Monday, July 30, 2007
Even been to The End of the World? I have. Used to be a bar named that, back when dinosaurs still roamed the land. It was out past Plaquemine, Louisiana. Road ran through cow pastures and swamp and then it just ... stopped. There was a barrier with reflectors, and past that, more swamp.
Just off to the left, was the bar.
As a tender lad of fifteen, I used to go there with other underaged boys, to drink beer -- Miller from long-necked bottles -- to listen to zydeco music -- guitar, fiddle, washboard, accordian --
and try to pick up the local cajun girls. Never managed much of that last action, but we did drink some beer and listen to some bug-squashin' music, us, yah ...
A short quiz on how spooky a person you might be.
1) Have you ever gone to a graveyard for reasons other than a funeral, or to visit the last resting place of a relative or friend? (Looking for a quiet place to get laid counts as a "yes.")
2) Have you ever sneaked into a graveyard after dark?
3) At midnight?
4) While there, have you ever tried to have a two-way conversation with the spirits of the dead?
5) Have you ever seen a ghost?
6) More than once?
Give yourself five points for each "yes" answer.
0-5 points: You are mostly normal, probably no spookier anybody else, your shifty gaze notwithstanding.
10-15 points: You are spookier than the average person, probably have a mystical streak, but should be able to pass as sane most places.
20-25 points: You probably own a deck of Tarot cards, read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and believe that if you could just find the right magic word like Captain Marvel, you could leap tall buildings. You make psychological test-givers nervous.
30 points: If something strange happens in my neighborhood, I'm calling you, because you probably work with Egon, Ray, Peter, Winston , and Janine down at Spook Central. Your nickname is almost certainly "Woo-woo ..."
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Life is full of epiphanies, large and small. Had me a small one recently:
An anxiety dream about playing music.
For those of you who don't remember their dreams -- there are many folks who don't -- an anxiety dream is somewhat different from a full-on nightmare, which might be something like, say, being chased through the snake and gator infested swamps by a pack of werewolves.
In anxiety dreams, the problems that arise are usually less dramatic and somewhat more embarrassing.
A few typical examples: You are at a social function -- dance, movie, party, whatever -- and you look down and realize you aren't wearing any pants. No Haines, either, and nobody seems to notice, save you. Only you know they are going to notice any second.
You are on your way to class, only, you can't remember where it it, and you keep getting more lost at every turn.
You are an actor on-stage, and not only can't you remember your lines, you don't even know what your role is, and you are going to try to wing it on pure ad libs.
You are about to give a presentation to the board of directors of your company, and you don't have a clue what you are supposed to talk about, no how to work the computer or slide projector. (If you are really anxious, you might not be wearing pants ...)
You try to run in your dream, but you move as if wading through tar. If you have a gun to shoot the monster, it doesn't work, or shoots slo-mo puffballs, and your punches wouldn't put a dent in warm cotton candy.
There are tons of others. The dog gets off his leash and runs off. George Bush is elected President -- oops, back to nightmares again, sorry. Given the choice between that and the werewolves and swamp, then laissez les bon temps rouler, loup garou ...
Without going into the psychology of why too deeply, these dreams tend to reflect things about which you are unsure. If you aren't worried about something, you tend not to have anxiety dreams about it. (When I was a kid, I dreamed about drowning. After I became a Water Safety Instructor, I didn't have that dream any more. I used to have the punches-won't-work dream; lately if I have a fight scenario, I kick ass and take names.)
Few things are more more boring than listening to somebody tell you about the dream they had, unless they are Randy Newman, so I won't burden you with mine overmuch; I will say the gist of it involved me being asked by a movie producer to play a guitar piece for a movie he was shooting. He gave me the music, and I saw that the chords were all things a six-fingered jazz player would have trouble reaching -- flatted-minor-seventh augmented this, and hinge-barred diminished-elevenths that, and that no way on Earth could I begin to do it, only, in the dream, I said, "Sure, no problem."
I fool around with the guitar, and much enjoy it, but this makes me a musician in the same way that watching a program on super-string theory on the Discovery Channel makes me a theoretical physicist.
Then again, I'm not sure what, but like Richard Dreyfuss in CE3K, I know that that it means something ....
Thursday, July 26, 2007
... don't necessarily need to go together.
Chances are, if you see somebody who looks like he could pick himself up with one hand, these days, he is strong and fit -- the old musclebound stereotypes have faded, and a lot of world-class bodybuilders do aerobics and stretching. Very interesting to see a guy who can squat six hundred pounds drop into a full split ...
Then again, you don't have to look like The Incredible Hulk to be very strong. Look at guys like Scott Sonnon, or any really good gymnast. These folks are really strong, and sometimes they don't particularly look it.
Behold this little girl, with two kettlebells held aloft and two more on a strap around her neck, and that is the least of it.
The young woman's link courtesy of Tom Furman's Blog, and thanks to him for posting it.
If you have a chance, check out this vid. (And be ready turn the sound down, 'cause it is loud.)
People who have read my techno-thriller and science fiction books know I'm a fan of the the SE Asian knife design called kerambit. (Spelled different ways, and also called other things in Malay: Korambit, kerampit, karambit, and so on.)
Used to be, you couldn't find them for love nor money in the U.S., but they've gotten more popular, and there are more folks making them. There are several commercial folders, and some custom knifemakers doing fixed-blade versions.
A few: Mushtaq & Chuck, Stephen Renico, Shiva Ki.
