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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.

Wednesday, May 29

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Well, Kate Atkinson, you finally did me in. I just finished your latest novel Life After Life, and I was both fascinated and confounded at the same time. How in the world did you do it? How did you manage to keep all the story lines in order and all the tiny details that were encased in each of those story lines, each one slightly different each time they were introduced? By story lines, I mean the various lives the main character leads each time after she dies one way or another. The main character, a young English woman named Ursula Todd, born in 1910, dies in childbirth, drowns as a child in a tidal undertow, dies from a fall out her upstairs window, got pneumonia as a young girl and dies, dies again of influenza as a young girl, dies as a young woman from gas in her apartment when the pilot light goes out, dies from a savage beating from her husband, commits suicide in a bombed out city in Germany at the end of WWII, and dies a number of other ways. Life after life. And each life is parallel to all the others but with variations in the details of each. Amazing. Atkinson handles time like a fruit cocktail: puts all the temporal elements in a blender and stirs them all together. She moves back and forth, in and out, nothing straightforward in the telling, labeling each time segment but including within it backward details as the various characters remember events. The settings are the English countryside, a blitzkrieged London, prewar Germany, a bombed-out Germany, pre-war London, post-war London. I’d love to see this as a movie, but the script writers wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I’d also like to recommend this book to anyone with the fortitude to wade through Atkinson’s complicated world view. But any impatient readers should avoid it like the plague. If you'd care to read a review of the novel that explains it far better than I can. go to Meg Wolitzer.

Tuesday, May 28

Life in the Arbor

I’ve written (fairly often) about the arbor vitae trees that guard our back property line. For those unacquainted with arbor vitae, they’re an evergreen from the cypress family, soft, not prickly leaves or needles, shaped like hands, with blue berries that appear once or twice a year as invitation to birds. Some are tall and skinny (pyramidalis), some are low and squat like fat munchkins (globe). And some, like ours, are tall and stately and rounded like Christmas trees. Most people here in the Valley of the Sun keep them pruned down to five or six feet, but we’ve let our go as high as they want. And apparently they’ve wanted to touch the clouds. When I came to Arizona in 1994 to buy a house in Sun City West, one of the things that most attracted me to the one we bought was that wonderful privacy hedge of nine arbor vitaes. Not that I don’t love my neighbors. Good fences really do make good neighbors, as Frost told me years ago. I just don’t want to have to see my neighbors or exchange neighborly hellos from one back yard to the other. The trees were about fifteen feet all when we moved in. They’re now up to thirty feet. One on the left side gave up the ghost about ten years ago, becoming a ghastly brown skeleton of its former green glory, and we had it taken down. But the hole was filled in nicely by an oleander bush. They first hung lower branches to the ground like hoop skirts, providing shelter for the many birds and beasts that lived with us—rabbits, lizards, quail and doves, even a family of javalinas that grew fond of the quail block we’d put out for the birds. We have since had them trimmed up about four feet, and, sadly, depriving most of the backyard beasties of a home. The javalina mom or dad, around midnight, would drag the block into the sheltering arbor vitae and chomp down as much as they could break off the block. Their little pink son, as far as I know, didn’t get any. After retrieving the remains of the quail block two or three times, we finally gave in the pigs and let them have it. But we bought no more quail blocks, and the javalina family moved on to more generous pastures. The trees and their inhabitants became the focus of my children’s novel, Life in the Arbor—Rollie Rabbit, Fred Lizard, Mollie Monarch, and Buzz Hummingbird. I love that book and wish that every third or fourth grader in Arizona could read it. But that’s not in my publishing cards. They’ll just never know what they’re missing. Sounds too much like sour grapes on my part. If there’s anyone who might read this and are interested in my Life in the Arbor, it’s available at Amazon.com in hard or soft cover, or at lulu.com as an e-book. I’d hope you’d be as enchanted as I am. But then, a writer shouldn’t be enchanted by his own work. However, I am.

