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, May 29

Robert Crais & Young Frankenstein

I’ve written about Robert Crais and his Elvis Cole series in the past, and here he is again. I’m in the middle of a re-read, just as I’ve done with so many other action/thriller authors. Once I find an author I really like, I latch on like a dog on a bone, having to read him /her again to see what makes him/her tick. Crais, like so many others, begins simply, with short novels, only semi-serious about his cast of characters and the initial plots, almost like he’s searching around to find what works and what doesn’t work, with a style in need of improving. A lot like the early works by Ed McBain and Robert B. Parker, who both began writing and selling manuscripts in the days of pulp fiction in the Fifties and Sixties. But just as they kept stylistically improving, writing ever longer novels and more serious examinations of character and plot, so too has Robert Crais. The Elvis Cole series lengthens, deepens, grows ever darker and more serious as we learn more and more about Cole and his Hawklike sidekick Joe Pike. Joe Pike, Cole’s friend and partner in the agency, is as tough and taciturn as Spenser’s Hawk. Elvis Cole is the West Coast equivalent of the Boston Spenser, with an office decorated with odd, rather flippant adornments: the Felix the Cat clock on the wall, with eyes and tail moving back and forth with each second, the collection of Disney figurines he keeps on his desk, the collection of business cards he keeps in his desk, proclaiming himself to be the world’s greatest detective. The writing improves through each of the sixteen in the series. Here’s a tiny taste reflecting the weather-related insecurities of Californians: “People who lived on the hillsides would soon emerge from their homes to inspect the slopes, searching for cracks and bulges. The world grew unstable when rain fell in Los Angeles. Soil held firm only moments before could flow without warning like lava, sweeping away cars and houses like toys. The earth lost its certainty, and anchors failed.” (p. 28, The Forgotten Man) That’s not great writing, but it’s sure not bad.

The Arizona Broadway Theatre’s latest show is Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein, and it was laughably obscene and another wonderful example of what ABT can do with a tiny stage and maximum seating for only about four hundred diners. I continue to be amazed at how professional ABT is, with elaborate sets, hand-made costumes, talented singers and dancers, and a seven-piece pit band that performs as well as any much larger orchestra. A long time ago I’d seen the film version starring Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, and Gene Hackman, a very funny flick, but I’d never seen the musical version. It was every bit as good as the movie, and ABT did it proud.

Saturday, May 24

Million Dollar Arm & Golf

We saw Million Dollar Arm mainly because there was nothing else we wanted to see, and it was okay but not very good. Disney fluff about an agent’s search for pitchers in India. Jon Hamm, as J. B. Bernstein, is trying to rescue his failing sports agency by conducting a talent contest in India, the two winners of which would be brought to the United States for a major league tryout. And the contest was based entirely on how fast the contestants could throw the ball and still hit the strike zone. This film was based on a true story but anyone who knows baseball would spot the fallacy in the contest: Pitching is a bunch more than just how fast one can throw the ball, and yet none of that is seen in the film. Alan Arkin plays a snoozing scout who goes with Bernstein to India to see how the contestants were doing. Not doing well enough to get him to open his eyes. But finally, two winners emerge: Dinesh Patel (played by Madhur Mittal, whom we remember from Life of Pi) and Rinku Singh (played by Suraj Sharma, whom we remember from Slumdog Millionaire). They are brought to the U.S. to work out with the unorthodox baseball coach at USC, Tom House, who tried to get the two Indian boys ready in less than a year. It was a somewhat pleasant two hours that didn’t have any nudity or sexual scenes and a language that avoided all the F-bombs that are so pervasive in most films today. Pretty much Disney fluff with a too obvious conclusion that even included the requisite romance between Bernstein and his doctor friend who was renting Bernstein’s guest house. A nice unassuming two hours, but two completely forgettable hours.

A few words about professional golf. Tiger news suggests that he may not play any for the rest of this season. How sad. At my age, I don’t have many years left to watch his wizardry. Without Tiger, I find myself ho-humming through the weekly tournaments, not really caring who wins or loses. I watch the LPGA more than the PGA. Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie are fun to watch, and eleven-year-old Lucy Li, who qualified for the women’s Open at Pinehurst, should spike ratings for that event. I and nearly all other fans of golf can’t wait to see what this tiny phenom can do.

Wednesday, May 21

Hugs & GW-Mentalist Finales

I’m a hugger. There’s just something about a hug that can’t be duplicated in any other form of human connection. Well, there’s always that other connection, but it’s not the same thing. A hug needs to be with both arms and full frontal. None of this one-armed stuff or the sort of ambivalent one-sided hug. How long should a hug last? Five seconds is about as long as it can go without turning it into some sort of sexual encounter. Some people don’t want to touch anyone, not for a hug or a handshake, and even their handshakes are usually some kind of limp-wristed, dead fish thing. A handshake says hello or oh yuck, depending on the strength of the grip. But a hug says I love you or really care about you. Since I love or like most of the people I meet, that’s why I’m a hugger.