I have a small collection of these knives. The ones pictured above are by Shiva Ki, based on a design I did in conjunction with Steve Rollert. The leather is by Chas Clements, designed to hold the pair together, and includes a belt loop -- hard to see on the picture -- for carry on the left side.
They are small, the cutting edge under two inches. These are 250 layers of laminated damascus, and legal to carry where sheathed knives are allowed. The traditional Indonesian models tend to be larger and sharp on both concave and convex edges (these are sharped only on the inner curve). Lot of places frown on daggers, which is usually read as double-edged. They are slashers and hooks rather than stabbers.
In our version of pentjak silat, any of the djurus you can do barehanded, you can also do with a pair of these in-hand with no or very small alterations of the forms, which pretty much shows that the art is knife-based and not, as some wags would have it, a monkey-like mud-throwing style ...
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Somebody was asking about weaponry to stock a fictional cave near an atoll, and my old scuba-diving days came back. Spearguns are pretty nasty items out of water, especially the pneumatic ones that you load like a kid's rubber suction-tipped dart pistol.
But probably a lot of folks don't know about the bang-stick, designed for sharks and gators, but pretty interesting as an assassination tool out of the water, too ...
Want to buy one?
But, wait! This model, for gators, because it is permanently welded onto a pole more than four feet long is not, as I read the statute, even considered a firearm by the BATF.
Hiking staff, anyone ... ?
A while back, I got into an online discussion with a well-known fitness coach. We had somewhat differing viewpoints, and while cleaning up the hard drive -- a way to relax after sprinting to make a book deadline -- I came across my last posting on the subject in the exchange. It still seems valid, so I thought I'd share it:
No question, sir, that you know more about building muscle and increasing fitness than do I, I'll stipulate that. But the how is not the same as the why.
Fitness can be a goal in itself, or a means to an end. You can increase your strength because you want to be strong, or because you have some associated need and use for it -- as a adjunct to a sport, or a job, or a hobby.
How strong you need to be is not the same as how strong (or fit) you want to be.
How strong do you need to be to sit at a word processor? Not very.
To buck hay bales? To enter the World's Strongest Man competition? Different needs. Being in shape can increase your quality of life, no question, but the best way to live a long life is still to choose your parents wisely. Nobody has yet proven that working out makes you live longer. Better quality, yes. Longer? No.
So unless it is a necessity, it comes to a choice. How much energy you are willing to spend to attain a certain level of strength and/or fitness? If it is your hobby -- or your profession -- you are apt to have a different attitude than if it isn't either.
Sound mind in a sound body -- mens sana in corpore sano -- but what constitutes "sound" is open to debate. Does everybody need to be able to run a four-minute mile or to bench press a Volvo? No. Not many people can do either, (and there aren't, I suspect, a lot -- if any -- folks who can do both.) I don't need either, I couldn't get there even if I wished, so there is no point in training for such -- the risks in trying, vis a vis physical damage? Too great.
Options are good, but what you have to pay to have them is sometimes more expensive than you can afford, and in some cases, not attainable in any event. Age takes away certain abilities and while you can fight the good fight, you can't beat gravity -- it always wins in the end. At least it always has so far on this planet.
As physical beings, we have limits. The fit ninety-five-year-old who runs is admirable, but he can't beat the fit twenty-year-olds, no matter how hard he trains, nor how much he can improve his baseline skills. It's the nature of the equipment. Fifty might be the new thirty, but ninety-five, as they say, is still eighty ...
Monday, July 23, 2007
Tennyson Hardwick is a working actor, though not a star, and formerly a -- ahem -- paid escort for rich women. The impolite term is: gigolo. (A masculinized version of a French word for "dance hall girl," in case you were wondering.)
The name is fun, on both ends: "Hardwick" is easy enough so you'd have to squint to miss it. His friends call him "Ten," though he admits he's only about eight-and-a-half ...
That gives you a feeling for the relaxed tone of this mystery novel, a three-way collaboration from Blair Underwood, with Tananarive Due, and Steve Barnes. Their protagonist is good-looking, intelligent, moral, and adept -- and you could say the same about the novel and the writing.
Hardwick's father, a retired police captain, is recovering from a stroke, and father and son have never gotten along. Acting jobs are thin, Ten is making a living doing commercials, and out of the biz of sex-for-money, when he runs into an old girlfriend from his professional days, Serena, a rich and famous rap star with the stage name "Afrodite," another play on words.
The old spark between the two flares, they get together, and after some athletic, erotic and you-might-even-learn-something, highly-detailed-sex, Ten goes home happier than he's been in a long time. Serena has something troubling her, but she doesn't want to get into it, and Ten lets it lie.
It's probably not much of a spoiler to suggest that when the hero of a mystery novel bumps into a beautiful, and somewhat-troubled, ex-flame in the first chapter and has the time of his recent life, the chances of her surviving much further into the book are probably not too good.
If you are a mystery reader, you know what is coming next.
Naturally, the prime suspect in Afrodite's death is Tennyson Hardwick, and there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. Just as naturally, the police don't want to put forth too much effort looking for another possibility since Ten is such a Christmas-wrapped gift; thus he has to set out to figure out who really did it. Because if he doesn't, nobody else will.
And you know what? It's a hoot. A fun, clever, romp, with characters you might expect in a story centered around hip-hop and rap, but in whom there are found depths beyond the cardboard gangstas usually offered up.
And there are some wonderful Hollywood gags sprinkled throughout like pearls.
Ten is no Shaft -- he is tough, but not Superman. He can shoot, but he's not Martin Riggs. He can fight, but he's not Bruce Lee. And he sometimes dances and makes intuitive leaps, but just as often, he slogs through the process of hunting for a killer.