Sunday, May 26

Tiger

Sunday with Colonial golf in Texas, an afternoon Diamondback game, maybe a little NBA action this evening. I wonder how many Sunday hours I’ve spent in my life watching Sunday sports. Too many even to guess at. Tiger’s not playing this weekend, so I watch the action with one eye only. Boo Weekly seems bound to win, but he has a lot of pursuers. Matt Kuchar is near the top and he seems likeable, though the boys in the tower say he has a volcanic temper. How can anyone with such a cherubic smile be prone to anger? Which lead me back to Tiger. So many people (both PGA players as well as a bunch of old farts here in Sun City West) are now saying he’s a bad person and no one likes him. He’s too withdrawn, they say, too unfriendly. He spits all the time on camera and should be penalized for it. He shows fits of anger and swears on camera. He plays mind games on fellow competitors (hear that, Sergio?). He cheats and tourney officials let him get by with it (for example, the cheatful drop on 15 in this year’s Masters, the cheatful drop after hitting into the water on 15 in this year’s Players). He gets too much on-and off-camera coverage. He’s a lecherous womanizer. Let me speak to those charges. Hogan was called “the wee icemon” because he never acknowledges the people he was playing with. Tommy Bolt (Lightning Bolt) would often wrap a club around a tree when anything went wrong. Sergio has been seen to slam a club into the ground after a bad shot. Nearly every golfer, pro or amateur, has dropped a few F-bombs during the course of a round at this infernal game. Many of the young players spit during around but the camera doesn’t see them because the cameras are always on Tiger. Sam Snead, according to those who knew him, was a notorious golf shark who not only player mind games but would also cheat a bit when he was playing with buddies. The omnipresent camera that follows Tiger, the many many articles written about Tiger aren’t of Tiger’s doing. It’s just that I and most other golf addicts want to see him and read about him. As for the womanizing, I wonder how many tour players, on the road for much of each year, have dallied with some sexy golf groupie. I’ve heard rumors that the hallowed and haloed Arnold Palmer dallied a bit in his youth. I realize I’ve sometimes (often) been too ardent in my admiration for Tiger. I know that admiration took a big hit on that fateful November night a few years ago. But I still admire him for the golf marvels he produces. And I hope I live long enough to see him win that 19th major.

Thursday, May 23

Movie Chatter

A word or two about movies. I haven’t yet seen Gatsby and I’m not sure I want to. I’d hate to have this glitzy 3-D version spoil one of my favorite novels. I love Leonardo DiCaprio and I’m sure he makes an admirable Jay, but from what I’ve seen of the previews, there seems to be a too Dolbyish score and too much confetti flying at the viewer. That’s too much emphasis on the effects than on The Great Gatsy I know. And speaking of ear-shattering Dolby sound (which seems to be the case with every action flick that comes out), I just saw Star Trek, Into Darkness and felt like my head was exploding along with the exploding cities and space ships, the smashing of fists into faces (and no one seemed to be very seriously injured by these gargantuan blows). For Trekies, this was a wonderful film for renewing our acquaintance with the young Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Bones, Uhura, and Sulu. Even an aging Leonard Nimoy made a brief appearance. And the futuristic gadgetry on the Enterprise and the smaller ships was wonderful, as were the digitized views of 23rd century cities. But the story was too confusing with too many unanswered questions, the sound effects too deafening, too much hand-to-hand combat. I’d give it 3½ stars instead of the 5 most other critics are giving it. Now, I guess I’ll go see what Iron Man 3 is doing, compare its special effects to Star Trek, watch Gweneth Paltro do her stuff. Hell, I’d go just to watch her whether it was sci-fi or country or a little Shakespeare stuff.

