Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cool story. I walked into the used book store today a few days ago. Usually, I'm met by the owner sitting behind the counter; he's often reading a book or gabbing with another customer. Today that day: nothing. Then I heard music of type that I'm unaccustomed to hearing in that establishment. It was like finding Canadian bacon and pineapple inside your taco shell. The sound came for the area of the store where the paperback sci-fi and westerns (among others) are shelved. Since those were the genres in which I was going to look, I lurched toward the music as if entranced--or at least with a modicum of curiosity--which is my favorite dosage, and the most I can get without a prescription.

 I found that the sci-fi books had been rearranged; that was a good thing. I also caught a lady in the very act of rearranging (I was going to say, "in flagrante delicto," but didn't want to risk the phrase being incorrectly taken in the sense of the second meaning). Naturally, I was forced into that old style of informal communication once known as conversation--completely unassisted by electronic devices. Nice lady. At one point she suggested a book with a story set in a location not too far from our town. That reminded me that one of my books is set in our very town. Ever eager to seize the opportunity for self-promotion, I said something about local settings and gave her a card that listed my books--if no one else will promote me, I'll have to do it myself.

"You're him," she said. For an instant, I felt like a celebrity. Turns out, she had just downloaded Finding Jack--The Orb after seeing a bit of publicity on the local internet news feed; she  had wanted to ask the host of that site about me when she had seen him across the street, but had decided against waving him down. We had a nice discussion about various book genres and what/who we enjoyed reading. What a pleasant surprise! I can only hope that she didn't find the experience so distasteful that she won't finish reading my book.

Follow up: I went back into the bookstore to pickup this book that Rachel K talked about on one of her blogs. I couldn't see anyone in the store. I gave a yell asking if anyone was home. No answer. I went to find the book anyway. While doing that, I heard voices in the back of the store. While the persons belonging to the voices moved back to the front of the store, I continued looking, and finally found the book. That's when I heard the lady say, "That Stanley Wheeler was in yesterday..." and that's where I interrupted. It's possible that she was going to say something nice or neutral about me, but on the odd chance that she something of a different variety to say, I thought it might be a bit awkward for both of us if I overheard--and I didn't want to cower behind the shelves waiting for a chance to make a break for the door without being seen--so I said, "Be careful what you say, because I'm back."

The lady kindly said she just wanted to tell the owner that I had stopped by. She also wanted to tell me that she is on the local library board; they may be interested in having me speak at the library. I happily volunteered to waste oxygen for as long as they would like to have me do so.


Last year, while on the annual fishing trip with El Supremo and The Musketeer, I made a joke with the punch line "Quiet Earp." (That's now my tag for lame joke references--which I probably won't use much, because my jokes are kind of pretty awesome). This year on our fishing trip earlier this month (with a different musketeer), during which I caught the first (and biggest) fish, I made an equally bad joke. I'm not sure why I find it funny, because it's not. Anyway, one of my fishing companions made a comment about the wind blowing the boat into the shore. That reminded me of a book. I asked if they were familiar with the famous story of the cub scouts who were caught in a strong gust. They were not. I informed them that the story was more commonly known as "The Wind in the Webelos."

I don't think I've got anything left today that can top that joke for extreme lamitude (Yes, I made up that word; "lamitude" sounds better than "lameness;" although, 'lamefulness" sounds good too); I'll end with that.

Next time, maybe, a word about The Broken Gun by Louis Lamour.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Philip Marlowe: Private Eye
"Blackmailers Don't Shoot"

I had never even heard of this series that debuted on HBO in 1983. Of course, I was out of the country at that time, and wouldn't have had cable anyway. So it's not like I would've been able to see it. I thought this was the first episode. I see now that it was actually the first episode of the second season. I'll have to go back to see the first season. Nope. Just checked. The first season isn't on Prime.

I think Powers Booth does a fair job in the role of Marlowe. In this episode, he is hired by a mobster to protect his movie star girlfriend from blackmailers. The dame gets kidnapped; Marlowe mounts a four-corpse-count rescue, and demonstrates the superiority of hot lead over cold rolled steel. That's it for the show--average stuff. I liked the old cars. I do wonder if it would be better in black and white.