This is a book that fills a need for an audience not often well-served in literature, people who are interested in black protagonists who aren't a white guy's idea of what black is. A good writer, no matter his or her color, can do the research, of course, and fool you; but if you are a member of the group, it's easier -- you know the tropes without having to ask. It rings true.
I had no trouble identifying with Ten, white cracker redneck that I am, and the triad of storytellers keep things moving without ever hitting a dull spot. You are in the hands of expert writers here, masters of their craft, and the prose flows like warm oil on clean glass.
Despite the name, Casanegra is not L.A. noir, but nether is it a primary-color cartoon, and while I'd rate it NC-17, for sex and some violence, there's a lot to like in this book. Might not be the one you want to give to your granny who loves Miss Marple, but serious mystery readers with catholic tastes will have no problems here at all.
Of course, since I know two of the three people who built this house, it is tempting to try and figure out who constructed which room, who painted which walls, laid which carpet -- that's an occupational hazard for a writer. But whoever made the last pass homogenized it, blended it smoothly, so that there aren't any jarring cuts that make it obvious more than one writer laid hands on the manuscript.
That's harder than you might think, and done well here.
I think there is another Hardwick adventure in the pipeline, and I hope so. This one was a fun read, and I look forward to the next one.
And while it might not be able to make it to the big screen, Hardwick and his adventures would make a great HBO or Showtime series, where they would have the room to develop him and his world to good effect. And if they didn't give the lead to Blair Underwood, and sign Due and Barnes to produce and story-edit, they'd be idiots.)
Casanegra, Simon & Schuster's Atria imprint, July, 2007, ISBN # 13-978-0-7432-8731-9
Funny, a bar chart of the visitors to the blog looks a whole lot like a sine wave. That might not be so surprising, the ebb and flow, but the peaks and valleys are amusing, I get the most visitors mid-week and during working hours; the fewest on weekends, then it starts back up again.
People bored at the office, I guess ...
So, Friday night on the eleven o'clock news, the weather forecaster whipped out the charts and graphs, cranked up the radar, and lo, there's a biiig storm off the coast -- remnants of a typhoon in the South Pacific -- heading our way. We are going to get wet!
We could look for rain starting late Saturday night, turning heavy by Sunday morning, and staying steady all day Sunday. Maybe as much as an inch or so, which, in Portland, is like a warning that you should start marching the animals two-by-two into the Ark.
Since I had pages to get done on the book -- and yes, I did manage to get them all written and even as we speak, the novel is wending its electronic way to the publisher, the draft finished, thank you very much -- then a pouring rain would actually be helpful. I wouldn't be tempted to go play outside, do yard work, like that.
So what was the weather at Steve's house like during the predicted deluge?
Partly cloudy, very humid, and sticky warm.
Not a drop of rain fell Saturday night, nor all day Sunday, not here. Zippo. Zero.
And all the boards did shrink ...
Must be terrible to be a weather forecaster and to blow it that bad. Over and over again ...
#I have a copy of the cover art for Predator: Turnabout, and it looks really good, but I'm not allowed to post it here until it goes final.
Keep watching the skies ...
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Sometimes writers need deadlines, to prod them, but I am here -- briefly -- to tell you that writers hate deadlines.
Reason I haven't blogged lately is that I have book due, um, tomorrow, and when I got to the end of the draft on the one in progress, and thought I was done, we're all fine here, it turned out I had the story, nice and tight -- but that it was too tight.
About eighty pages short of what I needed, so the last few days and the next couple got, and will stay, busy. Back in the day, I could jog along at ten or fifteen pages of new material a day for weeks, no problem, and then do a few days of sprinting if I needed it, twenty, twenty-five page days, to bring it home.
Not any more. Hands won't take it, so I'm really going to have to learn how to fight smarter and not harder in that arena, too.
(If you the like picture, go here.)
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
It has been my privilege for the last dozen years to study the martial art Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck under the expert guidance of Maha Guru Stevan Plinck, in Washington state.
Group classes are once a week for a couple hours, sometimes a little longer, and the round-trip from my house is just under three hours, when the traffic is not too bad. If that seems like a long way, it isn't. One of our classmates drives twice that far, and we both consider ourselves fortunate to have the option.
Here is a world-class silat teacher, one of a few in the entire country. Sixty miles? That's nothing. Long as the gasoline holds out, no problem. Might be a little tougher on a bicycle in the cold and rain ...
I won't go on and on about how wonderful I think our version of silat is; obviously, if I didn't like it, I wouldn't still be there after all this time. More, it is my intent to keep trying to learn it as long as Guru continues his teaching, or I drop dead. Because there is always something new to learn. Never step in the same river twice, and while I believe I know enough to use the stuff if push comes to shove, that's not the point. It's not the end of the trip that matters here, it is the journey.
Guru Plinck is a self-effacing man. He doesn't flack himself or his teaching on the net or in the 'zines. If you don't know somebody, you won't find him. He has only a handful of regular students, not counting the enclaves in various other part of the world, ranging as far away as Finland. The videos he has made are designed for his students or already-serious silat players. He isn't looking to recruit new trainees.
There are guys with a tenth of his ability doing major marketing and making a lot of money, and he's forgotten more than they have ...
To those folks in the know in silat circles, there's no question that Guru Plinck is the Real Deal. However idiotic the political in-fighting gets -- all martial arts seem to have plenty of that, but the Indonesian stuff is particularly afflicted with looney tunes -- the senior students who are the closest thing to his peers all recognize that Plinck is the most-realized of Pendekar Paul de Thouars's students. He learned the art, took it to new levels, smoothed it out, improved it, and it remains an evolving study for him, as well as us.