We watched the season finales of The Good Wife and The Mentalist, and both gave us little cliff-hangers. Diane on GW asked Alicia and Cary if she could join their firm, and Eli Gold , with a surprised look, asked Alicia if she’d consider running for state’s attorney. The Mentalist did a takeoff of The Graduate and a bunch of other rom-coms with the male running after a plane or train or car to get to a woman before she makes a mistake and leaves forever, to tell her that he loves her. The Patrick Jane we’ve known for six seasons, the man who could give everyone that endearing smile but would not allow anyone inside the barriers around him, leaped a tall fence and raced across the tarmac to get to Teresa to proclaim his love. And after he left the plane and returned to the FBI office, we see Teresa come up to him and tell him she feels the same way. Wow! It was almost as though the writers had assumed the show wouldn’t be renewed, so they gave it a fitting conclusion. But now we have a seventh season coming up and whatever will they do with the romantic entanglement? See? Two tiny cliffhangers.

Wednesday, May 14

Nosey News

So much news lately, most of it bad: kidnapped girls in Nigeria, civil war in Ukraine and Syria, a drunk wacko in Phoenix who drove nearly thirty-five freeway miles . . . the wrong way, finally striking and killing an off-duty police officer, horrible fires in California fueled by high temps and low humidity and winds up to fifty mph, the threat of the MERS virus, and the stories go on and on. And most of the news people are just thrilled to have so much to report on. You know, the old on-the-scene reporter shoving a mike in the face of a car crash survivor: “And how did you feel when you saw your entire family trapped in your burning car?” I know, I know, that’s unfair and not likely to have actually happened, but too often something only somewhat less sensitive happens. I was leafing through some of my journal entries from years back, almost fifteen years ago, and found this, regarding the tragic deaths of John F. Kennedy jr and his wife and sister-in-law. They were on their way to Hyannis Port and Martha’s Vineyard for one of his cousin’s wedding. He was flying and they were supposed to arrive late in the evening. But they never made it and the plane was missing. “I’m not an insensitive person,” I wrote at that time. “I feel for the death of any person, ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind,’ as John Donne put it four centuries ago. But I feel that the news people are a bit ghoulish when it comes to news of important people missing or dying. I could just imagine them this morning when the news first broke about the leading figure in America’s royal family. They must have been washing their hands and nearly salivating over the meal that lay before them. Things to do, old Kennedy film to round up, people to interview, clever commentary to write. So they took over the air for nearly the entire day, hashing and rehashing the same facts and details. They interviewed the JFK biographer, they interviewed Barbara Walters, they had the ABC aviation editor on to tell us all about the kind of plane Kennedy was flying and how it worked and what it looked like and other details we really had no need for. They brought in yards of old Kennedy film, most of which was unrelated to anything except the Kennedy mythology, even that old chestnut when he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you.’ We saw several times the footage of JFK jr announcing the start of his magazine George. We watched minute after minute of aerial shots of the open sea out from Martha’s Vineyard. We learned about the locator box designed to be triggered on impact, sending out a signal to rescuers. They went back and forth from one reporter to another, each looking more and more smug as he or she reported his or her particular tidbit of Kennedy lore. It always strikes me that reporters try to report too much. They always claim the public’s right to know. But does the public have to know EVERYTHING about a story? They cover a bloody homicide and go into peripheral detail the public not only doesn’t need to know, doesn’t want to know. They cover a horrific accident and then interview virtually everyone who ever knew anything at all about the victims.” And nothing seems to have changed in these past fifteen years. Same terrible stories, same over-coverage by the news media.

Tuesday, May 13

Idol & Wacky Weather

We’re still watching American Idol even though I’ve sworn off that show too many times to count. In fact, last week, after watching Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban do their irritating neck bobs during performances, I told Rosalie that if I ever again succumb to the Idol idiocy, she should just take a gun and shoot me. Knowing her, though, she’d probably shoot to miss, maybe just wound me in my remote hand (the tv remote hand, not my hand remotely giving the show the bird). They’re now down to the final three, who have all gotten quite a bit better throughout the season. But they’re still not very good.

We’ve had a lot of wind in the Valley this spring, more than we can remember in our twenty Arizona years. And no rain. So the Southwestern drought continues. Then there’s the wacky weather in other parts of the country—rains that come down like a frenetic faucet, flooding homes and towns and cities, causing tragic death and destruction, making great sink holes in Florida; tornadoes that sweep through communities in the inner East Coast; odd-ball earthquakes in California and unexpected states in the east; snow storms and ice storms across the upper tier well into what we would normally consider docile spring. What have we done to our planet to cause these dramatic climatological changes? We now have northern and southern pole icebergs melting at an astounding rate, threatening to raise sea levels enough to inundate coastal cities. What have we done and what can we do about it? I don’t know, but I certainly hope our brainiacs can find solutions. Until then, I thank my lucky stars that I’m living out my life in Happy Valley, Arizona.

