Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to you say Chutzpah in Serbian?

This kind of stuff makes it very difficult for us fiction writers.  The story is so outlandish to be almost unbelievable.  But what I find fascinating is how far this guy got.  I'm a pretty quiet guy - don't like to draw a lot of attention to myself.  I'm not a power player.  I'm not a guy that steps on people to get where I want to go.  What makes another human think in their mind that what he is doing is okay?  That, yeah, I'll sell a senate seat and I'll sleep just fine.  The only answer I can come up with is that his brain is broken.  That he has something organically wrong in that head of his.  Wow.  Just can't get my head around this as it's so foreign from the way I think.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Dreamed I was a Cowboy

Lyle Lovett is without question the best sounding concert I've ever had the pleasure to attend.  And hey, the guy is damn good too.  Here is one of my favorites.  It just popped up on my iTunes as I was writing and I had to share....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Don't ask me why....

There's a natural mystic blowing through the air
If you listen carefully now you will hear.
This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last:
Many more will have to suffer,
Many more will have to die - don't ask me why.

Bob Marley

Friday, November 28, 2008

To Have and Have Not

The Howard Hawks version of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not was on cable the other night.  I searched my memory and discovered I'd never seen it.  It was Lauren Bacall's screen debut when she was mere 18-years-old and come to find out William Faulkner helped on the screenplay.  So I settled in for the quick hour and half or so movie and found it both entertaining and dull at the same time.  And I wondered why I had that feeling.  Why was I entertained but left wanting just the same?  And I've now discovered why.

I like the characters.

The story was silly.

So, being a bit of a Hemingway junkie, I went out and purchased the novel.  Now I know Hemingway wasn't particularly fond of this unorthodoxly constructed novel, but I found it quite interesting.  The way Hemingway episodically reveals Harry and his downward spiral.  And that's what's missing in the movie.  You don't get the arch of Harry's story in the movie - it centers around one aspect of the novel - and takes considerable liberties at that.

So even though we get to see the lovely Lauren Bacall give her famous "whistle" line, the movie doesn't capture the heart of the novel.  It skates along the surface, not revealing the dark heart that resides within Harry.  His anger at not being able to provide for his family while others laugh it up around him - oblivious to the pain in so many others.  And it's that anger that makes Harry real, makes him interesting, makes us want to know him.  Because we all, at one time or another, feel like a "have not."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting the Picture

I'm on a roll with videos lately.  And the last one I posted was kinda grim.  I'm not a grim guy.  I'm a guy that likes to have fun - but at 3:00am when I do most of my writing, it can get kinda grim.  So, before turning off the monitor and heading to bed, I crank a little Buffett to cleanse the pallet.  And here's a good one...

When I grow up, I want to be Jimmy Buffett....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Empire of Dirt

Here is another one from a current playlist.  This one applies more to a work I've just started.

This song cuts me to the core...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Riding with Lady Luck

Those of you that frequent this blog know how important music is to me.  And as I finish Under the Skin, my current novel, I've found a certain playlist has organically formed.  And at the heart of that playlist is one Tom Waits.

Tom Waits isn't for everyone but he sure is for me.  This tune was covered by The Eagles some years ago - and to much more commercial success - but I still like the gravely original version from the guy that wrote it.  So without further ado, I give you Tom Waits and 'Ol 55.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

James Crumley, meet Paul Newman

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Traherne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic
bulldog named Fireball Roberts, in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

James Crumley
The Last Good Kiss

“Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.”
Cool Hand Luke

It was a tough week for me last week. Two of my favorite entertainers died. James Crumley died at the age of 68. Pretty young by today’s standards. And to bookend the terrible week, Paul Newman died Friday at the age of 83. That’s a more acceptable age I guess.