Guru could pound his own drum and nobody would fault him for it. That he does not is just one more admirable thing about the man. He has the art. He is willing to teach it, and he is as good as anybody at conveying it thus. To be among the few who have found their way into this art as taught by this teacher is, no two ways about it, a peak experience in my life. A signal honor.
He won't tell you any of this. But I will. It's like finding a fist-sized diamond in your back yard, and I appreciate it more than I can possibly say; but now and then, a small nod is the least I can do.
Banyak terima kasih, Guru.
Somebody asked me recently why I tend to have such strong women in my fiction.
Frankly, I don't understand any writer who doesn't.
Ask any guy who has ever had a kidney stone if he'd elect to have another. The pain, so they say, is fierce. About like that of childbirth. And, of course, when you ratchet the distance up to ultra-marathon range, fifty, a hundred miles, women win as often as men. No, they don't have the upper body mass that all that testosterone confers, but like the U.S. Calvary was supposed to have said about the Lakota Sioux, If you are captured by the Indians, don't let them give you to the women ...
Partially, it's because I grew up reading and watching action-adventure stuff in which women were featured as being capable. Sure, all those old shows and books are pretty silly when you look at them now, but between Emma Peel (Diana Rigg, The Avengers, with whom every boy I knew was in serious lust and love) and Modesty Blaise? They were the direct ancestors of the strong women on TV and in movies who followed.
A few that come immediately to mind: Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, Star Wars; Private Vasquez and Ellen Ripley (Jenette Goldstein and Sigourney Weaver, in Aliens; Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, in T2; and the vampire Selene, (Kate Beckinsale, in Underworld; Gina Torres, as Zoe, in Firefly/Serenity, and, of course, Lucy Liu -- in anything.
Tough girls. And it didn't hurt that they are also easy on the eyes. ...
Monday, July 16, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Six weeks out from one of those birthdays that end in a zero. Three score ...
I’ve always told myself that I was never more than six or eight weeks out of being in top shape. I think maybe that has slipped a bit, but if ever there was a time to see, this is it.
Even if I can’t quite get to the acme, six weeks of concentrated effort ought to put me part way up the mountain, and it’s a lot easier to stay in shape than it is to get into shape.
So. Djurus every day, and maybe sambuts, too. The chinning bar every day and push-ups and crunches, and the rope and barbell on alternate days, or maybe every third day, depending on how recovery feels.
I gotta hop to it. I ain’t getting any younger, even though I'm not a man my age ...
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Say ... am I the only one who thinks maybe the Predators might just be a nose-job and some dreadlocks away from Gilbert Shelton's Wonder Wart-Hog ... ?
Shelton and R. Crumb were, hands down, the two funniest and readable underground comic books guys working in the sixties, (along with Paul Mavrides, of course, the other creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and Fat Freddie's Cat.)
(To view an entire adventure of the Hog of Steel, politically incorrect, rated "X," for sex, violence, and sick humor, have a look at "Wonder Wart-Hog Breaks Up the Muthalode Smut Ring and Also Balls Lois Lamebrain."
Don't say I didn't warn you ...
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Couple times a month, which is as often as I can afford to justify it, I have a massage.
No, no, not that kind of massage, no "happy ending." My therapist is a neuromuscular-certified no-nonsense kind of gal, who also plays guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, and between that and her work, has hands of steel. She finds knots I didn't know I had in my back, and lays into them with fingers and elbows, sometimes to the point of discomfort, though it always pays off.
We are talking deep-tissue, sports massage, serious kneading that breaks down the body armor.
I'm a big believer in preventative medicine -- rather than cure an ill, better not to get it in the first place. Diet, exercise, vitamins, and massage, all like that. Won't make me bulletproof and, alas, nobody lives forever, but the quality of time I have is important.
Back in the days when I was a PA-C in the Family Practice clinic, most of what we saw come through as illness was directly related to stress. Most of it. Sure, a broken ankle or the flu, or a sprained back weren't from battling the fight-or-flight syndrome and rush hour traffic, but a lot of what we saw was. Get too tight for too long, build up body-armor, it manifests in somatic disorder.
You have to get rid of at least some of those tigers, or they will eat you up.
If you can find a way to safety-valve the day-to-day stress, whether it's yoga, meditation, massage or doing martial arts forms and climbing a rope, it will serve you in the long run, in terms of the way you enjoy whatever time you have. And massage, you don't have to do the work, you just relax and enjoy it.
Waaay better than Valium.
Every now and then, a science fiction writer makes a prediction and gets it right. Sometimes this is from extrapolation, sometimes a lucky guess. Sometimes, it's because some budding engineer or scientist reads the piece and decides to create the toy, thus life imitates art.
Waldoes, anyone? Telstar?
There are folks called "futurists" out there who claim ability to predict the future. I have to laugh when I read them or hear them speak. These are techno-scryers, pretending to something they don't have. (I've used them in fiction myself, but the truth is, the butterfly effect really screws such things up pretty well.)
Case in point. Yesterday, the weather forecasters were telling us that today would be like yesterday: Hot -- triple-digit, fondly-Fahrenheit temperatures, dry as a fifty-year-old bone in the Sahara.
And what do we have? At eleven a.m., a still-thick layer of marine clouds and seventy-seven muggy degrees. If it is going to hit a hundred here today, Apollo is going to have to work his ass off.