Monday, May 20

Teeth & Time

It's been nearly two years now that I've been fighting the good (or bad) fight with my teeth. Somewhere in mid-2011 I had three Mexican crowns (no, not Mexican monarchs, Mexican dental crowns) all decide to break off at the gum line, all in one month. Instead of implants I decided to go with a partial upper plate. Didn't work but it cost a bundle. Went to a different dentist who went "tsk tsk" and told me it was a bad decision. So he had an oral surrgeon pull five uppers for an exorbitant $1250. Then a six month wait for the gums to settle for a more complete upper plate and a final partial upper plate for aother exorbitant amount. Hated the plate. Went to Midwestern Dental University to see what they could do: extract the remaining upper teeth and five lower teeth and build two temporary plates, a complete upper and a partial lower. Then another six months for the gums to recede. All this time I have two temporary plates that bounced all over in my mouth when I chewed. And now, finally, I have only three more weeks until my permanent plates come back from the lab. Then I should have a mouthful of teeth that actually work. And all for a mere $4,000. Yikes! I've put over $12,000 into a reconstructed chew. The bad news? The twelve grand. The good news? I've lost about 25 pounds because I had to chew so slowly that I was always full after half a meal. What a way to lose weight.

Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again. I say you can go home again as long as you're not looking for what was once there, like youth and youthful dreams and old romances.

Sunday, May 19

Back Yard News

It’s a lovely Sunday morning in the Valley. The day is clear with a slight breeze, temps in the mid-seventies. The dumb doves seem to be everywhere, who-who-who-whooing to each other, wings slapping loudly as they fight for position in the arbor vitae or engage in their seemingly endless sexual activities. The other morning I watched a female browsing for juuust the right sticks for a hastily made nest. I wonder how many nestings and egg layings they do in the course of a year. Apparently , with all the sexual activity, they just go from one hatch to another. Judging from the many doves we have in our neighborhood they must raise thirty or forty a year. A seldom seen road runner came skulking through our yard a bit ago, but no Wile E. Coyote giving chase. Curious how few coyotes come through our yard anymore. We used to have three large siblings browse through every week or so, but I haven’t seen them for several months. I read an article about a coyote pup that ran headlong into a jumping cholla. Oh, what a mess he found. Jumping cholla, or teddy bear cholla, are an infernal cactus that look as innocent as a teddy bear, but when you inadvertently brush up against one, its little arms seem to jump out at you and attach to foot or leg, and when you try to detach it with hand, it then sinks its little innocent barbs into the hand. And then the other hand when you try to rid yourself of it. The coyote pup would have died a painful death if not for two workers at the golf course that found him. They held him down and used a pair of pliers to extricate the pup, then gave him back to a wary mom. One lucky lad. The other thing curiously absent are the quail families coming and going. We used to see countless parents with as many as twenty little acorn babies scurrying by. But so far, none this year. The road runner couldn’t possibly account for their absence, although they can eat baby quail like popcorn. I haven’t seen the cardinal for a while, but I still hear him sing now and then. And the yellow monarch that hung around for several weeks is now gone. They usually migrate in great social clouds, but this one seemed to be too independent for that. She finally flew the coop north to join her fellow kings and queens, in time to lay her eggs that will hatch and become caterpillars that munch on milkweed before chrysalising to repeat the whole process. Such a nice circle of life. We should all be as lucky as monarchs (both kings and queens as well as flutterbys).

