Monday, January 30, 2012

Successful Failure

I dunno if I told you this story before, but if I did, it's been a while, and it came up during a discussion about ebooks, so I thought I'd offer it.

Some years ago, when I was blowin' and goin' and doing a lot of writing in major franchise universes, I got a call from a guy who worked for a game company. The company was a pioneer in online first-person shooter interactives, and doing really well with it. They were about to roll out another incarnation of the game, and would I be interested in doing a book tie-in?

I wasn't against the idea in general, but not particularly interested in that moment. I had a couple of high-profile, well-paying projects going, a couple of my own books stacked up behind those, and I allowed as much to the caller. But he was a fan, and he wondered if he and another game guy could come by, buy me lunch, and pitch me.

Okay, free lunch, why not?

So they came and pitched the idea. Action-adventure, military space opera, I could go in pretty much any direction I wanted. It would be fun, they said. Right up my alley.

Working for folks who don't have any real experience in book-land can be problematic. Having somebody look over your shoulder while you write is a pain in the posterior. You expect that in TV or movie stuff, it's part of the game, but in bookery, I want to be left alone to do the job. 

We'll leave you alone, we promise.

Tempting; still, I was busy and really not that interested, so I rattled off a figure so high that I expected that would end the discussion. 

They swallowed when they heard the number. We'll, uh, get back to  you.

I grinned inwardly. Yeah, that's what I figured. So I went on my merry way, and thanks for lunch.

Few days later I got a call. Okay, let's do it!

Whoa! Really?

I talked to my agent, who got the parameters of the deal, and, well, I, um, reassessed my thinking.

Let me rephrase that: It was an offer I couldn't refuse. Not only was I looking at a nice six-figure advance, they were willing to ship a copy of the book with every game, which, if it was anything near the first version, would run to a million units. Be a lot of potential readers. And maybe more books like it down the line ...

But, wait–!

Once the book was published, my royalty on that would be 50%. Fifty percent? Where ten is normal for original stuff, and 1-2% is what you get on most tie-ins? Fifty percent?

They didn't know any better, we weren't going to tell them, and let's face it, greed laid her velvet claws onto me. Visions of sugar plums danced in my head.

Hear me rationalize: Hey, I'm gonna write stuff like this anyhow, and why not get well-paid for it? I mean, we've already determined what you are, Steve, now we're just haggling over the price ...

So. I came up with a storyline, filled it with martial arts, intrigue, lotta running and gunning, gave it a catchy title, and pitched it. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, I thought.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

First thing that happened is the head honcho of the game company wanted to lay his hands on it, and he started offering helpful suggestions that indicated the man had never actually read a book: Ooh, wouldn't it be cool if we did this?

Actually, no, it would exceedingly stupid if we did this. But I said that politely.

Then the size and scope of the project was reassessed, altered, and the monster advance had to be shrunk. It was still a nice high five-figure advance, and the royalties would be the same.

It could still work. 

We kicked the springboard back and forth a couple times, came up with one that was acceptable

Should have heard the rumble then, but avarice had stoppered my ears. I decided to go for  it. Yeah, yeah, there was some risk, but it could really pay off. I mean, I buy lottery tickets now and then, so maybe ...

I started writing. A few weeks into it, a bigger game company cruised in, flashed sharkish teeth and gobbled up my employer. Bought 'em, lock-stock-and-barrel, then fired everybody, save the one book guy, who was so far down the line they didn't notice him. 

But we were still okay.

I turned the ms in, got paid, and lo! a third game company came in, bought out the second, and the new owner looked around and ... shelved the entire project. 

The book guy tried, he hustled his ass off, but IWDJ -- It Was Dead, Jim. 

Did I mention that I was wrong about this project?

This kind of thing happens in Hollywood all the time. I know writers who have made good livings for years writing or rewriting scripts, none of which ever made it to the screen. But that rarely happens in the book world with a finished, not-too-badly-written genre book for which you have been paid. Only time it's ever happened to me.

What this all means is that I had written–I thought–a pretty good space opera novel that nobody was ever going to see. Got paid well for it, but even though I am much the hack, money isn't everything. As a writer, you want to see your stuff out there.

