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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.

Monday, February 29

2016 Academy Awards

For an Academy Awards show without any people of color nominated, we certainly had plentiful comments about that black oversight. Chris Rock started it out with his frozen-smile jokes about the lack of color. Not that what he said wasn’t funny, especially his reference to Jada Pinkett Smith, one of the boycotters: “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.” But after nearly four hours of references to the black oversight, it became a bit wearisome. I’ve been watching the Oscars for almost the entire 88 years, with many comic and some not-so-comic happenings: streakers and Brando absences, for example. And this year we heard in the acceptance speeches very few American voices, the two notable exceptions being Leo DiCaprio (best actor) and Brie Larson (best actress). Maybe we should protest that lack, asking for greater diversity in the nominees and winners, more Americans and fewer foreigners. Maybe build a wall around the festivities, excluding all who don’t have a proper white American pass. Nah, that wouldn’t work. What will happen is that the Academy voters will include more women and more blacks and others of other colors, fewer oldsters. That should solve the problem of too-white nominations, having them based on abilities and not skin color. And while we’re at it, why not stop the male-female distinction in the acting categories? Or would that lead us to too many males and not enough females nominated?

Other than the black issue, there wasn’t much else that surprised us. The lack of references to Star Wars surprised me. I thought Lady Gaga’s delivery of “Til It Happens to You” was wonderful, but it lost to “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre. The only winners that weren’t predicted was Mark Rylance’s win over Sylvester Stallone in the supporting category and Spotlight’s win over The Revenant. I had thought that there would be enough Catholic voters who would step around Spotlight because of the priestly abuse. Wrong. It was certainly deserving of the win, just as The Revenant would have been. I do, however, wish that The Martian had gotten more accolades. It was such a good, feel-good movie (without that R-rating that too many films today go for). The same goes for Brooklyn and its star, Saorise Ronan—feel-good and with delightfully clean language and lack of violence.

Okay, now we can wait for the nearly 300 films to come out in the next twelve months, see which ones are good enough for nominations, see which actors make the grade (based on quality of performance and not color of skin), and take note of the Academy moves toward a more diversified membership.

Saturday, February 27

American Idol Finale

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with American Idol for all fifteen seasons, and I’ve often written about it—praising its finding so many talented singers/performers, lambasting its lack of class. First, the successes: Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, Katharine McPhee, Jennifer Hudson (who, although placing only 7th in the Season 3, went on to win a Grammy as well as an Oscar for best supporting female in Dreamgirls), and the most successful of all, Carrie Underwood, who was the only lock-down, sure-fire winner from the very beginning of Season 4. The limited successes or outright failures? Tylor Hicks in Season 5, Kris Allen in Season 8, Lee DeWyze in Season 9, Phillip Philipps in season 11, and Nick Fralioni in Season 14. Then there are the judges. Too many with only a biased or a limited knowledge of music, too many with low-class wardrobes or hair styles or life styles. I think of Keith Urban’s ratty t-shirts and Simon Cowell’s too tight T’s, Mariah Carey’s bountiful cleavage and Jennifer Lopez’s see-through everythings, the truly odd Steven Tyler and Nicki Minaj in dress and attitudes, the insipidity of too many judges’ remarks about performances. I hate the waving arms in the front rows, I hate the audience screams during performances, and I hate the camera swings during performances to show Keith Urban and J-Lo lip-synching with the performers. Too many song choices are known only to a young audience with unclear or inconsequential lyrics lost in a cacophony of backup bands and backup singers, way too much reliance on runs (almost as though the singers are unable to sustain a note and hope to cover themselves with up-and-down and all-over-the-place runs). What's wrong with songs from the Great American Songbook? The intermediate auditions take too long to get to the final ten. The performances are often too short, only a little over a minute. It’s always seemed to me that American Idol was looking more for interesting performers than for great singers, although every now and then they found great singer-performers. If Idol really is about finding the best singers, then all of the final ten should be required to sing their versions of a song chosen by the judges. (How about the Gershwins' "Someone to Watch Over Me"?) That would separate the wheat from the chaff. Or maybe each should be required to sing one song a capella. Fantasia’s version of “Summertime” was a show-stopper and probably won Season 3 for her. Katharine McPhee’s “Over the Rainbow” was a show-stopper and probably should have won Season 5 for her. What do I see that’s noteworthy about Season 15? Not much. Unless La ‘Porsha Renae (she of the big hair) or Dalton Rapattoni (he of the Adam Lambert look) or Trent Harmon (he who sings to cows) can improve mightily by the final showdown, I think this has been a very average season and an average bunch of singers. Will I be sad or glad to see the end of this final season? A little of both. But I can’t wait to see the start of Idol’s sister show, So You Think You Can Dance. Now, if they could only get rid of Jason Derulo as one of the judges . . .