Everyone knew Paul Newman. Those blue eyes; the great work he did with his charitable food line. And the movies. Who could forget those. The Verdict is still one of my favorites of his and I still argue that he should have won the Oscar that year for best actor. The Sting. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hombre. Color of Money. The Hustler. Slap Shot. The list is pretty long. Paul Newman deserves those accolades. He lived his life well – a life one could emulate and be quite happy – even if you weren’t a movie star.

But James Crumley, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. He never had a best seller. He never rose above the level of “cult writer” despite critical acclaim. Something just didn’t click for him like it did for Paul Newman. But I, like many crime writers, credit Crumley as one of my inspirations when I started writing. There was something earthy and real about his characters and his writing. They were deeply flawed people that did violent things in gritty locations. He was a very fine writer that deserved a wider audience. But then, maybe he didn’t care.

And that’s were these two men intersect. They lived their lives as they wanted – doing the things that gave them joy. They excelled at their crafts, and while one of them achieved worldwide stardom, the other lived quietly in Missoula, Montana. But they are equals in my eye.
And I suspect in that bar behind the pearly gates, the two men are sitting next to each other drinking the heart out of a fine spring day. Yeah, sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Into the Wild

This past weekend I rented the Sean Penn directed movie of the great Jon Krakauer book, Into the Wild. And it got me thinking.

What if I chucked everything and moved to the wilds of Alaska? Could I survive? Alone? With only a few favorite books, a puny 22 rifle and pair of galoshes?

Probably not.

Actually, no f’ing way.

Because, although I like my alone time mulling over my stories and thinking my thoughts, I have to be around folks. Not all the time mind you. Just occasionally. And it seems, right now, more occasionally than regularly. It’s a funk for sure – an adolescent phase that I go through multiple times a year. I can be grouchy, my wife tells me. And she’s known me for many moons – she would know.

So, as much as I like my alone time, I’ve got to have the human interaction on some level. We writers like to think of ourselves as an island sometimes – being alone with our thoughts and our words. But in the end, we write stories about people, and we need be around people in order to write about them.

But just occasionally, I’d like to shoot a couple folks with my .22……

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A famous author gets on an airplane...

I was flying home from a writer's conference a couple weeks back and I was feeling pretty good. Pretty good because I was on a panel with some truly famous authors and I held my own. Of course, that might have all been in my mind, but self-delusion is an underrated trait in my opinion. At any rate, it was a good conference overall. Got to reconnect with some folks I've met out on the circuit and met a couple new folks too. I generally feel pretty jazzed after one of these things but this one was particularly good it seemed. That is, until I got on the plane to fly home.

Now I'm real new to this whole writing gig deal so when asked, I don't normal fess up about being a writer. But this time I'm sitting in my luxurious exit row seat - no upgrade this leg - and across the aisle from me sits a rather sane looking gentlemen. That's not as common as you would expect these days. Fly as much as I do and you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, we do the usual chatter and he asks me what I do. In my ebullient mood I throw out that I'm a writer.

"Oh, what do you write?"

"I write thrillers."

"Oh, like Stephen King?"

"Well, yeah sorta. Less scary than Mr. King's stuff, but yeah, in that general vicinity."

"I hate Stephen King."

"Well, he's not for everyone."

"Anyone can write that crap. I don't see what the big deal is.'

Okay, it's turning sour real quick and I'm looking for the quick exit. "Writing a novel isn't as easy at it seems. But different strokes for different folks. Sure enough people that do like his work." In an attempt to convey that the conversation is over, I start futzing with my iPod which is something I don't have to fake.

"How many books you written?"

"Too many to count." I don't explain to him the difference between publishing a book and writing a book. That's seems way too advanced for this conversation.

"So you must be rich."

"Oh, far from it." I point up toward first class. "I'm not riding up there."

"I could write a book and be rich too."

"No, I'm not rich my friend. No, still just plugging away."

"Then you must not be any good."

That freezes me mid-headphone untangle. I turn to him, mouth slightly agape.

"You got a copy of your book you could give me?"