If I had it to do over again, would I? Probably. Money isn't everything, but on balance, I came out ahead. 

This is, I think, why the appeal of ebookery is so strong. You can get it out there. Yes, maybe fourteen people will buy copies in the next nine months, and you won't get to go into the local book store and point at it and brag about it. But at least there's a chance it will be read. Somebody skimming down the page on might come across it, say "Hmm." and download it.

Something to be said for that. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Star Wars Bookery

No, I'm not about to do another one, and the one about which I'm talking, Shadow Games, was by Maya Bohnhoff and Michael Reaves. The title, which wasn't the working one–that was Holostar–was apparently decided upon by fans, and the book hit the racks a couple months ago.

There is a lot of stuff in it that a couple of my fans have asked about, the teras kasi martial art, Black Sun, the character of Dash Rendar, yadda, yadda. Did I have a hand in the book?

Well. A little bit yes, and mostly, no.

First, the book was entirely written by Bohnhoff and Reaves. I have, from time to time as a friend and collaborator, contributed the odd scene or chapter to some of Michael's books, but nary a graph did I put in for this one. They wrote it, not me.

On the other hand, five years or so ago, Reaves and I talked about doing another Star Wars novel together (we've done three) and I came up with the basic premise of a story set in the entertainment industry. A rock star who is beset with danger and, hires some bodyguards, and who turns out to be not quite as innocent as first thought. 

We batted the idea back and forth, changed the rock/holo star from a guy to a girl, cut, added, blended, and came up with characters and plots and settings and all, and pitched it to Del Rey. We thought it was unique for their universe. We could do a  backstage tour of Star Wars celebrity and have a fine romp, elements of mystery, like that. Madonna. Or these days, Lady Gaga ...

Del Rey was not enthusiastic. They wanted changes, they wanted us to include canon-characters, and a few other things that would have made it into a much different book. 

Reaves and I thought about it and decided we didn't want to do it that way.

So we thanked them, but decided we'd rather not. No harm, no foul, see you around.

Fast forward a couple of years. Del Rey dropped us a note: The idea had percolated and they had gotten more interested in it. What say?

Reaves and I talked. I didn't see that anything had changed, they still wanted us to do stuff I didn't want to do, so I told Reaves that. Well, he said, if I wasn't interested, would it be okay if he did it on his own? Or with Maya, with whom he had done other projects?

Sure, go ahead, with my blessing. Everybody who knows anything knows that the idea is not the big deal, the execution is. Have at it.

So he did.

(Meanwhile, I got a call from our SW's editor. Since I wasn't interested in doing a Star Wars novel, was I maybe interested in doing an Indiana Jones novel? Having never gotten to play in that area, but having done four SW's novels, I was interested in trying something new. So I did.)

Thus my input on Shadow Games was minimal. What I came up with, and later what Michael and I passed back and forth, is not exactly what he and Maya wound up doing, though the basic notion is the same. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but is there a scene where somebody gets an offer they can't refuse? They wake up with Jar-Jar Binks' head in their bed? 

Or did that get cut ...?)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gig II

So, second gig with the Closet Musicians: Background music at a quilt show in a local Methodist church. 

Only cost us two cans of food to get in. 

Rock and Roll!

I'm sure I saw Paul Allen in the crowd, waiting for a chance to demand that we sell him our guitars for his Rock Museum in Seattle ...

Played for an hour, took a break, did another forty-five minutes, and realized we didn't really have enough material, once we took out the songs that weren't entirely appropriate for church. Couldn't do "Little Egypt," or "Johnny Wadd is Dead," now, could we?

Had one of our regular's granddaughters sit in with us. She's five.

Screwed up a couple, got a few harmonies all right. Our best number, there was no applause. Probably stunned that we pulled one off ...

Um. Anyway, we all decamped to Buster's Barbecue afterward and ate spicy critter flesh and baked beans and all like that, and had a fine old time.

Look for us on Public Access Cable Channel 11 or 22. CDs will be available ...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Writing Tip

Couple posts ago, I put up a piece about an old bodybuilder. In an effort to make the comments about his (purported) drug use to achieve his physique funny, I used some hyperbolic references. How well that worked is up for debate, but I thought they were focused where I wanted them to be. 