Monday, February 22

Blogger's Block

There it is again. Blogger’s block, that is. There are so many interesting stories in the news these days yet so few of them appeal to me. I mean, there’s Trump, but I’ve already said quite a bit about him. After one touches on his arrogance, his lack of grace, his outlandish hairstyle, his downturned mouth that seems to scowl at everything and everyone, what more is there to say? Soon, I hope, we’ll see the last of him. The acts of terror by ISIS, the horror and stupidity of which are apparent and undecipherable, are newsworthy, but I’ve already said how little understanding I have of what motivates them. The upcoming Oscars next Sunday. The books I’ve read, the movies I’ve seen. Yawn. Well, in light of the fight over the San Bernardino cell phone that needs to be opened and that Apple says they won’t open, there’s one thing I might mention. On last night’s The Good Wife, a band of NSA hackers were listening in on conversations via Alicia’s cell phone. Apparently they had the ability to turn her phone into a speaker, recording sounds from up to twenty feet away. A speaker even though the phone was turned off. Now that’s really scary if true. Talk about an invasion of privacy. I’d hate to think that our federal agencies really have and use this technology to spy on anyone with a cell phone. Technological advances are exhilarating yet frightening and are happening so fast my head swims.

Our days here in the Valley have been almost unbelievably gorgeous—low eighties and calm air. Our fruit trees out in back have recovered from the frost bite they suffered a month ago and are now boisterously leafing and blossoming. Soon the air will be filled with the nearly overpowering aroma of orange and grapefruit blossoms. And our back patio is now warm enough that the boys can sit out there almost all afternoon. And soon even the nights will be warm enough that we can leave the back door open for them to sit out there and watch the bunnies cavort in the moonlight. Last night, Tiger and Tuffy lay side-by-side on top of our freezer staring out a back window to see what there was to see. The moon was full and the backyard was bathed in brilliant light. Such funny boys. They are both so adorable yet so often so mischievous. Tiger has begun to bring one of his little plastic balls to bed, where he’ll drop it between us, batting it around until the little interior bell wakes us up. He wants to play mid-night fetch. Last night, Rosalie obliged him with a ball toss out the bedroom door, and when he leaped down to retrieve it, she got up and shut the door. One toss and no fetch was enough. Then there’s Charlie, who acts so handsomely proper, disdainfully not engaging in any of their hi-jinx except when he occasionally runs with them in high-speed chases through the house. After all the years of having cats own us, we now understand how cruel it is to have only one cat. A single cat needs someone to buddy with other than the people who think they own him. Humans are no different. People need people. A solitary castaway on a desert island may as well be dead.

There, end of blogger’s block. Now we’ll see what tomorrow may bring.

Wednesday, February 17

Old Age & 45 Years

Today, Hal Holbrook is celebrating his ninety-first birthday. Now that I’m up in years (Now there’s a euphemism if I ever heard one.), I keep track of famous people’s ages to see where I fit in with them. In this case, I’m nine years younger than Hal, and I remember when I first saw him doing his television show in 1967, Mark Twain Tonight, that I thought he was a really old man. He was then forty-three. And I thought of him as an old man. I used a recording of him doing Mark Twain for years and years when I taught American Literature. And now he’s ninety-one. And I’m eighty-two. I even take some notice of the obituaries in the paper to see at what age people are dying. I took note of Antonin Scalia’s age when he died, seventy-nine. So I’m three years older than Justice Scalia. A little obsessive, you say? Yes, I guess it is. I’m not being morbid, just curious about aging and dying. I look in the mirror and see a man I don’t think of as old. Selective viewing, I guess. But then I see people here in Sun City West whom I’ve known for over twenty years, and they seem to have aged much less gracefully than I have. Selective viewing again.