I reach in my wallet and quickly count the five's I have for the booze cart 'cause I'm going to need a couple. And I mutter to myself, next time I'm saying I sell insurance.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Well at least the cat understands me...

Well, okay, technically it’s my wife’s cat but I sneak him treats (against doctor’s orders) on occasion because I’m just that kind of guy. No, not the kind that wants bad things to happen to my wife’s cat, but the kind of guy that doesn’t always play by the rules. And he (the cat that is) loves me for it. I’m the first up in the morning and he comes up to me and head butts me in the shin, damn near knocking me over (he’s a Maine Coon – kinda beefy) and he knows what’s in store. A little sliced turkey or roast beef or if I’m making tuna fish sandwiches, an orgasmic hunk of tuna. I can see it in his twinkling eyes. Nirvana time. I’m gonna get treats from the dorky guy that sits for hours at his computer as I watch him, thinking, what a dolt, why doesn’t he just take a nap in the sun?

Okay, the cat doesn’t get the whole writing gig. But he knows how to have fun. I’m usually the last to bed (being a writer means some odd hours) and I fear turning off the lights before retiring. Why? Because the darkness is his friend. He loves to hide behind the sofa and attack me as I walk down the hall to the bedroom. I’m half asleep and this furry missile comes out of the dark and hits me full on, staggering me. I curse softly at him (don’t want to wake my wife – the cat is bad enough) but I have to grin too. He’s a trickster. He’s loves to play. He even loves to play fetch like a puppy. He loves life. And I love him for it.

So there is a bond between the cat and me. I’m not a cat or dog guy per se – but I do like animals. And like I said, I do love this cat. He gets it. He gets that life should be fun. That no matter how many times you attack the dork as he trundles off to bed, it’s fun. Yep. Scaring the crap out of the half-asleep guy is fun. I can imagine him curling up at the foot of the bed thinking, I got him good tonight. And I get turkey in morning. Life is good.

Okay, maybe he doesn’t understand why I write instead of nap, but I think he gets me just as I get him. We are simpatico that way. We get life. Life should be fun. That treats are okay in moderation. That sneak attacks are fun – if no harm is done. That life is good. Yeah, at least the cat understands me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Do We Have to Read This Crap Anyway?

Okay, confession time. I was a closet geek in high school. Well, okay, maybe I wasn’t so much in the closet as I might think. Sure, I played baseball all through high school and I even played football for one year before I realized that football is the modern equivalent of the gladiatorial games – and I wasn’t the lion. So I had my cool clique to hang out with. I wasn’t the kind of nerd that did extra credit trigonometry problems nor was I on the chess team or the kid with the clich├ęd pocket protector. But I was a kid that loved to read.

Hey, I was 16 – it wasn’t cool to “read” anything that wasn’t glossy and had half clothed to mostly unclothed women in it. But I did. And I liked it. And I don’t think anyone at my high school but Mr. Macmillan knew how much I like it. He could tell. He could see the signs. All of us in the literature cult know the signs. I bet some of you in the audience know the signs.

And although I haven’t reread many of those novels we read back in Advanced Literature, I do remember them. I remember the feeling they gave me. The feeling of power. Of understanding human nature just a little bit better – at a time in life when all of human nature and motivation was a snake ball to me. I still haven’t figured out why Lisa Ackerman hated me. But I’ve gotten over it...

Anyway, the books were my friends – closet friends – but good friends nonetheless. They got me through some weird times and I’m thankful for their service – then and now. Because just as they taught me lessons back then, they teach me lessons today. Like I said, I haven’t reread most of the classics, but they’ve stuck with me as I pull together stories and ideas and themes and plots and all the other building materials that make up a novel.