Let's take one of those and parse it, to show why I think it worked. Let us go back to the genesis of the idea: "He took enough drugs to grow from very small to very large!"

Nothing there. Too general. Doesn't convey much of anything. 

"He took enough drugs to turn a dwarf into a giant!" Better, but still too bland.

"He took enough drugs to turn a dwarf into an NBA center!" Getting closer, but still not there.

"He took enough drugs to turn a Munchkin into Shaquille O'Neal!" Almost, but not quite. I want to add in what kind of drugs. And I want to make the image wider, so I multiply the entities: 

I said,  (He took) "Enough Human Growth Hormone to make the entire Munchkin cast of The Wizard of Oz into Shaquille O'Neal."

If you know the tropes, the dwarf Munchkins from WoZ morphing into a plus-seven-foot-three-hundred-and-fifty pound NBA basketball player via HGH is pretty specific. 

You get a sharper image the more specific you are ... but only up to a point. If you over do it, if you go past the audience's knowledge, you lose them. If I said, "He took enough HGH to turn Charlie Becker into Shaquille O'Neal!" probably most people won't know that Becker played the Mayor Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. 

Too far. 

So, the trick is to narrow your image down so it is sharp enough to resonate with readers at the most visceral level you can manage. If you have to explain it, you probably went too far.



Apparently my family didn't pass along either the shopping or furniture-moving gene to the male side of the line. 

I buy things, but don't spend a lot of time dawdling about when I do it. This one? Or that one? That one. Ring it up.

Furniture at my mother's house? In all in the same places it was put fifty years ago when they moved in. Probably how it would be at my house, were it up to me. 

Of course, it isn't up to me, is it?

My wife inherited both genes. She loves to shop, and every so often, furniture must be moved. In the latter category, yesterday was the start off another episode of musical chairs. And tables. And bookcases, and the wardrobe armoire ...

It's cheaper than moving to another house, which is the first choice when this comes upon my wife. And after forty-five years, I've gotten used to it ...

Modern Magic

So, offhand, how old would you say this guy is? Now, you know it's a trick question because I asked it, but even so, you will almost certainly underguess it, if the poster of the picture on Facebook can be trusted: Go ahead, take a stab.


Are you kidding me? My first reaction was pure disbelief, and frankly, I'd want to see a notarized birth certificate and a passport before I bet money on it, but look at the picture of Sly Stallone, below, at my age, sixty-four. That's verifiable, so the guy above could easily be in his sixties or seventies, and that's incredible even so. 

So, you ask, how do you achieve this level of muscularity? First, you need the genetics. Then the diet and exercise. Probably some plastic surgery and maybe Botox. And finally, drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Enough anabolic steroids to turn a castrati boys choir into a room full of Incredible Hulks. Enough Human Growth Hormone to make the entire Munchkin cast of The Wizard of Oz into Shaquille O'Neal. And probably an assortment of pain-killers and diuretics sufficient to stone the entire crowd at the Super Bowl stadium.

But still. If you are looking for an excuse to be out of shape, age alone isn't it ...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Years ago, my buddy Mike Byers, former military pilot; expert artist in glass and constructions various; guitarist, and writer; produced a magazine-killer story, "Heartshot."

Those of you unfamiliar with the MK term, this is a story you sell to a magazine that then goes belly-up before it can publish the piece. Naturally, you blame the story, as well you should, and piss on all you writers who killed my markets thus ...

Mike's story, about a unicorn hunter, and written, I recall, to offset the warm-fuzziness that was rampant–sorry had to do it–in the fantasy field at the time in regard to such creatures as unicorns and winged kitties and like that, went on to kill a couple more magazines before he retired it.(My worst killed two 'zines for sure, and maybe a third; I bow to no master.)

Well, it seems that somebody he knows who has the wherewithal to do it wants to make a short film of it. Might kill the moviemaker's business, too–and I'm sure Byers has warned him; still, that's way cool. 

And you gotta love the logo ... 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Knife Update

Somebody asked about the cylinder knife ...

Chuck was not happy with how the handle came out, so he ordered another chunk of wood. Then he got a new job, and that kind of thing eats up a lot of time. Don't worry, he'll get back to it when he can. Can't hurry quality.