Today, I went to the theatre to see 45 Years because Charlotte Rampling is up for best actress. Tom Courtney plays Geoff Mercer, her husband of forty-five years, which would have made him about seventy, twelve years younger than I am. And he looked like a rickety, unshaven old man. It was a strange movie. Almost nothing happened. It was a week-long movement from the time he received news that his past love Katya had been discovered in ice high up in the mountains in Switzerland to Geoff and Kate’s celebratory anniversary party. Katya had fallen into a deep ravine when she and Geoff were hiking, and her body, irrecoverable, has been frozen in time and space in crystalline ice. And for most of the film we are shown closeups of Kate as she tries to understand her husband’s past, his neglecting ever to tell her about his first love Katya, his growing preoccupation with memories of his lost Katya. The movie comes full circle with the sound of Kate’s humming “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” at film’s beginning to the couple’s dancing to the same song at their party. As I said, a strange movie, but one that was an interesting study in the facial acting of Charlotte Rampling, who certainly deserves the nomination for best actress, but who doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance of winning.

Sunday, February 14

Fears of the Future

Lately, I feel like I want to retreat from the world, find a quiet Walden and a tiny hut somewhere, just pull a total Thoreauvian rug over my head and resign from the wackiness of finance and social networking, from all hackable sites on the Web. I just heard that the medical information of one out of every three can be stolen, from which all kinds of financial information can be obtained. Who are these hackers and why do they need to steal personal information? Why do they need to send too many people into financial chaos? The world has become so confusing for anyone sixty and older and it looks (looms?) as though it’s going to get increasingly complex. Too bad. As an old optimistic fan of science fiction, I want the world to solve its problems and bring about that Utopian future in which there’s no longer any need to steal identities and personal wealth. Not in my lifetime, but maybe just down the road.

The future—too many people, not enough food or water to support the hordes who might occupy the planet just a few generations down the road; wacky weather that may or may not be the result of man’s carelessness; all sorts of tension emanating from the Middle East; ISIS and its terror tactics with over a million refugees fleeing Syria and other Middle Eastern nations under siege by ISIS; medicine and technology taking us rapidly forward and religious fanatics taking us back;
one of the oddest and most contentious presidential races in a long time with Donald Trump leading the way in oddity, trying to become the Wizard of Od and succeeding nearly every time he opens his mouth; artificial intelligence making a move for good or evil, with driverless cars and computers that talk to us and think for us. Where is it all leading? We’ll know soon enough.

What is the future of the Olympic Games? The one upcoming in Brazil will either be a success or a miserable failure. We have fears of the Zika virus that could lead to many withdrawals of contestants or maybe of whole nations. The Games have become so mammoth and so expensive that future sites may decline the honor (the cost?). Two things I and most of the world will be watching with fascination: the golf competition and the saga of Michael Phelps trying to win more medals. I hope Brazil can bring it off and that no one catches anything from those pesky mosquitoes and that the Games will continue to charm us every four years.