These guys have satellites that can see into the ultra- and infra- spectrums; radar; Doppler and computer models out the wazoo, Ph.D's in meteorology -- and they can't predict the weather from one day to the next, much less a week in advance.
I got your future right here ...
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Look at one of those color-coded temperature maps of the USA, and it's all orange and red for today and tomorrow.
Local forecasters are predicting 102 degrees F. in balmy Portland and vicinities. (That's about 39 degrees C. for those of you who are Fahrenheit-ly challenged.)
And we aren't gonna be anywhere near the warmest, locally or nationally. Supposed to be five or six degrees hotter than that just over the hill in central and eastern Oregon.
Just after eleven a.m. as I write this, and in the mid-eighties, going up fast enough to look like the minute hand on a clock. Risen two degrees since I started typing.
I took the dogs out early, the sun was already sharpening its claws ...
I realize this is nothing for you folks who live on the Equator, and not even a patch on the summer days back in Louisiana -- where you could get three-digit temperature and matching humidity at the same time.
At least it will be dry here -- humidity staring out about thirty-five percent and dropping to half that when the heat peaks. But still warm enough in a place where most folks still don't have air conditioners. I have a window unit out in the garage, but I usually don't bother to truck it into my office until we get several days of ninety-plus and it looks as if it isn't going to cool off for a week or two.
I gotta go water the garden and fill up the kiddie pool for the dogs now.
Summer has entered the building ...
Back in the days before there were hippies -- pre-Summer-of-Love, in California -- there was Owsley, also known as "Bear."
A brilliant fellow, he was, at one time, the sound man for the Grateful Dead, and responsible for recording and preserving many of their live performances during the San Francisco psychedelic heyday.
He was also known for producing the best LSD available. Until 1966, the drug wasn't illegal -- busted in 1965 because the local cops thought he was making meth, he sued to get his gear and acid back -- they didn't find any meth -- and won.
Used mostly for psychiatric research, and by the military looking for a weapon prior to this, acid became, of course, the drug of choice at the center of the alternative-culture movement in the Haight Ashbury District of San Francisco, and it isn't too big a stretch to credit Owsley as the main reason psychedelic rock (then called Acid Rock) arose from groups like the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Hendrix, the late-career Beatles, Iron Butterfly, to name a few.
Eventually, of course, LSD and other psychedelics were outlawed, and eventually, Owsley was arrested and sent away for three years.
He got out of prison, dropped his profile, and began to produce sculptures and castings, which apparently sell quite well. He lives somewhere in the Australian outback these days, doesn't do many interviews, and sells his art and old music recordings.
A fascinating part of hippie-history.
Owsley, a short bio.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
So, I finished the bio of Warren Zevon, written by his ex-wife Crystal.
Just before he turned forty, Zevon got clean and straight, and he stopped being a dope-fiend drunken asshole --
And became just a plain asshole ...
I love the guy's music. Right up there with Randy Newman. And he had a lot of people who loved him, but near as I can tell tell, he fucked nearly every one of them over on this trip. Especially his women, all of whom he cheated on with almost determined regularity, and most of whom stayed with him a lot longer than they should have. Sex became his drug of choice, until the end, when he went back to booze and legally-supplied drugs, for his cancer.
What he had was his brilliance as a writer and his musical craftsmanship, which was, by all accounts, outstanding. Everybody admired his way with words and his ability to pick up a guitar or sit down at a piano and make magic.
But: What an unhappy man he seemed. Insecure in the extreme, jealous, lacking any semblance of self-discipline, well on his way down the road to hell most of his life.
People cut him a lot of slack because he was a musical genius; too much so. Maybe if somebody had been able to reach him, he might have turned out differently. But, according to the book, anybody who was not completely for him, he cut off, he would not hear any criticism of his work or his life, and that's just tragic, in the classic sense of that word.
At least he left the music behind.
Lately, I've been on a jag whereupon I've been reading rock biographies of folks from back in the day. Read several about the Beatles; Dylan, Baez, and the 4th Street folk-rock crowd from the Village; the SoCal Hotel California groups -- Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell. Donovan's autobiography. Randy Newman's. And the most recent one, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, about Zevon. He passed away a few years back, and his last album is hard listening -- he wrote the songs after he knew he was dying, and toward the end, he didn't have much left, he could barely sing. Lotta well-known folks in the biz turned out to play on that one.
I'm about halfway through the book. If the biography is anywhere close to accurate -- and it seems to come mostly from friends and family and people he worked with -- he was, for most of his early days, a mean drunk, heavy doper, prone to violent, jealous rages, and somebody who thumped his various wives and/or girlfriends around when he was soused or stoned.
If you had known the man up until he was in his early thirties, you might have thought he was a genius of a songwriter -- but a total asshole. Talent only excuses so much, and then it doesn't matter how brilliant you are ...
I'm hoping it is going to turn around soon, but it's really sad so far.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Just got off the phone with Michael Taylor Moore -- no relation to the moviemaker.
First time I heard of this Moore was at a science fiction convention in the TriCities in Washington -- my wife and I wanted to do a winery tour, and somebody said, "You gotta go see the Wine Nazi." (For those of you who never watched Seinfeld, the reference might not resonate, but it was not an insult to call him this.)
So we dropped round and were mightily impressed. Best wines I ever tasted, white or red. I wrote about him for one of the Net Force novels -- here is what I said: Net Force exerpt.
Anyway, Mike has just bought some property near Santa Barbara, CA, and he's building another winery there.