Dead Ends

I am cleaning out my links here on ye olde blogge, and if you haven't posted anything on your blog in the last six months, I'll be deleting your link, come tomorrow. 

Not that I'm trying to get you to post, since most of you who play online have probably gone to Facebook or Google or you Tweet, but if you aren't putting stuff up on your blog, no point in me sending folks your way.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Art Moves

For a while, I've had Mike Byers's fused glass art panel over the fireplace insert. Lovely piece. But there is a lot of heat rising when we fire it up, and even though fused glass is certainly durable enough to withstand that, the mats aren't so rugged, so I've been looking for a new home.

Over my desk, on the top shelf as a backdrop for a limited-run Star Wars statuette of Vader, the Emperor, and Xizor seems to be the right spot ...

The knife in the f.g. is a gift from Bobbe E.; the little spaceship is a ballpoint pen set from my mother. If you click on the picture and expand it, you might be able to spot a tiny gold band near the top of the rocket. My baby ring ...

Who Knew?

Ever hear of black light miniature golf? I hadn't, until this weekend. I've been to kid's parties at bowling alleys wherein they dim the house lights and light black light bulbs and spray fake fog and all, but Putt-Putt? Hadn't seen that one.

Apparently my daughter's boys found it and loved it, so we went.

In the basement of a building downtown, eighteen holes, looks like the Haunted Mansion from Disneyland. Only light is black light, and it's dim. Glowing socks and shoe laces, anything white shines like a lamp.

A psychedelic poster from the sixties, it was. Not that I can remember the sixties, but there are still some of the old posters out there. The golf balls glow, different colors, so they are easy to track. Place was packed, we had to wait for our flight to take off ...

The colors, man, the colors ... !

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Weakness of Words

At the most recent jam session I attend, we worked on an old Delmore Brothers number, "Blues Stay Away From Me." From the late forties, it's not a hard song to play, but we haven't ever gotten it "right."

One of the women put it up for consideration. I'd never heard it, so I went to YouTube and listened to it, got the chords and words, and we gave it a try. 

I played it too fast, and every time we came to it, that was the complaint, so I said, "Okay, pick a tempo and I'll follow along."

Better, but still not what the woman who offered it wanted. "It needs to be softened," she said.

"Softened? It's too loud?"

"No, it's not volume, but it needs to be ... softened." Accompanied by a vague wave.

"I don't understand. That's like saying you want it to be more orange. What does 'softened' mean in this context?"

She waved her hand again. Couldn't articulate it.

One of other players offered that he thought he understood what she meant, but he tried to say so, and that just muddied the waters more.

I said so. Wasn't trying to be nyah-nyah, just didn't get it.

The woman said, a bit testy, "Well, that's just my opinion."

I'm not arguing with your opinion. I just don't understand it ...

What I suspect is that she wants the song to sound just like the Delmore Brothers' version. Which, because we aren't them, ain't gonna happen. 

We do a couple song like that. They fall short of somebody's expectation of what they should sound like.

I think this is a common desire among musicians, especially those with less experience. You hear a long you like, you want to learn it. You strive to make it sound exactly like the version you like, same words, same chords, same key, and you measure your success against the original. (In fact, if you go to a live concert and hear the song done by the original artists and they vary it from the recorded version, that seems wrong, somehow.)

Because I have spent most of my guitar playing and singing alone, I realized a long time ago that if I was going to achieve any kind of comfort, I'd have to alter some stuff, vocally or musically, or I wouldn't be able to do songs I loved.

Sometimes there's a double-back-flip-E23rd-diminished/augmented-hidden-in-the-weeds jazz chord that I can't play. So it gets turned into one I can.

I love the Beatles, but they sometimes sang in the chipmunk-range, and I can't go there vocally. When Art Garfunkel hits the high notes in "Bridge Over Troubled Water," that's like a fantasy in my case. (And actually, Artie can't hit them anymore, either, and he's Art Fucking Garfunkel.)

So I have rearranged much of what I play, most often dropping the key lower so I can hit the high notes without going into my head voice. Can't always do it, but since it's just me, that's not a problem. Sometimes, I drop the guitar tuning and do it that way. And sometimes, I go into head voice, just to see if I can. ("Head voice," is a term some of you might better know as "falsetto," and it's not entirely accurate as I use it here, but it gets the point across. I'm a natural baritone, can hit a couple bass notes and some tenor, but soprano? Nope.)