Wednesday, February 10

Carousel at ABT

Well, they did it again. Arizona Broadway Theatre, that is. Found a way to improve even more in their musical productions. This time, with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. I’ve seen this show four times now, the film version in 1956 with the young, beautiful Shirley Jones as Julie Jordan and Gordon MacRae as Billy Bigelow, a local production in Jamestown, New York, and once quite a few years ago here at ABT. And none of them was as good as this one. In the opening orchestral "Carousel Waltz," five carousel horses were brought onstage, separately wheeled and revolved by carnie workers, Julie Jordan and other girls astride the horses. Where in the world did they get five full-blown merry-go-round horses? The sets were inventive and perfectly suited to the rather small ABT stage, with clouds and a blue sea in the background, a cluster of lighted stars above, the masts of four ships supporting strings of lights, a series of variously raised platforms for stage entry and exit, and two houses for separate locations. The choreography was exceptional, especially in the long ballet sequence near the end of Act II. The costumes were surprising in their diversity. The voices were great, especially the two female leads, Julie (Jeannie Shubitz) and Carrie Pipperidge (Jill-Christine Wiley). The two male leads, Billy Bigelow (Michael O’Brien) and Jigger Craigin (Brad Rupp), were good but not as good as the females. Carousel, like West Side Story, has a rather dark element with the death of the male leads, and Carousel may become too dated in the future. Billy at one point has struck Julie when they argued. Townspeople say he beat her regularly. When Billy returns to earth to see his daughter Louise, he grabs her arm roughly and strikes her hand. Julie consoles Louise by telling her that sometimes a loved one might strike the other but that the blow isn’t felt. Well, we’re now living in a time when domestic violence should not and will not be tolerated, and women being abused must not consider it natural or unpainful just because the abuser still loves them. Nonsense. On a lighter note, in Billy’s long soliloquy about the birth of his son or daughter, he mentions all the snooty people who look down on him and his presumed son “through a lorgnette.” Then he sings, “Hey, wait a minute! My kid ain’t even been born yet!” A clever, funny rhyme, Mister Hammerstein. But nearly everyone in a modern audience would have no idea what a “lorgnette” is, or was. And most children today have never ridden on a carousel or even know what one is. But the music is still great, especially “If I Loved You” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” (How does one not tear up at hearing this song of inspiration?) Arizona Broadway Theatre deserves to be called the best regional theatre company in Arizona. I can’t see that any other theatres in the state could do it any better.

Monday, February 8

TPC Scottsdale & Peyton Manning

A busy weekend here in the Valley. The Waste Management Open golf tournament was held in Scottsdale with over 618,000 screaming fans over the four days.
The sixteenth hole with its 20,000 rowdy spectators is becoming the modern equivalent of the Roman Colosseum with thumbs up or down for good or bad tee shots. The Course was beautiful, the weather was grand, and the outcome was dramatic with Rickie Fowler running afoul of the short par-4 seventeenth hole, finding water both times he played it. He was leading Matsuyama by two when he hit his drive through the green and into the water, leading to a bogey to Matsuyama’s birdie. And there went his two-stroke lead. Both of them birdied 18 and then went back to the 18th tee for a sudden-death playoff. Both birdied it again. Back to 18. Both birdied again. Then on to number 10 where they tied with pars. And on to the short seventeenth where Fowler again found water off the tee and lost the hole and the tournament. Lots of drama. It ended just after the beginning of the Super Bowl game between the Broncos and Panthers. More drama with the underdog Broncos pulling it out 24-10. And now Peyton Manning must decide if he’s going to come back next season. He’d be foolish to return. He should retire with this final Super Bowl win and go on to a career in broadcasting.
He’s funny, charming, articulate, and he’s more football-smart than most of the commentators now on the air. He doesn’t need more football money or passing records, and he shouldn’t risk having his brains rattled by another season of hard knocks. Too many old quarterbacks have been concussed into early graves.

Thursday, February 4

Back to Burke

I’ve written about James Lee Burke several times, usually praising him for his style, so much like Faulkner’s, so much tinged with the cadences of the South or Southwest, so reliant on sensory detail, so infused with historical and Biblical allusions. Well, here I go again.

Two examples of his descriptive ability along with the cadence and religious tone so characteristic of his writing:

“He thought he could see petroglyphs cut in the layered rock above his head, and he was convinced he was traversing an alluvial flume that probably had irrigated verdant fields when an agrarian society had lived in harmony with the animals and a knife blade hammered out of primitive iron drew no blood from them or the people who had been sent to dwell east of Eden.” (p. 323, Rain Gods)

“Weren’t all our destinies already written on scrolls that we unwound and discovered in incremental fashion? Perhaps the past and the present and the future were already written on the wind, not in transient fashion but whispered to us with unerring accuracy if we could only bother to listen.” (p. 390, Rain Gods)

In terms of his style linguistically, he tends to backload his sentences with strings of subordinate elements in parallel structures. A writer can use introductory elements (front position, or fronting, or front-weight—any number of terms used to describe it) but if they get too weighty, too long, the reader tends to lose the direction the sentence is taking, making for a kind of suspense that’s waiting for the subject to appear. Burke is much more likely to use back- or end-weighting. And, man, can he go on and on. And very often he’ll string together a series of absolute phrases that loosely and adverbially attach themselves to the sentence. For those who don’t know or could care less about what an absolute is, let me explain in simpler terms: Adjectives, 3’s (“-ing” verbals), and 4’s (past participial verbals) can take their own subjects and then slide around in the sentence from front to middle to rear. They function a little like appositives, adding information to the sentence without complicating things unduly. For example:
A simple main clause (The city was beautiful) followed by the four absolute phrases, the fourth of which carries with it the complexity of the two subordinate clauses. That’s backloading at its best.

