Lady, so why not real singers here in Les Miz? Or maybe it was the story. Hugo’s characters didn’t necessarily need realistic motives when Hugo penned this novel, but I need them, and too much of what happens to the characters doesn’t make any sense. Why would Javert so relentlessly pursue Valjean for simply breaking his parole after he served nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread? Why did Valjean need to break his parole? How did he manage to become so successful in the years following? Why did he feel so obsessed with caring for Fantine’s daughter? Sorry, Andrew Lloyd Weber, other than “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Bring Him Home,” I can get along just fine without the rest of the score, especially the operatic singing of every line of dialogue whether it deserved song or not, no matter how mundane the thought. And I’d rather have had them all do a Beyonce bit and lip synch the numbers than have the cast do it all live, especially when they had to shoot too many in full-face close-ups, noses dripping and eyes simply gushing tears as they emoted Weber’s words. Please let me know if you disagree with my assessment, but don't get violent. Just let me know where I went wrong. Or right.

Saturday, February 2

The Impossible & Hatred

I don’t think Naomi Watts, for her role in The Impossible, will win the Oscar for best actress. I don’t even think she deserved the nomination for what she did in The Impossible. This movie has gotten a bunch of praise from any number of critics, but other than the awesome opening when the tsunami came rushing in and killed over a quarter of a million people and caused all the destruction and devastation, there wasn’t much plot. Okay, so it was based on a true story about this family that somehow survived and somehow found each other again, but still, the search wasn’t enough story to hold me. Just nothing much happened. I had the feeling all through it that I was watching people acting like people in tragic circumstances, especially Lucas, the oldest son played by Tom Holland. He kept screwing his face into what he must have considered anguish, but to me it looked like he was really on the verge of cracking a smile. And Naomi Watts just didn’t have much acting to do. She did a lot of groaning and sobbing but had almost no dialogue. So where is the great acting? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just too out of synch with modern film trends. I don’t much care for vampires or werewolves or zombies or gnomes, and until they get rid of the glasses, I can skip all the 3-D gimmicks. I just found it impossible to get very excited about The Impossible.

A neutral feeling for The Impossible is one thing, and dislike is another. Then there’s hate. I don’t think there’s ever been a movie I hated. I just like some less than others. And I haven’t hated a person in a long time. I guess the last one was that really hateful student I once had in one of my writing classes. But he shouldn’t have been worthy of my negative emotions. The nature of hatred is that it does absolutely no one any good. The object of one’s hate isn’t any worse off for it, but the hater often finds his own soul poisoned, life gray and grainy, nights sleepless, tension in the belly that just won’t go away, a whirling in the brain as he gets so caught up in the hate he forgets all the good stuff in life. But oh, the satisfaction of getting even. Even that, though, leads to sorrow. Such is the nature of retribution—everyone gets splattered and no one wins.

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