He's calling his wines from WA Heritage now, but you can still link to the Blackwood site.
If you like European-style wines, Moore's stuff will knock your socks off. It's not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
Once he gets the new place up and running, it will be the place to go in SoCal for wine. He'll have them lined up along Hwy 101 for miles to get in ...
Those of you who know me know I have little use for professional literary critics. Over my desk is a little phrase I came up with: Better the world's worst artist than the world's best critic.
I also like Fred Allen's line to them: Where were you when the page was blank?
All writers stand on the shoulders of those who went before, but literary critics in particular are like remoras -- they don't have a shark to leech onto, they got nothin', and when they do find a free ride, they don't give it anything in return.
Critics -- roll 'em in flour and deep-fat fry 'em ...
Unless of course, you are a better writer than your subject. Such as Mark Twain was when wrote the essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."
Aside from being the funniest piece of writing in the English language, it also contains Twain's rules of writing, which are as valid now as they were when he put them down.
Go read it, and learn from a master of the art and craft.
Friday, July 06, 2007
I heard this one a while back and for some reason it came to mind today. Best appreciated by folks who play stringed musical instruments.
So the guy telling the story goes to a flea market, and there on a table is a fairly good acoustic guitar for a really good price. Guy picks it up, it's way out of tune, and the tuning gears are all frozen.
He looks at the seller. "Yeah, my brother's guitar. He bought it, got tired of having to tune it every time he played. So he got it just perfect, then he super-glued the tuners so it would stay that way ..."
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Now and then, a friend, whose name I won't mention, let's just call her "B.R.", sends me her latest collection of internet jokes. I thought this one was worth reposting ...
Are you a Democrat, Republican, or Southerner?
Here is a little test that will help you decide.
The answer can be found by posing the following question:
You're walking down a deserted street with your wife and two small children. Suddenly, an Islamic Terrorist with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with you, screams obscenities, praises Allah, raises the knife, and charges at you. You are carrying a Glock caliber 40, and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he reaches you and your family. What do you do?
Well, that's not enough information to answer the question!
Does the man look poor or oppressed?
Have I ever done anything to him that would inspire him to attack?
Could we run away?
What does my wife think?
What about the kids?
Could I possibly swing the gun like a club and knock the knife out of his hand?
What does the law say about this situation?
Does the Glock have appropriate safety built into it?
Why am I carrying a loaded gun anyway, and what kind of message does this send to society and to my children?
Is it possible he'd be happy with just killing me?
Does he definitely want to kill me, or would he be content just to wound me?
If I were to grab his knees and hold on, could my family get away while he was stabbing me?
Should I call 911?
Wonder why this street is so deserted?
We need to raise taxes, have paint and weed day, and make this a happier, healthier street that would discourage such behavior.
This is all so confusing.... I need to debate this with some friends for few days, and try to come to some sort of consensus
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
BANG! Click..... (Sounds of reloading)
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! Click
Daughter: "Nice grouping, Daddy! Were those the Winchester Silver Tips or Hollow Points?"
Son: "Can I shoot the next one!"
Wife: "You AIN'T taking that to the Taxidermist."
Happy 4th of July ...
Independence Day in the USA, and happy birthday, America -- Scooter and the king's men notwithstanding.
Also Jude's birthday -- he's two. We gave him a big soup bone, and he is, even as we speak, out back gnawing on it.
Layla had to have one, too, one must be fair about such things. Of course she brought hers into the house and is currently chewing it up all over the rug in the hall. One of the reasons we had to get a rug-shampoo machine ...
Two years ago today, Chris Bunch passed away. The book my son and I finished for him, Star Risk, LTD: The Gangster Conspiracy, was officially published yesterday.
And next week, this blog will be a year old. Lot of material going I can mine for books someday.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Those of you who are regular readers here know that I have a couple of Cardigan Corgis. In the -- dare I say it? dog days of summer -- sometimes the little black and white critters get passing hot when I take them for walks. To that end, I decided I'd carry a water bottle, so as to give them a drink or occasional splash for the cooling effect that offers.
I had a spray bottle, but it died, so I figured, I'd just hie myself on over to the drugstore and pick up one of those little holster thingees for a water bottle you can hook to your belt.
Three stores later -- Rite Aid, K-Mark and GI Joe's, I am here to tell you if you want such a thing, good luck with that.
Oh, there are water bottles out the wazoo, nine-and-sixty kinds, plastic, aluminum, clear, a plethora of colors, from small to humongous. And all kinds of rings, straps, strings, rubber bands, Velcro, net, mesh, and combinations thereof to connect them to fanny packs, back packs, climbing harnesses, bicycles, kayaks, and tent poles.
hand-tooled-seven-dollar Friendship's Offerings, some of these, well-made, expensive, and far beyond what I wanted.
If you are in mind to cross the Gobi Desert on foot, then hike to Mount Everest and clamber to the top, this is all swell stuff, but if all you want is something to hook a plain old sixteen-ounce bottle of water to your belt, you are shit out of luck.
Yeah, you can spend nineteen bucks for a padded, insulated wrap that hooks to something with a D-ring big enough to dock the Titantic, but c'mon!
So, frustrated, I returned to my home, dug through the junk drawer, found some straps and an old cell phone case, and made my own. What I should have done in the first place.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Having forged a couple of long-lasting relationships at the writers' workshop in L.A. -- Reaves and I have written a shitload of stuff together, TV, books, short stories --
Hmm. Maybe "shitload" isn't the descriptive word I want ...