Here’s an example of backloading with appositives:
In case you don't follow my meaning, the eight appositives are all pointing to "recreation"--archway, diner, building, theater, golf course, marquee, bonnet, and car bodies. See? Simple.

Had enough? Nah! Here are three shorter examples of back-end absolutes. You don’t even need the patterns to see them:

“Hugo Cistranos was sitting on a canvas chair on the beach in his Speedos, the waves capping and sliding in a yellow froth up on the sand.” (p. 379, Rain Gods)

“It was that of a small, puffy, round man in striped underwear, his childlike hand clenching a thick water glass, his pale legs knotted with clumps of varicose veins, his face a white balloon with eyes and a mouth painted on it.” (p. 491, Rain Gods)

“Inside the wall, the lawn was a deep, cool green in the shadows, the sod soggy from soak hoses, the citrus trees heavy with fruit, the balconies on the upper stories of the house scrolled with Spanish-style ironwork.” (pp. 494-95, Rain Gods)

Here's an example of backloading with 3-phrases (-ing verbals) that point from the end of the sentence back to the subject. Normally, a 3 describing the subject will come either at the beginning of the sentence or right after the subject, but here we have four of them, and that many words acting as introduction would be too much. So, stick 'em at the back, as Burke does.
And now two patterns that are just fun to examine. Not quite Faulkner-complex, but complex enough.
I hope some of you who may be reading this aren't scratching your heads and wondering how or why I'd spend time looking at sentence structure. It's one of the ways I can understand good writers and what makes them tick. It's not just their characters or plots that intrigue me. It's the way they talk to me. If you've never looked at writing this way, I hope you'll do so in the future.

Tuesday, February 2

Iowa Results & Dental Estimate

Thank heavens the Iowa caucuses are done and we can now get on with the further business of finding two nominees for November. I think the way Hillary Clinton won in Iowa says a great deal about the reliability (unreliability?) of the Iowa caucus procedure. The same way school children decide who gets to play with a toy first or how referees choose who gets the ball first on Super Bowl Sunday, some precincts in Iowa, with a coin toss, determined who they'd choose for the most powerful job in the world. Sanders and Clinton ran in a dead heat throughout the state and in cases where there was a tie, the decision was left up to chance. A coin toss. Yeah, that says a lot about the intelligence of Iowans and their presidential nominating system. On the other hand, the fact that Cruz beat Trump says they’re not all that dumb after all.

I recently found out the hard way about dental procedures and the costs thereof. I wanted to find a better solution for my upper and lower dental plates, like permanently fixed instead of removable. Well, I went to my dentist to hear what it would all entail and spoke with him for half an hour. Then, after all my questions were answered, I finally got an estimate on what it would all cost. Gulp! My highest assumptions were off by over 400%. Where I was willing to go as high as $15,000, the number they gave me was just over $64,000. I told him I’d have to go home to discuss it with my wife. Discussion. Yeah. This was a non-discussable decision. I wanted to tell him, but I didn’t, that I’d taught high school English for thirty-five years and that if I taught another year at the highest salary on the scale, I’d have to teach one full year to pay for my new mouth. I also wanted to tell him, but I didn’t, that it would be like buying a 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL and then a few years down the road driving it off a cliff. Without insurance. How in the world can this kind of dental work cost that much? How in the world could or would any senior here agree to such a fee? Anyone who would must be far richer than we are. So, I guess I’ll just get along with what I have for as long as I have left. Now, each time we go out for dinner, I’ll think about the many times we can dine out and not come even close to spending that $64,000. I’d need to live another twenty years to gobble up that much dining-out food. And in that twentieth year I’d be too old to chew or even know what it was I wasn’t able to chew or even remember the next day what I’d tried to chew and was unable to chew.

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