The story below has little to do with the actual episode, other than the pictures which I use as the basis for my own (mis)creation. I call it: LIPSTICK AND LEAD

There was someone on my phone. He said he was troubled by a skin condition that left dark bands across his face. I told him that I could see that, and asked him to put down my phone. 

I gave him a bar of soap and a towel. I told him not to fall asleep on the newspaper, and his skin condition would probably clear up. 

Later, I went down to the club. I met a dame that I knew. Clare had tried to disguise herself with a dark wig, but I recognized the earrings...and her particular shade of lipstick. I had a hankering to sample that lipstick; it was the color of strawberry jam, and I wagered that it would be twice as sweet. I asked her about a sample. She blew smoke in my face. She was waiting for another man.

He waltzed in beneath a white hat that he wore like a halo. A dark red handkerchief peered from the breast pocket of his pale jacket like a crumpled and tipsy rose. I thought about that; I imagined that someone could write a song about that sweet tipsy rose; but what did I know? 

I watched the two of them walk out together. I couldn't tell what she saw in him. I mean, sure, he was a sharp dresser. He made more money in an afternoon from his women's apparel dry cleaning business than I made in a year. Sure, he drove a nice car that didn't belch smoke and knock like a pair of peg legged pirates dancing on the quarterdeck, but wit, good looks, and charm should count for something. 

The following day, I wandered in the direction of Clare's apartment. I wanted to make sure that she had found her way home without any trouble. I should've known there was something wrong when a strange man bumped into me. He was walking about with a telephone receiver pressed to his ear. The cord from the receiver disappeared into his jacket; there was no telephone in sight. He kept wandering along, repeating, "Can you hear me now?"

He seemed like a strange bird, but I liked the idea of a portable telephone--sort of a wireless unit. I wondered about such an instrument. What if it could take photographs and play music? Nah. The radio tubes and film would make it too bulky for handy portability. Oh well.

When I got to Clare's apartment, the door welcomed me in, hanging open on its hinges with the casual lassitude of a slack-jawed yokel draped over a porch swing. I quickly got over that welcome feeling when I met the barrel of a black revolver with a meaty hand and an even meatier man behind it. He said that he had been expecting me. He had a message for me. He gave me an address; he told me to be there at a certain time if I ever wanted to see Clare again. I was happy to let him leave without getting a sample of either his ammunition or his lipstick; I didn't think that shad flattered him.

I arrived on time at the designated location, but a French maid refused to let me enter. When I explained that I had an appointment and promised not to leave things in a clutter, she let me pass without answering any riddles.

The man with the white halo lay on a table. A masseuse was squeezing him like a tube of toothpaste. I had to do a double take to see if the masseuse possessed the arms of a wolf-man, or if he had bathed in used motor oil. I decided on the former. Angel-man explained that a couple goons had jumped him on the way to Clare's place. They had taken Clare, and wanted a hefty ransom. He had the ransom money, but he wanted me to come for moral support. The rich man needed my moral support; so I had that going for me anyway. He didn't actually say, "moral support;" he called it protection, but I knew what he meant.

 We went to the abandoned factory were the bad guys had taken Clare. She had lost the wig but managed to keep her earrings.

 I was calculating the odds of precisely drilling the goon who held Clare without mussing her gown,

when a dapper dude with a fist full of pistol persuaded me to forsake my arithmetic and to drop my piece.

Angel-man swooped in with full halo and wings like an invincible heavenly messenger to the rescue. The trouble was the bullets; they didn't know about the invincibility of heavenly messengers. While he was busy not dodging dapper dude's thunderbolts, I scrambled for my heater and sent the dapper man several rapid epistles from Messieurs Smith & Wesson. 

With both Angel-man and the dapper dude engaged in sharing their blood types with the concrete and hailing cabs to the after life, it was just the three of us: Clare, the kidnapper, and me. I thought that would've made a catchy tune, if one of us had been named McGee. Alas, we were McGee free, and two guys with one frail almost never works out. Clare took the initiative. She introduced the kidnapper's instep to the business end of her open-toed high heeled shoe. He felt a sudden and intense need to create some space in their relationship. I gave him a pill for the pain, delivered via my remote-high-speed-injection system.