Wednesday, May 15

Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson again, simply because she’s such a fascinating read. In a front cover blurb for When Will There Be Good News? Stephen King says it succinctly and accurately: “As a reader I was charmed. As a novelist, I was staggered by Atkinson’s narrative wizardry.” That’s high praise from the king of horror, who himself often engages in narrative sleight of hand. Yes, her narrative wizardry, her legerdemain, her “now you see it, now you don’t.” She keeps the reader on his toes as she leads him back and forth in time, holding up an event and then examining it from different points of view, showing it to us before and after, then snatching it away to begin another chapter in another time with a new set of characters. She tends to rely too much on coincidence, but as Jackson Brodie says, “A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.” She coincidentally hooks diverse characters into her plots, not finalizing their connections until the very end, and though the reader notices the unlikeliness of the connections, he doesn’t care because of the serendipitous plot endings. She inserts little mental asides in parentheses, sometimes in brackets, some just bare, some in italics and some in quote marks. I’ve quit trying to figure out what the different methods signify. But the real skill, the real charm, lies in the characters. They think and say and do things that knock me out with their unexpectedness. Reggie, a tough little sixteen-year-old, is a good example. She remembers waving goodbye to her “mum,” who was going on holiday, tragically drowning in a hotel pool. The memory of that farewell was “murky, half made-up, with the missing bits filled in. Really, every time a person said goodbye to another person, they should pay attention, just in case it was the last time. First things were good, last things not so much.” She describes her Latin tutor: “Ms. MacDonald was in her fifties, but she had never been young. When she was a teacher at the school, she looked as if she ironed herself every morning and had never betrayed a trace of irrational behavior (quite the opposite), but now not only had she embraced a crazy religion but she dressed as if she were one step away from being a bag lady, and her house was two steps beyond squalid.” Later, she’s considering death and God’s involvement: “Was there a kind of lottery (Reggie imagined a raffle) where God picked out your chosen method of going—‘Heart attack for him, cancer for her, let’s see, have we had a terrible car crash yet this month?’ Not that Reggie believed in God, but it was interesting sometimes to imagine. Did God get out of bed one morning and draw back the curtains (Reggie’s imaginary God led a very domesticated life) and think, ‘A drowning in a hotel swimming pool today, I fancy. We haven’t had that one in a while.’ ” Dr. Joanna Hunter also considers God, and says something so true to my heart, so much as I’ve always believed, I have to mention it. “Joanna didn’t believe in God, how could she, but she believed in the existence of the soul, believed indeed in the transference of the soul, and although she wouldn’t have stood up at a scientific conference and declared it, she also believed that she carried the souls of her dead family inside her and one day the baby would do the same for her. Just because you were a rational and skeptical atheist didn’t mean that you didn’t have to get through every day the best way you could.” Louise Monroe, a detective who is attracted to the ex-cop Jackson Brodie, is one tough cookie, and considers this about criminals and the death penalty: “Sometimes Louise hankered after the days when prisoners were made to walk endlessly on treadmills or turn crank handles. Pedophiles, murderers, rapists, should they really be making books ? If it were up to Louise, she would put the lot of them down.” As I’ve said, nearly everything is quotable. I hope I live long enough to read everything Kate Atkinson writes, long enough to continue quoting her.

Tuesday, May 14

The Bates Motel

The finale of The Bates Motel next week, and what an odd but fascinating series it’s been so far. That dreadful (in all meanings of the word) house on the hill, the seedy motel below, Norma Bates and Norman Bates sharing the house (and also the bed), blood and pot just everywhere. The viewer is seeing these people with the plot of Psycho in the back of his mind, seeing the traces of madness in young Norman, remembering the desiccated body of Norma in that rocking chair, the “shriek shriek” of the screaming violins as Norman pulls the shower curtain aside to reveal a wet and screaming Janet Leigh just before Norman’s knife gets her. And now we’re seeing how it all began. Vera Farmiga, as Norma, will be nominated for an Emma for what she does with this character. And she deserves to win it. She’s sexy, tormented, obsessive, possessive, and strong enough and brutal enough to kill anyone who gets in her way. Then there’s Freddie Highmore as Norman, a sweet young teenager who sometimes blacks out in times of crisis, like when he bops his abusive father in the head with a heavy blender receptacle as the father was knocking Norma around the kitchen, or when he bops Keith Summers in the head when Summers (the former owner of the motel) is about to rape Norma, who then stabs and kills Summers when he comes to. Norman has the face of an angel with a hint evil lurking in the eyes. He loves his mother . . . maybe too much. She loves her son . . . maybe too much. His school chum Emma Decody trails after Norman like a dog, hauling along with her the oxygen tank she needs to stay alive (and we can see that somewhere in the future she’ll lose the tank or have it taken from her). Her father teaches Norman the art of taxidermy. And what does that suggest about Norma when she dies? Right. Yikes! All this against the background of White Pine Bay, Oregon, with secrets everywhere—an unidentified drug lord, a huge field of marijuana, a sex ring and captive Oriental girls, a nasty man who rents room 9 but is there really to find money left behind by Keith Summers. It would be just another horror series except for Vera Farmiga. She makes it much more than that.