Monday, May 12

New Computer

I’ve been away for a while. Very little stuff that was blogworthy. But also because I finally decided to ditch my old, slow computer and spring for a new one. So, off to Best Buy. I looked at a new personal computer tower (minus the monitor) with a reasonable price tag. That’s all I really needed. Then I turned around and looked a the All-in-Ones, with big monitors and touch screens. Oh, my, did they look inviting with about a thousand apps on the screen that one could flip through with a finger, and the colors, and the details, and a monitor about twice as big as our first black and white television set. O, my, I’m such a quick sell. Ten minutes later I signed for the All-in-One, a Lenovo (which salesperson Jack told me was the company that took over IBM, a China-based takeover). Okay, I can live with an IBM with a Mandarin accent. I brought it home. I spent about an hour untangling all the cords and wires connected the old beast. I got everything undone and the old beast carted away. Then I lovingly set up the new baby. Very few cords and wires attached to the back of the monitor. Turned it on and went exploring through those thousand apps. How very complicated. And it seemed that nearly every app took me to the Internet where I could buy service for a really bargain price or I could rent the service monthly or annually for a really bargain price. And I discovered that my new Lenovo didn’t come with any version of Office, no Works or Word word processor. So I tried to download my old Office version for which I paid a pretty penny eight years ago. Nope. Not acceptable. I could, though, get a free month of Office, after which I could buy the new package or rent it by the month, either at a really bargain price. All I need it the Word word processor. Don’t need all that other Office stuff. So what do I do after my trial month is up? I don’t know. Then I tried to re-install my HP printer. Woops! Can’t be installed because I would need a driver upgrade. Go to the HP website, get an 800 number for tech support, connect with a young man who spoke very broken English. Why must nearly all tech support personnel have to be located in some other world location? Young man says, “Why, yes, Mr. Travis. We can send you a download for an 8.1 HP driver. However, the fee will be $99for the tech service.” I sucked a bit of shocked air and say, “But I can buy a new printer for less than that.” Silence. I say, “I think I’ll just buy a new printer.” Click. So much for tech support. And ever since I’ve been hit-or-miss learning about my new Lenovo, I keep getting popup windows telling me how much I need protection from all the bad guys out there in the ether, just waiting to hack into my computer and steal all my money and all muy personal information, and each service can be provided for a very nominal fee. I took my old and new computers into Best Buy to get a data transfer, which would cost me only a nominal fee of $80, and it would take only eight or nine days. I brought both computers home and transferred data the old-fashioned way, onto DVD discs out of one, downloaded onto the other. Then I deleted all the old stuff from the old beast in preparation to give it to my grandson, who now has a really old beast and needs a replacement. Then out to Best Buy tomorrow to buy a new printer to go with my new Lenovo. And then I’ll be back in the blogging business. Whew!

Thursday, May 1

Broadway Movies & Heaven Is for Real

Passing thought on the nature of theatres and what we see there. They now advertise operas to be seen at selected venues, productions filmed as they took place on stage. I would think that any opera buff would leap at the chance to see his favorite operas with famous opera stars. No need to go to New York or London or Rome to see them. Maybe not quite as good as a live performance, but close. So, why don’t they do the same with Broadway musicals and plays? The cost of filming would be minimal, certainly a lot less than the millions now spent to produce a Broadway musical as a movie, and all too often the movie version isn’t nearly as good as the Broadway version. For example, the recent television special of The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood actually wasn’t very good. I remember seeing Into the Woods on PBS, filmed as it was done on stage, and it was delightful. So, why don’t they do that with other shows and have them shown on a big screen in a theatre? I’d go to see them in a minute, in a second, and they could bypass all the money spent on converting them into movies. Maybe in my next life.

To celebrate daughter Jeri’s birthday, we went to see Heaven Is for Real and then to Black Angus for dinner. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this movie, based on a true story about a small boy’s experiences with a visit to heaven. I’m a life-long disbeliever and have always been a skeptic when it comes to formalized religion. Despite my misgivings, the film was moving and the Nebraska countryside beautiful. Greg Kinnear plays Pastor Todd Burpo, with Kelly Reully as wife Sonja Burpo, and Connor Corum as four-year-old Colton Burpo, the boy who went to heaven. Listening to one of several of the good pastor’s sermons, I thought that if I’d ever had a minister as good as Todd Burpo, I might have been a better little churchgoer. Instead, as a boy, I got Father Clark’s boring intonations on boring church liturgy, sermons that soon drove me away from his church and any other church along the way. Todd Burpo was almost too good to be true: a volunteer firefighter, wrestling coach at the high school, softballer, faithful husband and good father to his two children, and understanding merchant repairer of garage doors, accepting goods as payment instead of the cash he really needs. When his son nearly dies from a ruptured appendix, all the parishioners pray for him, and he barely makes it through the extensive surgery. And then this darling little boy begins telling his father and anyone else who’d care to listen about his experiences when Jesus took him to heaven. A moving story, with no sex or violence or bad language, and it was a nice relaxing way to spend two hours at the theater. Was it a great movie? Not even close.

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