And even so, I have personalized stuff. My version of "Blackbird," which is a stretch in G, has different phrasing than Sir Paul's, and the picking pattern is not quite the same. It's recognizable as "Blackbird," but different. (I'd drop it to F, but the fingering goes up and down the neck and it would require a lot of effort to relearn those tenths elsewhere. So when I get to " ... niiight ..." I'm either going into falsetto or dropping an octave.)

Think of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends." Then Joe Cocker's version. Both work for me, but they aren't the same.

And taste? That's another fun one when you are jamming. Somebody brought in John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery," which happens to be one of my favorites, the Bonnie Raitt version is a break-your-heart-killer. 

Two of the women in the group didn't like it. One of them said "It doesn't go anywhere." The other said, "It's too slow and draggy."

I sputtered. "All songs don't have to be happy. Sometimes you do a lament, which is what this is. It's a great song."

They still didn't like it. 

I expect my days with this group are going to be numbered ...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Down on the Farm

When we were hippies, we decided to get back to the land. A bunch of us, mostly family, found a decrepit old house on seventeen acres, next to the river in Brusly, Louisiana. The owner would allow us to live there rent-free if we fixed the place up.

It was a big, concrete-walled house, built after the levee, on a long, narrow strip of land, and the place had been, we guessed, primarily a small ranch, cattle or horses–the acreage was mostly fenced-in grassy pasture.

So we acquired some livestock–a horse, a pair of goats, some chickens, seven dogs and a duck. Wife and I, two small children; my wife's cousin and his spouse; my sister-in-law; and a few assorted friends who came and went. We did some rude plumbing, hung paneling, built a carport, re-roofed the place.

Along the way, Cousin Jay got an old boat he worked on in the back.

I borrowed a rototiller and went to plow a garden space.  First furrow, thirty feet, I hit a buried pipe and blew up the rototiller. Went to Sears, bought parts, and fixed it, in the process learning that I was about as well-equipped to repair small engines as I was to be a farmer.

Got it fixed, tilled the space. The women planted stuff. 

Organic, of course. 

The bugs in Louisiana loved us. No spray? They ate well at our place.

We learned that you don't plant watermelon next to gourds, because they cross. You get something that looks like yellow watermelon and tastes like wood pulp. Even the insects wouldn't eat it.

Mostly what survived were carrots and green onions. We went through a fifty pound bag of brown rice that year, fried with carrots and onions, and we all turned orange.

The horse, Miso, was a stallion, insane and never ridden. A neighbor who was a cowboy offered to break him to the saddle. He stayed on three, maybe four seconds, was bucked off, and the only thing that got broken was his arm. 

The goats–Nan and Bill, of course–ran and hid every time we approached them.

The chickens didn't last long enough to have names. They escaped the coop, and one at a time, jumped into the yard where the pack of waiting dogs ate them. After the first one, we sat in the kitchen and watched. Birds that stupid deserved it, we thought.

The duck fell in love with Giesla, the mini-daschund, and followed her around everywhere.

We were probably the worst farmers who ever lived.

After the house was fixed up, the owner threw us out, and that was that. What I learned was: Never again ...

I told you that story so I could talk about this one:

A woman I know has written, under a pseudonym, Tammy Owen, a memoir of her farm days, House of Goats, and it is well-written, funny, touching, and actually useful for anybody who is considering the idea of becoming a gentleman (or lady) farmer. It's an ebook, available at or Smashwords. 

You should check it out. 

Friday, January 20, 2012


Okay, some of you are fans of one of my guilty pleasures, Justified. You know who United States Marshal Raylan Givens is. And if you are a mystery reader, you might know that the guy who came up with the character upon which the TV series is based is Elmore "Dutch" Leonard. 

Leonard has been writing forever, has a slew of books, more than a couple of which have been made into movies. I'll get back to that in a minute. 