So 20 some odd years later I say, “Here’s to you good and noble friends! Thank you for being there – then and now!”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Magnum PI and other Fantasies of Youth

I was a teenager when the television show Magnum PI first aired. And like most adolescent boys I wanted to be just like him. To live rent free on an estate in Hawaii. Drive fast cars - that you didn't have to pay for. To hang out with your friends at an exclusive beach club and never have to pay your beer tab. Yeah, that's the life.

But it was a fantasy. A fantasy that seemed so far out of reach at 18 that when I got into my 20's, then 30's, now 40's I forgot how carefree and innocent it all seemed at the time. How, at 18, the world was full of possibilities and if you closed your eyes and thought deeply enough, you could put yourself on that estate or behind the wheel of that beautiful red Ferrari. How do I get that fantasy life back? Can I get that life back? Am I too old to dream the dreams of an 18-year-old?

As the great existential philosopher from Key West sings, "I'm growing older but not up." And it's a philosphy I'm adopting more and more lately. I'm trying to recapture those innocent days of youth while maintaining some dignity (I now only wear a coconut bra for special occasions) by tempering that spontaneity with the wisdom gleaned from my 40+ years on this planet. Life is for living right? And what good is living if you don't have any dreams? So, right now, as I type this, a very nice model of that red Ferrari sits on my desk reminding me that I should dare to dream. That the dreams of an 18-year-old boy can still be the dreams of a 40-year-old man - if I only shut my eyes and dream deeply enough.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sleuthfest 2008

Just got back from a great weekend in South Florida. Sleuthfest 2008 is in the books and I'm so very glad I went. Not only because it was 10 degrees back home - and 80 degrees poolside - but because of the warmth and camaraderie of all the attendees and conference volunteers. It takes a small army to put one of these things on and it went flawlessly. I especially want to thank Joanne Sinchuk at Murder on the Beach for supporting a not so local boy - but a boy that wishes he was local. And to Christine Kling - a fellow novelist living the life I've always dreamed - thank you for such a wonderful discussion and the grog was fantastic.

It's these conferences that keep you going. Tiring as they are, they energize you too. You meet the folks that read your books and you meet the writers that write the books that you love. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Is that a gun in your pocket?

Wow. Right out of a spy novel eh? I just might have to use this one in a future book...

Police are searching for a man who tried to send a noteworthy package of books to Paris, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. A UPS Store clerk "was preparing to ship the plastic-wrapped books on Jan. 31 when she noticed that one of the hardbacks rattled, according to police reports. The woman shook the book and spotted a gun part slipping through the pages."

A subsequent police search revealed that the books contained "a disassembled Beretta handgun, three loaded magazines and two boxes of 9mm ammunition hidden in hollowed copies of Richard Tarnas' Cosmos andPsyche, Isaac Asimov's Chronology of the World and a communications text."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Coming Up for Air

Whew. I’m finished. Okay, maybe not finished, finished, but pretty damn close to finished. I’ve finished the second book in the Phil Riley series.

It’s a pretty good feeling actually. Being able to settle back in the chair, nod the head at the computer screen and say to yourself, yeah, that will work. Okay, some touches here and there. Oh yeah, gotta change her hair color to keep it consistent, but yeah, this will work.

So there you go.


But the smile fades as you slowly come to the realization you aren’t finished.

Not by a long shot.

Remember that idea that’s been pin balling around in your head? Yeah that one. Better get started on it while the idea still seems good. Okay, okay. I’ll start next week. Give my self a little vacation from the writing gig. But right now, I’ll create a new folder to store the chapters for that new novel. Oh, I’ve got a couple more minutes before I really should go to bed. I’ll put in the headers and footers. Well hell, while I’m at it….

It’s grinding cycle. I’m like that Hawksbill turtle that occasionally needs to surface for air but also must live underwater to survive. I know my time at the surface is limited. My time for a breather is limited. My time away from writing is limited.

So I take a quick peek at the clouds, maybe roll my face toward the warming sun, Then, like that turtle, I take a big gulp of air and head back down to the reef.

It’s what writers do.