And then there were two. She didn't blow smoke at me. She offered me a sample of her lipstick. It's never polite to refuse a lady.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Regarding Infinity War: I have discovered that the location of the final infinity stone, as well as the manner for obtaining the gem which will create incredible (perhaps infinite) power, is a matter of extreme importance to many. Nevertheless, it holds no interest for me. I've outgrown super hero movies; I don't intend to see this one.

I did recently get to see a movie that I enjoyed again: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. I have to admit that remembering this movie while I was writing Smoke helped me to establish some of the texture for the novel, including the jabs about the main character's height. The other movies and books that were helpful included The Maltese Falcon, This Gun for Hire with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, The Big Heat with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame, and My Favorite Brunette with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

This scene from The Big Sleep of Marlowe and Vivian's first meeting differs significantly from the first meeting between Noah and Monica, the main characters from Smoke, but there are some similarities.

I must admit to some disappointment that sales of Smoke have not yet skyrocketed. I suppose that I have no one to blame but myself for the lack of marketing that I have done. I recently read that social media is an extremely poor marketing tool. I'm looking into other possible tools. In the meantime, I've read up to the current point of my sequel to Justice in Season so that I can finish it. I hope to have the sequel available by the end of the year. I have to confess that I really enjoyed reading the manuscript to the current point. Is it terribly shallow and narcissistic to admit that I think I'm my favorite author? Links to my books are at the top of the page.

I did get to see the first episode of Philip Marlowe: Private Eye. I clicked some screen shots. I'll put them in another post.

Monday, April 30, 2018

There are many faults with J.J. Abrams' Star Trek (2009), but Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy isn't one of them. He succeeds much better at catching the spirit of Bones than do any of the other actors at capturing the essence of their characters from the old series. Here are a few of his too-few lines that I particularly liked:

"Space is disease and danger, after darkness and silence."

"I'm a doctor, not a physicist."

"Are you out of your Vulcan mind?"

"Green-blooded hobgoblin."

I can practically hear De Kelley's voice when Urban delivers those lines. And that's all I got to say about that. 


Smoke has been available for pre-order for over a week. It goes live for your reading pleasure tomorrow. Don't dawdle. Get your copy while supplies last!

In my own reading this week, I started two new books. They were both books that I got for free for being a member of Prime. I had only intended to start one book, but things just didn't work out between us. It wasn't the book; it was me--by which I mean, of course, that it was the book. The author has a style that strikes me like an errant dental drill. The story started in that fashion, seemed to improve for a while, before falling back into that style. The style gave me the feeling that I was reading something written by a rather talented middle school student. I managed to make it over a third of the way through the book before I decided that I had taken too many drill hits to a sensitive nerve, and had to put the book down permanently. 

The second book has held my attention well enough that while reading it between scenes at the theatrical production this week, I became so engrossed in the story that I missed my entrance cue. I heard the stage doorbell ring; the door opened. A confused silence reigned briefly on stage; it got my attention. I looked up, wondering who was missing their cue. I hate when people miss their entrances. Such imbecility has a tendency to rattle the actors who are on stage at the time. I've been there; it's not fun. When the doorbell rang a second time, I realized that I knew precisely which idiot had missed his cue. So velocius quam asparagi conquantur,* I made my entrance. But I  wasn't quick enough to placate the lady whose boyfriend I portray in the play. She gave me the same look the alligator gives the antelope at the waterhole just before dragging it beneath the flood. Later, after she heard my mea culpa, she forbade me from reading between scenes. As far as she knows, I adhered to her directive.

*translation available here

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Naturally, my wife was curious to know how things went when I returned home after spending part of the evening in the arms of another woman. She (my wife) didn't get too excited about it when I told her that everything went fine with the play. We just finished the first week of this production. We have one more week to go. I haven't broken a tooth yet. Still, that wasn't the highlight of my day. I'll get to the highlight shortly. Here's a hint.