Oh, well. Anyhow, we became friends and collaborators and we now visit on the flintphone fairly often. (that's the computer webcam connection, more about the name later, if I remember.)
George Guthridge and I wrote s few short stories together. He lives in Alaska now, and we talk from time to time.
When Sue Petrey died, I put together a few of her unpublished short stories for Ed Ferman, then the editor at F&SF.
I haven't kept in touch with the other folks, save now and a rare then.
For a time, there were gatherings of the Silverlake group. Somewhere along the way, somebody picked up an old steel advertising sign with a picture of a woman featured on it who became, for some reason, "Thelma." This became the "coveted Thelma Award, and was given to the person who, because of its size and shape, would have the most trouble getting it home. it was about the size of a tabloid newspaper or thereabouts.
At the end of the workshop, Thelma came home with me.
Sometime later, I managed to pass it along to somebody else, having dressed her up somewhat by attaching the sign to a corkboard in a wooden frame, using white porcelain knobs, thus making it even larger and harder to haul it around.
The award vanished along the way, and I have wondered for years who wound up with it.
There was much silliness amongst this group of folks. At one point, I did a cartoon of a hooded and robed Donald Duck-like character, complete with evil grin and a longhandled axe, on a letter I sent to Richard Kearns.
The Duck of Darkness ... Quack, quack, quack, quaaaaaaaaack ...
Dick, who was working at a print shop, copied the image and sent me a ream of paper with my name and address under the image. I used it for a letterhead until I ran out, or moved, whichever came first.
Later, I did a small sculpture of the Duck of Darkness, and painted it, using a coppery paint that stayed tacky, which I thought appropriate, and sent that to Reaves. He kept it on his fanboy toy shelf for years ...
We miss you, Thelma, and all the fun we had ...
I met Michael Reaves at a science fiction convention, a Westercon, held at the Crystal Palace in San Francisco, nearly thirty years ago. It was in the SFWA suite, where I had been admitted as a newly-joined member, having sold all of three or four short stories. I was sitting on the bed talking to Diane Duane, a conversation involving colostomies and venereal diseases thereof that had driven away anybody listening, when Reaves arrived in the company of Pat Murphy. It seemed an editor who shall remain nameless here, (though he was known as “The Octopus” because he’d put a tentacle on any woman within reach) had made a sloppy pass at Murphy, and Reaves was most upset over this. He walked around muttering darkly to himself, smacking his fist into his palm and letting it be known that he wouldn’t mind giving the Nameless Editor a lesson in manners. Nay, in fact, he would much enjoy such a prospect, educating the slimy son-of-a-bitch!
I was introduced to Reaves by Diane. I confess I was not really impressed by this angry, long-haired, bearded mutterer. He was angry, caustic, profane, and, it seemed to me at the time, on the edge of psychosis.
Fast forward a couple of months. Several Clarion alumni (Clarion being the place for budding science fiction and fantasy writers to study the craft of writing, then and now) who lived in L.A. decided they needed to have a week-long writing workshop. Spearheaded by Richard Kearns, the first -- and it turned out, the only -- Silverlake Writers Workshop was planned for the week between the next Christmas and New Year’s Day, and as a relatively new pro, would I be interested in attending?
I was interested. I much wanted to be a real writer in the company of other writers. I had wanted to go to Clarion, but couldn't afford either the time or the money. By the time I could afford both, I didn't need to go any more ...)
I bundled up a few stories to workshop and flew from my new home in Oregon to L.A.
The event was held at a rented Methodist youth camp in the San Gabriel Mountains, just outside the smog curtain. The place was rustic, homey enough, indoor plumbing and all, though overrun with black widow spiders. You haven’t lived until you reach for the toilet paper and see a black widow perched on the roller, flashing its hourglass grin, and daring you to put your hand there.
It was an interesting week. Among the attendees I can still remember for sure were: Pat Murphy, George Guthridge, Glenn Chang, Avon Swofford, Cheri Wilkerson, Raymond Embrak, Evelyn Sharenov, Sue Petrey, Richard Kadrey, Richard Kearns, Michael Reaves and Yours Truly. I think Art Cover may have come and gone, and Ted Sturgeon almost drove up, but didn’t. Most of us were at about the same level of success, having sold a few stories each.
Reaves and I gained our first connection during the workshopping . Several times, the writing in one of his stories was referred to by members of the group as “slick.” And in a fit of misplaced humor, Dick Kearns had on the cover sheet renamed my dark fantasy piece, “The Duke of Darkness,” to “The Duck of Darkness,” which effectively killed any serious consideration of it. And Kearns had also deliberately misspelled “Reaves,” as “Reeves.” Thus Michael and I both felt picked upon. He became “Slick,” and I “Duke,” at least to each other.
Reaves was the star: In addition to having written short stories, he also wrote animation for television, and he was the only attendee to have sold actual novels, two of them: I Alien, and the about to be published Dragonworld. He even had a T-shirt with the cover of the latter printed on it. Somebody, while we were playing pool one evening, took Reaves to task for the shirt, and his response was so withering, so cutting, that I ducked to avoid the spray of blood and singed body parts I expected. The guy’s mouth could cut a room full of sailors to shreds.
While waiting for the gore, in one of my rare epiphanies, I had a moment of psychological X-ray vision: I was able to see with perfect clarity through the flinty-snappy-comeback-up-yours-protective armor Reaves wore to the man beneath it, and wow! it was obvious to me that he wasn’t a nasty hard ass at all, but was, in fact, a nice guy. Amazing. I believe I even came to his defense, regarding the shirt. A second connection was forged.