Saturday, May 11

Final Idol & Mud

Down to the final two on American Idol, Kree and Candice. Either one would be a deserving winner. Even Angie, who was voted off on Wednesday, would have been an acceptable choice. When the final three sang their third song, Candice got a huge advantage over the other two when she was given “Somewhere” from West Side Story. Any of the three would have received a standing O with that song. I hate most of the songs that get selected. Just too much peripheral noise—audience hooting, too many backup singers, too many whanging guitars. And unless you’re familiar with the song, know the lyrics, you can’t understand what they’re singing. Somewhere along the way, especially in the last three or four weeks, the contestants should all be required to sing the same song, a cappella—same song, no backup singers, no orchestra, nada. Just their voices with nowhere to hide. I’d like to see what they’d do with “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”, Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s wonderful, understandable lyrics. That would separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the real singers from the pretenders.
A few words about Mud. It’s gray, tan, or black, sometimes orange, like the stuff we used to call gumbo in my South Dakota youth—slippery as a bed of eels, sticky as super glue, sometimes deep enough to capture a loose shoe, deep enough on some back-country prairie road after a summer shower to bring my dad’s car to a tire-spinning halt until a service truck could winch it free. Ah, those were the days. But enough of the muck of my early years. My father never forgave me for my indiscretion, “borrowing” his car for an ill advised country excursion. No, the Mud I’m referring to is the film starring Matthew McConaughey as Mud, an Arkansas down-and-outer who has taken refuge in a boat that got hung up in the trees after a Mississippi River flood. Two teenage boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland), Ellis and Neckbone (Where but in Arkansas would someone name a boy “Neckbone”?) discover the boat and claim it as their own. Then they meet Mud, who sets them straight about ownership. The three become friends with Ellis and Neckbone bringing provisions for Mud, mostly cans of Beanie Weenies. Mud is there on the island waiting to hear from the Love of His Life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), trying to evade a band of bounty hunters hired by King (Joe Don Baker) because Mud has killed one of his sons, killed the man because he was beating on Juniper. Now Mud is waiting for Juniper to join him. He, with help from Ellis and Neckbone, bring the boat down and make it seaworthy again. Simple plot, fairly forgettable movie. But McConaughey makes it worth seeing. And Tye Sheridan makes it worth seeing. We’ll be seeing a lot more of young Mr. Sheridan.

Sunday, May 5

Doves

When I was young and growing up in South Dakota, one of the most delightfully mournful summer sounds was the early morning, late evening cooing of doves. It was a soothing balm in the evening after the excitement of all-day youthful games, in the morning a sound to draw me up from the deep sleep of innocence. Yes, I was an innocent. What else could one be in mid-twentieth century South Dakota with parents who paid attention to my comings and goings, who loved me enough to keep me morally straight?

Now I’m old and living in Arizona, surrounded by thousands (what seems like millions) of white wing doves, all of which coo their little dove hearts out morning noon and night. Their omniaudience goes on from dawn to well after sundown—“Who who kuh whooo, who who kuh whooo,” saying to each other something about their sexual availability. And they seem to engage in that activity all day long, humping and whomping their wings in their frenzy to continue the species. The females then build their little stick nests in whatever tree is available, the male long gone after he’s fulfilled his coital duty. Yesterday we watched a female sitting on our neighbor’s fence, alternately fanning her wings upward, then lifting her butt in the air with tail feathers spread out, seeming to say in dove fashion, “Here I am, boys. Come and take me.” She did this for three or four minutes with no takers. She finally gave up and flew away, looking for more fertile territory. What was once a soothing sound is now enough to drive us crazy.