While putting on my shoes this morning, I found myself whistling Gordon Lightfoot's "Ribbon of Darkness." I can't remember the last time I heard that song, but it's still lodged in that tape deck in my head. Apparently an auto run program was tripped. It must have been something like, "Mind idle. Search the musical memory banks; play random selection. Repeat until manual override is initiated." So it looped for a while. 

I had to pull the vent covers from around the exterior foundation, and mow the prolific jungle that my yard has become. If the grass, weeds, dandelions, and baobabs were allowed to go another week, I would probably have to have an environmental study completed before I could even lift a machete against it. 

Problem: The mower stared me dead in the eye and told me it was going on strike until something changed in our relationship. My wife, fortunately, is much easier to get along with than the mower--that has nothing to do with the mower story, but my wife is great. I entered into negotiations with the mower. For more than an hour, I engaged in some tough techniques that had brought victory in the past: intense questioning, verbal threats, pleading, live electrodes applied to sensitive areas,  but the machine had me over a barrel between a rock and a hard place--if it's permitted to combine those metaphors--and I finally had to concede. I caved to the demand and made the change--of battery. $36 later I was maneuvering the machine like a skilled mahout with a hard working tusker. 

Following the clearing of the wilderness, I turned to a task that I had been excited to complete, but for which I hadn't found the time. Smoke is now available for pre-order. The picture above is the cover. Youngest daughter chose the title font from some options that I presented; it had the most smoke-like character while retaining that most important quality: legibility. The background picture isn't what I had originally anticipated. Although it includes some important elements from the novel; it lacks a seductive female, and the coils of smoke rising from the cigarette. My photography skills and resources are sorely limited.

Get your pre-order in today for Smoke. Or not. You know you want to. It will be very satisfying. Just do it.

Let me know what you think of the cover.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Lost in Space (2018 episode 1) No Spoilers
(But with completely unnecessary quotes from Shakespeare's Richard II -- in italics)

After viewing the first episode, I have mixed thoughts about the show, but "To be a make-peace shall become my age." I was thrilled to see Toby Stephens in the role of John Robinson. I remember him from one of the James Bond movies, and from Vexed in which he played the charming and hilariously politically incorrect male chauvinist DI Armstrong. Naturally, I was disappointed to see, in this first episode at least, that he was relegated to fulfilling the role of the ineffective father who is only allowed to think and act for himself when his wife (some kind of scientist/engineer/astrophysicist/geologist/etc is unconscious); even then, it's the whining son who proves more useful than the father. It's as though John Robinson is forced to say, "I am disgraced, impeach'd and baffled here, Pierced to the soul with slander's venom'd spear."

But before I go off on that thought, let me say that I liked the show. I will watch episode 2. Although the science is more fiction than science, and the script/story has holes through which you could fly a Constitution class starship, and even though I had to say to my disbelief, "Therefore, we banish you our territories," I found the episode imbued with a certain enchantment. The special effects were great but not overpowering; it never felt like those superhero movies that are currently popular where the effects rule and the actors are mere props.

Molly Parker plays Maureen Robinson. "Men are but gilded loam or painted clay," but Mrs. Robinson is some kind of wonder woman; although I didn't see a golden lasso. She apparently made everything happen while Mr. Robinson was away doing soldier stuff. June Lockhart (and Linda Carter) would be jealous. 

As for the Robinson children in this episode, we mostly saw Will and Judy. Penny was present, but she didn't really get to shine in the episode. Taylor Russell plays Judy Robinson. There may be some explanation about the obvious difference between her and the other children, but it wasn't given in this episode. I almost hope no explanation is ever given. Mina Sundwall has the role of Penny. I didn't see that she had the charm that Angela Cartwright brought to the role,
but it was only the first episode. I'm sure that future episodes will feature her talents more prominently. 

That leaves the boy whose name is associated with danger. Maxwell Jenkins has taken the roll formerly played by Bill Mumy (who has a cameo in the episode that took me by surprise). 
He was fine. He possesses that expressively childish face (he does have the advantage of being a child--but he really sells it with the eyes). On an unrelated note, that reminds me of what I really liked about the episode: no Fanning child screaming incessantly. Sure, it's a small thing, but it's something that I always appreciate.