Nice guy. I caught him in a gun mistake once, or so I thought. One of his characters was waving around a .38 auto pistol and I sent him a note explaining that probably wasn't the case. As it turned out, he knew that. He'd written ".380" in his manuscript, and a helpful copy editor assumed he had mistakenly added that "O" at the end and fixed it for him.

This is why you read your galleys when they send them to you.

Um. Anyway, Leonard has written a new novel starring Raylan. If you've followed the series on the tube, the book will be a disconnect–he has a story that the series used, sort of, but told slightly differently, and with not-quite-the-same characters acting in it. Kind of like an alternate universe. Boyd Crowder is in it, but not as much fun as he is in Justified. The owner of the store down in the holler who sells 'shine and runs the marijuana biz locally is a man, and not a woman, and the two idiot sons aren't quite the same in the book as in the series. The coal miner VP woman is there, but not the same. It will be familiar, but it doesn't go where you think it will if you've seen the televised version.

Still, it's a fun read, Leonard is a master, and I had a fine old time with it.

My favorite of the diamonds strewn about is a little bit of business that won't mean anything to anybody not a Leonard fan. Here's the set-up for a short exchange that takes place early in  Chapter 8:

Long ago, Leonard wrote a novel, Valdez is Coming. The book was made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster, as a Mexican-American sheriff who tracks down and picks off bad guys who have murdered somebody and kidnapped a woman. At one point, he captures one of the villains, but turns him loose with a message for the leader of the bad guys: "Tell them, Valdez is coming."

In the novel, Raylan is talking to Loretta, a girl's whose father has been shot. She's about twelve or so:

"Before they showed," Loretta said, "Bob phoned and said to tell my dad, 'Valdez is comin.' You ever hear of anything like that?"

"I might've," Raylan said ..."

I fell out laughing when I read that. I expect Leonard's other hardcore fans will, too. 

Mo Weather

Been raining here the last couple of days, a fair amount. When we get standing water on our front walk, so you have to wade through it to get to the gate, that usually means the rest of the area is really flooded, and so it is this time. Some place in the mountains got fifteen inches of rain in twenty-four hours. We got just under three inches here, and a lot of places got a lot more. This on top of a couple inches of snow, so there was plenty of water to go around.

In Turner, just south of Salem, (home of the Enchanted Forest, along I-5) the local river jumped its banks. One guy, whose house was flooded years ago, had installed a moat around his house and it seemed to work, but a lot of houses weren't so lucky. Fourteen rivers at record flood stage. 

The bridge at the duck pond went under. Lot of tree limbs came down in the gusty winds. Welcome to Oregon in the winter.

My car's battery died, or so I thought. Turned out it was just a loose connection that got wet as I sloshed down the road. Not that I could have fixed it. In my car, to get to the alternator and voltage regulator, you have to take the front bumper off ...

And so it goes ...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Health Food

In a furtherance of my waffle experiments, behold the next one:

Waffles, chicken chunks in between the pair, smothered with chili. And delicious.

Health food? I said?

Why, yes. The waffles were buckwheat-cornmeal-flaxseed; the chicken was slow-roast rotisserie hormone-free, the skin removed; and the chili homemade, with turkey. 

And besides that, I ate an apple, too ...

Vulture Peak

Okay, here's another writer for you: John Burdett. He chronicles the adventures of Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a fairly-honest cop in Bankok, Thailand. Sonchai, the son of a whore, is a Buddhist, dope-smoker, part-time pimp for his mother's bar, and cat's paw for his boss, Colonel Vikhorn, who is one of the two biggest crooks in the country.

The latest is Vulture Peak, and there's not a whole lot I can tell you about it that will make much sense, because it, like the others in the series, is off-the-wall. Sex, violence, black comedy, I mean, it's not like any other mystery series you have ever read. Dead people, rich people, crazy people, some who are all three; Frankenstein's monster, organ-running, all in there ...

I came across the first one, Bangkok 8, a few years ago, and loved it, and have bought the ensuing novels as they came out. 

To say the books are passing strange is to damn them with faint description. Best to get and read them in order, which I think is: Bangkok 8; Bangkok Tattoo; Bangkok Haunts; The Godfather of Katmandu; and Vulture Peak.

Oops ...

Here's a surprise. Well. Maybe not if you ever watched the show ...