Later on, while I was perched up on the hill overlooking the main cabin, vainly trying to play a flute I had recently bought, Reaves drifted up, and we talked. Nothing earth-shaking, just a pleasant writer-to-writer conversation.
In due course, we finished the gathering and went our separate ways. Most of the Silverlake alumni continued writing, and have since produced a goodly number of non-fiction, short stories, novels, television scripts, and movie scripts. Several have been nominated for major awards in the field -- the late Sue Petrie, George Guthridge, and Pat Murphy -- Pat having won the Hugo and the Nebula a couple of times. Even a few bestsellers scattered in there, too.
(Most of the preceeding was cribbed from the afterword I did for Michael's short story collection, The Night People, edited and published by Lydia Marano, for Babbage Press.)
Monday, July 02, 2007
Um. I alluded to this in the most recent post before this one, and for those who don't know, what it means is that moment, during a once-popular TV show, when you know absolutely for sure it is on its way down the toilet.
Look here for a detailed explanation: Fonzie Jumps the Shark ...
There haven't been many network TV shows for which I'd make it a point to be home to catch, but Studio 60 was one of them. (Two of the others were The West Wing and Sports Night, and it's no coincidence that all three were created and mostly written by Aaron Sorkin.)
Sorkin is a writer's writer, is why. People don't talk in real life like they do on his shows, but they should. His dialog sparkles like an opal mine in the midday sunshine.
Studio 60 never found its audience, and I'm not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. The shows I really like always get canceled. My weird sense of taste.
The character-driven stuff always has a harder row to hoe than those that are plot-driven or slapstick. Nothing wrong with those, but I'm gonna miss Studio 60. Nothing else on network TV comes close for that level of writing. Boston Legal used to have some nice chops, but they are firing some of the actors who made it work, and it's getting a little stale. I see the shark out there in the water, only a matter of time until somebody goes to find the water skis ...
There are a couple shows on cable I enjoy, Entourage is one, and when it shows up, Tripping the Rift, on SciFi. Reruns of Deadwood. The new version of Battlestar Galactica.
Outside of Mystery! when they are running the best of the Brit stuff -- Prime Suspect, Foley's War -- nothing I'd hurry home to catch.
Me, I think Sorkin should link up with Showtime or HBO. Whatever he came up with would blow The Sopranos reruns clean off the air.
Back when I was young and had better reflexes, I owned and rode a number of two-wheeled vehicles.
Just after I got married, going to LSU from our house in downtown Baton Rouge, I had a ten-speed bike. This was in the days when I saw another such beast on the road, I'd wave and the other rider would wave back, since such things were not just uncommon, but rare.
(In those days, if you were a jogger, people would often slow down in their cars and ask if you needed a ride, since you obviously were in a hurry to get some place.)
On the bike, I turned the handlebars upside down and backwards because they were underlooped racing things and I got tired leaning over them.
I had a couple of small Harley-Davidson motorcycles, later a Yamaha, and eventually, a Lambretta and a Vespa motorscooter. (After those, I didn't get another bicycle and ride it seriously for almost twenty years, when I turned forty. I also got some Spandex to go with the bike. Had to stop wearing that -- women kept following me out of stores ...)
The reason I bought the scooters was directly attributable to Peter S. Beagle. Some of you probably know him from his classic novel, The Last Unicorn, and subsequent fantasy novels.
He also wrote movies, including the animated version of The Lord of the Rings. But just after I graduated from high school, when the last of the beatniks had yet to become the first of the hippies, Beagle wrote a book about a cross-country trip on motorscooters with his buddy. Two Jewish boys from New York who hopped on the suckers and rode to California, in 1963.
Kerouac's On the Road had been published less than a decade earlier, but though I spent some time in New Orleans's coffeehouses at the tail end of the beat generation's decline, and had even read Ginsberg's Howl -- bongos and poetry and black T-shirts and all like that, I didn't relate to Kerouac. Beagle's road trip was much more my cup of tea, his tropes, I could get.
I probably read the thing when it came out in paperback, '66? '67? About then.
The book went out of print, and in my arrogance, I thought I was the only guy who had ever read it -- at least I never could find anybody else who admitted to doing so. Later, I found out it was considered quite the classic, with a loyal, Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show kind of following.
Recently, I was thinking about motorscooters and recalling the book fondly, so I got online and saw that it had come back into print. I ordered a copy.
Sometimes going back to revisit old friends in print is a bad idea. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land doesn't hold up well for me. (In truth, a lot of Bob's later stuff doesn't call to me.
Time Enough for Love, I Will Fear No Evil, and Friday? Nope.)
Zelazny's Lord of Light, on the other hand, still reads fine. I always wanted to write the sequel to that one. Terrific book -- if you came of age when I did and connected to it.
I See by My Outfit holds up, and in its 1963 sensibilities, paints a view of history through which I lived and recall with great fondness.
Mostly fondness, anyhow ...
Sunday, July 01, 2007
So my stat counter tracks the last hundred or so hits, and most of these are, perforce, from the United States.
But, in the few hours, I've had visitors from Indonesia, Germany, India, Canada, Portugal, Finland, and the U.K.
How cool is that? That I can post some inane comment on a blog in Oregon, and have people from all over the world log in and have a look?
And how about that iPhone? I don't want one, don't need it, but that's a science fiction toy if ever there was one. I recall postulating something very similar in a book I wrote ten years or so back, I called it a "virgil," for Virtual Global Interface Link.
I didn't expect to see it until at least 2010 CE, and here it is it -- blew right past me. Way to go, Apple.