If the show doesn't get to taking itself too seriously, I'll keep watching--but I won't be offended if there are no giant carrots or green women with salad bowls on their heads. 
And now on to the rant, but "Our fair eyes do hate the dire aspect of civil wounds plough'd up with neighbours' sword," so I'll keep it short and vitriol free. Let me speculate upon the demise of the American male (as portrayed on television)--without saying anything that hasn't been said more eloquently elsewhere. And I'm shooting from the hip here, painting with a broad brush and with half my brain tied behind my back. 

At one time father knew best--at least often. Ward and June, and Marcus Welby and Spock's mom, and Gomez and Morticia, and many others, typically worked together to solve weekly crises. Sometimes father knew best; sometimes Donna Reed had all the answers. Each parent had talents that helped the family. With the possible exception of Herman Munster, no parent was always the idiot. 

Then came one of my favorite childhood shows: Bewitched. Darin, no matter which Dick played him, was almost always an unreasonable idiot; only his beautiful wife's witchcraft could save him--although, it was usually the witchcraft that had originally caused to the problem. It was mostly downhill from there. Ben Cartwright may have been the last of the fathers who was always right--of course, we can't say as much for his sons. However, Pa Ingalls did a highly admirable job.

The effective father as portrayed in television series fell from grace. Eventually, he fell out of the show entirely. "For thee remains a heavier doom, which I with some unwillingness pronounce: The sly slow hours shall not determinate the dateless limit of thy dear exile." Single mom's ruled. They did it all; they didn't need men (and not just the men who prefer the alternate spelling of potato--which reminds me of two good rules: 1. Never bet against a Sicilian when death is on the line, and 2. Never argue with sitcom characters). 

So what does this have to do with Lost in Space 2018? Probably nothing. However, we might consider whether the relative ineffectiveness of the soldier-father (who doesn't do as the super-successful-scientist-wife commands) and the fortunate attainments of the whining, helpless boy-child embody the idea of the old school vision of masculinity being driven from the field, and the rise of that modern, childish, effeminate man who succeeds through obedience to the directives and teachings of the super woman.

I've got these leftover quotes from Richard II rattling around in my pocket. Because I like them and don't want to see them go to waste, I'm just going to toss them on the table for your enjoyment.

How long a time lies in one little word!
Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
End in a word: such is the breath of kings.

O, who can hold a fire in his hand
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
By bare imagination of a feast?
Or wallow naked in December snow
By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?
O, no! the apprehension of the good
Gives but the greater feeling to the worse:
Fell sorrow's tooth doth never rankle more

Than when he bites, but lanceth not the sore.

Monday, April 9, 2018

She walked in hotter and sweeter than a peppermint candy cane covered in white phosphorus. She had my attention and held it like a pup in a steel trap. I had never enjoyed a trap more. There was just one problem. She wanted me to find her husband.

She was the first woman to complicate my life that day. She wouldn’t be the last. The investigation soon took a sudden turn, just like the quarry road where her husband’s car didn’t. He challenged gravity and came in second. Was it murder or suicide? Was it a business rival? The mob? Were they after the secret Nazi diamonds her husband had lifted at Berchtesgaden at the end of the war? Either way, I had to walk carefully to avoid joining him on the wrong side of the grass.

The police detective formed his own conclusions. It didn’t look good for the dame who had stolen my heart. I didn’t let the second murder alter my judgment; I refused to believe that my doll was the killer. I had to prove her innocence. The last thing I needed was another woman with magnetic qualities to tangle up the investigation, but that’s what I got. I was in trouble.

That's my first draft for the cover summary of Smoke. It may be too long for the Amazon requirements. I don't remember what the word limit is. 

Let me know if it sparks your interest. 

Here are some recent comments from a proofreader:

"Taking place in the late ’40’s, this captivating story of love, lust, lies, rare books and jewels, stabbing in the back—and front!—All facets of a detective story is reminiscent of Mike Hammer or Sam Spade."

"Stopping midway through this riveting book is not an option!"

"Well-drawn characters, absorbing plot, and flavor of the 40’s make this a must-read!"

"Couldn’t put the darn thing down. It’s a cover-to-cover read in one sitting."