Got to love the weather around here. Last night, it began to snow, and by one a.m., we had a couple of inches on the ground. At one-thirty, it turned to rain, and by eight this a.m., it was mostly washed away.

My gumball trees out front? Still haven't lost all their leaves yet ...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bedside Reading, Sorta

A quick tally on reading material and what forms it has been in at my house of late.

(According to stats I saw recently, most people in this country are not book readers, i.e., when queried, more people admit they haven't read one book in the previous year than allow they have. Of those who consider themselves readers, the average number of books they consumed in the previous year was nine. 

Nine. Sad, isn't it?)

I got my iPad in June, 2011, primarily as a reader, though it has gone from luxury to necessity in other categories since. I started uploading books, magazines, and short stories into it. However, I continued to read treeware. Fewer paper books and magazines and stories that way than before, of course. 

I've read about forty books on the iPad in the previous seven months, plus a dozen shorter works. Most of it is fiction. There are nine bios, memoirs, and technical books. Currently, I am in-progress on three novels: 11/22/63, by Stephen King; Vulture Peak, by John Burdett; and Raylan, by Elmore Leonard. 

I make it twenty-five books in paper, plus magazines, of which I read two a month treeware. (The New Yorker, I switched to the iPad, that's one issue a week.)

At my peak, I read four-five books a week, and I'm down to half that; however, sixty-five books in seven-and-some months, that's not too bad for an old guy ... 

American Sniper

Just finished reading Chris Kyle's American Sniper ( with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice.) 

Kyle, a Navy SEAL, was, when the book was written, the "most lethal" sniper in U.S. military history, somewhere around 160 confirmed kills, and probably more than that, since those numbers tend to be on the conservative side. Middle East, mostly urban Iraq, a couple of really long shots past two thousand meters.

Set 'em up, knock 'em down. 

Kyle is a self-effacing teller when it comes to credit in his war stories–he lauds the Army and Marines–talks about how lucky he was. Says he wasn't the best shot out there, just in the right place at the right time to see a lot of action.

He downplays them, but he won multiple silver and bronze stars, along with other ribbons, so he's a certified hero, no question.

SEALs go through heavy-duty training, and we get all that, along with his early background. Essentially, he was a Texas cowboy, a real working one and a rodeo rider before he went into the military, a self-confessed redneck who liked to brawl and shoot, and plenty of both in his memoir. He's a tough guy, and he got chewed on pretty good along the way but sucked it up. He didn't want to be left behind because of injuries, and he couldn't wait to get into the thick of things. Broke his foot during his training and didn't tell anybody so they wouldn't make him wait until the next class. 

You don't become a SEAL because you want to push paper as a REMF.

Absolutely a warrior, this guy. 

Kyle is the man you want on the wall when the incoming shit arrives. He's not the guy you want to accidentally bump into having a beer down at the local pub. Nor, I would think, as a neighbor who has had a couple too many at the block barbecue. 

(Kyle claims to have punched out former UDT (pre-SEAL units) and ex-Governor Jesse Ventura in a SEAL hangout bar in Colorado in 2006 when Ventura supposedly bad-mouthed the troops. Ventura says it never happened. One of a couple of "untrue lies," about him, he says. As opposed, I guess, to a "true lie ... ?"

Somebody needs to look up the definition ...

Supposedly there were witnesses to this altercation, but so far, they haven't stepped up to confirm or deny anything in public ...)

It's a warts-and-all portrait, the book, and Kyle's wife puts in her thoughts from time-to-time, which is an interesting counterpoint. God, family, country, that was Kyle, but in reverse–he was a SEAL first, then a husband and father, and God got what was left over. Great warrior. Lousy husband and father until he mustered out. He admits it, and there is a sense of that being the tip of an iceberg. Some PTSD that is mostly glossed-over, and I'd expect that. Going from a shooting war to the neighborhood Safeway overnight has got to be a major disconnect.

These days, Kyle runs a sniper school and private protection service, Craft International. 
Have a look at the T-shirt:

There is an "And then I killed ... " flow to the story once you get to the shooting war, and an offhand shrug as to the doing of that. He was paid to shoot people, that's what he did. He enjoyed the hell out of it. No regrets, and the only time there's a hint of compassion in his telling is when he passes up a shot at a kid sent to fetch an RPG launcher. Other than that, he'd plink anybody who fit the ROE–rules of engagement–and one gets the feeling that sometimes those rules were, um, not altogether observed. 