But we also noticed a rare visitor to our tall arbor vitae, a pair of cardinals, bright red against the green of the trees, with songs that took us back to upstate New York and younger, doveless times.

Saturday, May 4

Kate Atkinson

I’ve recently discovered the joy of reading Kate Atkinson. I don’t quite know what to say about her, but here goes. I’ve never read anyone who could so capture a reader. No one. Not Fitzgerald, not Hemingway, not any of my favorite mystery writers, not Ed McBain or Lawrence Block. Nearly everything she writes is quotable. And any writer who reads her would probably like to smack her in the chops because they’re so jealous of her ability with words. I know I would. Like to smack her, that is. I just finished Case Histories, the first in a series of mysteries set in the English countryside, and am now in the middle of the second, One Good Turn. Her style is agonizingly difficult, but well worth the effort. She includes so many characters, each of which gets her full attention both past and present, with lots of tiny flashbacks in the middle of a character’s ruminations, with little parenthetical thoughts sprinkled in, and events seen from multiple viewpoints. Somehow, she manages to bring these countless threads together by novel’s end, and we breathe a sigh of relief that we can now see the entire fabric.

Jackson Brodie, a private investigator, is the main character in this series of mysteries—mid-forties, a bit glum, but very likeable The following quotation is typical Jackson Brodie, this from Case Histories:

Jackson started to worry about being late. On the way back to the car park he had to fight his way against a herd of foreign-language students, all entirely oblivious to the existence of anyone else on the planet except other adolescents. Cambridge in summer, invaded by a combination of tourists and foreign teenagers, all of whom were put on earth to loiter, was Jackson’s idea of hell. The language students all seemed to be dressed in combats, in khaki and camouflage, as if there were a war going on and they were the troops (God help us if that were the case). And the bikes, why did people think bikes were a good thing? Why were cyclists so smug? Why did cyclists ride on pavements when there were perfectly good cycle lanes? And who thought it was a good idea to rent bicycles to Italian adolescent language students? If hell did exist, which Jackson was sure it did, it would be governed by a committee of fifteen-year-old Italian boys on bikes.

Another, from One Good Turn. Gloria’s husband Graham has had a massive stroke during a bit of S-M with a hooker and is now lying comatose in a hospital bed. Gloria is there, not so much to comfort him as to hurry him on his way.

Gloria didn’t believe in heaven, although she did occasionally worry that it was a place that existed only if you did believe in it. She wondered if people would be so keen on the idea of the next life if it was, say, underground. Or full of people like Pam. And relentlessly, tediously boring, like an everlasting Baptist service but without the occasional excitement of a full immersion. . . . He thought he was invincible, but he’d been tagged by death. Graham thought he could buy his way out of anything, but the grim reaper wasn’t going to be paid off with Graham’s baksheesh. The Grim Reaper, Gloria corrected herself. If anyone deserved capital letters it was surely Death. Gloria would rather like to be the Grim Reaper. She wouldn’t necessarily be grim, she suspected she would be quite cheerful (“Come along now, don’t make such a fuss”).

Gloria remembers a time when Graham had been stopped for speeding, drunk, speaking on his cell phone while eating a double cheeseburger.

Gloria could imagine him only too well, one hand on the wheel, his phone tucked into the crook of his neck, the grease from the meat dripping down his chin, his breath rank with whiskey. At the time, Gloria had thought that the only thing lacking in this sordid scenario was a woman in the passenger seat fellating him. Now she thought that that was probably going on as well. Gloria hated the term “blow job” but she rather liked the word “fellatio,” it sounded like an Italian musical term—contralto, alto, fellatio—although she found the act itself to be distasteful, in all senses of the word.

Is she good or what? I can’t wait to immerse myself in the rest of her novels.

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