There's a lot of between-the-lines stuff here that seems to me to be way hairier than what is actually told, and what he says is bad enough. 

It's an interesting read, and a way to get a feel for how top-of-the-line troops think and function in a war zone, and what it costs them there, and when they come home.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mo' Blues

We went to Artichoke Music's acoustic room Saturday night to hear Dave Mullany and Terry Robb "Bringing the Blues."

Dave played a set; then Terry did. Then they played a few songs together. Amazes me to see good musicians who haven't practiced together just click with each other and roll along like they'd been jamming every night for years ...

Most it was blues, though there were some side trips into other genres. Rags, primitive–Robb used to play with John Fahey–some gospel, some folk. 

Dave is an accomplished guitarist and singer–he also did some stuff on a resonator uke. Terry is so good he makes it look as if he's about to doze off in the middle of blazing lead runs. Both men live in the groove.

Lot of us in the audience were guitarists, and some of us students of one player or the other. I've taken a few lessons from Dave.

The Artichoke room doubles as a cafe, you can squeeze maybe seventy-five people into it and it was full. Just enough amplification, no hair-streaming wall of sound, and the fartherest seats from the stage are close enough you can see all the fretwork as people play.

Made me want to come home and shoot my guitar again. Happens a lot when I see really good players ...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Seriously Cute

You might need to take an injection of insulin before you watch this–it is really sweet ...

Gee Whiz ...

Okay, I have to ask: Am I the only person who sees a serious lack of any functional brain activity in the current flap about Marines peeing on dead Taliban fighters?

First off, they are dead and literally don't care. But second? 

In what universe is it okay to kill somebody, blowing them full of bullet holes or tossing them a hand grenade, raining down some big artillery, slitting a throat, whatever, but that's no sweat long as you don't piss on them afterward? Pissing on a dead guy is an atrocity? It shows disrespect? Whereas killing him is just peachy? 

I mean, it's barking madness, isn't it?

What the fuck is wrong with people, they can think like that? 

We are talking seriously fucked-up moral compasses here. 

Friday, January 13, 2012


Raylan is back, coming Tuesday.


Fun Video

A Corgi herding ducks ...

The Jaguar

If you are a fan of T. Jefferson Parker's mystery novels–and if you aren't, you should be–then you probably already know the latest Charlie Hood novel is out. The Jaguar is the fifth in the series, the others being, in order, L.A. Outlaws; The Renegades; Iron River; and The Border Lords.

Parker has other books, including a bunch of stand-alones, and they are all worth reading. 

The Hood books are all off-the-wall, and they tend to get more so as they go along. There is an element of flat-out fantasy that shows up along the way, and while it is kept ambiguous in an earlier book, I'm really interested to see how Parker eventually pays it off.

The set-up is that Hood, a Los Angeles Sheriff's deputy, gets loaned to the ATF, and winds up in various adventures with gun-runners and drug cartels. There are colorful supporting characters, including the son of a woman with whom Hood was in love with,  who is related to an  infamous Mexican Robin Hood, Joaquin Murietta, whose head she keeps in a jar, and ... well, much else I'd tell you would be a spoiler, so I'm going to leave it at that.

Well, okay, a little more: In the latest, the McGuffin is a pregnant woman who is kidnapped, and a ticking clock thus started–in ten days she will be skinned alive. The guy who does it likes her, respects and admires her, but is going to allow it to happen anyway, unless certain conditions are met. 

The book wanders through the Mexican countryside, into the jungle, this way and that; there's a hurricane, a flood, crocodiles, narcocorrido music, lepers, big money, a lot of shooting and people getting killed, and psychopaths every which way, one of whom is waaay more than he appears ...

What I recommend is that you buy them all and then read them in order. The experience will be much fuller. A fine and bumpy ride. 

Caveat: Early on, Jefferson made some gun mistakes, for which he was called to task. He has better vetting now, but he's not a gun guy. Not enough to put me off him, but worth a couple of head-shakes. Just so you know.