Friday, April 28, 2006
For those who read the New York Times, you know they have a right-leaning columnist named David Brooks, a man who continually berates us coastal liberals for being out of touch with the heartland values of mainstream America. Of course, David Brooks doesn't live in the heartland, he only imagines what life must be like out there in flyover country.
As someone who grew up in small town America, and know first hand what the heartland can cook up given enough alcohol and inbreeding, I think of David every time I read a story like this:
In Ohio, the bride's stepfather chose her special day to stab her father and brother in an argument at the wedding reception. Yes, we've all been to receptions like this, haven't we.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Does anyone know where Senator Rick Man-on-Dog Santorum was last weekend?
In Pittsburgh, the police found a dead dog dressed up in blue jeans, T-shirt, socks, tennis shoes and a baseball cap. Neighbors said the dog's name was Pimpin', so maybe the poor bastard died of shame.
I wasn't going to post about this latest plagiarism scandal. Duane covered it and First Offenders weighed in, so for me to bring it up might seem like I'm piling on. And you all know that a gentlemen does not pile on.
If this is news to you, Kaavya Viswanathan is a Harvard sophomore who got a cool half mil for this book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, and one other. She's accused of plagiarizing from novels by Megan McCafferty.
Tom Tomorrow over at This Modern World (I'm not linking to all of these places because they're right over there, you lazy bastards) has this interesting twist. He seems to think someone might have ghosted Kaavya's novel.
Ms. Viswanathan worked with 17th Street Productions, (now Alloy Entertainment), and Alloy holds the copyright to “Opal” with Ms. Viswanathan. I've never heard of a publisher holding the copyright with an author, and neither has Tom. He also points out that 17th Street Productions is a book packaging company. For those who write their own books, a packager hires ghost writers to crank out popular series like Sweet Valley High. Ghost writers get a check and, with that check, they promise not to talk about novels they're written for others. As 17th Street Productions packages the Sweet Valley High Series, Tom wonders if there might not be a ghost lurking somewhere behind Ms. Viswanathan's book.
Publishers are always on the lookout for attractive people to promote, people who would garner more press than say, a bespectacled fifty-something writer who stays at home with his two dogs. That they saw this beautiful Harvard sophomore as a possible new star in the chick-lit cosmos should surprise no one. I can see the people in marketing now, smiling like cats, assured of prime TV time.
This ghost writer theory does provide a new wrinkle to the plagiarism story.
I wonder if somewhere there's a pudgy, pasty, middle-aged guy looking to get into Witness Protection.
Dusty will moderate, and as he's a trial lawyer by profession he will, before the hour is up, convince the audience that someone on the panel deserves hard prison time, and we all now who that will be. Other unfortunates drawn into this vortex of dysfunction will be Blake Crouch, Bette Golden Lamb, JJ Lamb, and Louise Ure.
Let me apologize to these kind people in advance.
I've been on a few panels, and I enjoy it. Anything to keep from writing. I particularly enjoy the audience questions as someone always brings up language. Here we are, people who write about violent death, wrong cops, and beatings aplenty, and this reader is offended by bad words. The last time someone asked, I said, "I write dialogue that is in keeping with the character. Since most of my characters are bad-ass motherfuckers kicking the holy shit out of some limp-dicked douchebag, they tend to work blue."
That's probably the last Career Day I do at Powe Elementary. As I was being escorted to the car, one of the second-graders yelled from the window, "Get fucked, you wrinkled old cocksucker." I would have flipped her off had it not been for the handcuffs, which I think was a bit of overkill, don't you?
So, if you're at Thrillerfest and you're worried about bird flu or some other contagious disease you can catch with your pants on, you might want to check out Dusty's panel and avoid the crowds.
Oh, and fuck you.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
So I figure, why not join the rest of America, deep in debt, watching retirement bear down on me like a runaway train.
I'm coming to Phoenix for Thrillerfest. Screw the expense. Want to help? You can always contribute to what promises to be a crippling bar tab.
The kind people at ITW are comping my banquet ticket, because they want to witness, in person, the soul crushing blow when one of the other debut novelists takes home the award. Then they'll point and jeer, chanting
Loser Loser Loser.
I can live with that.
But, and I can't stress this enough, I hate PayPal. Seriously. I hate PayPal. I went to the site to pay my fee, with a credit card because I am an American, and they said my account was restricted because I hadn't OKed the most recent change in the Terms of Service, as if anyone except spammers had contacted me from PayPal about anything in the past year.
So I said, fine, where do I do that? I go to the TOS page and I've bought fucking homes with less legal bullshit. So I wade through it, my eyes glazing over, spending the better part of an hour, then I get to the end and THERE'S NO FUCKING PLACE TO OK THE TERMS OF SERVICE! I CAN'T FIND THE BUTTON. Help is no help. Contact is a lot like SETI, I send out messages and wait for signs of life. I keep circling back, doing it again and again, kicking serious OCD, until I'm now thinking of homicide and not the high-paying fictional kind.
So now I don't know what to do. Anyone at ITW who can take my credit card number? (Don't even try, Mr. Banks). Please, help me out here. I can't write a check because it will bounce higher than Mr. Jordan can jump. I can't get through to the Nazi fucks at PayPal. I am so screwed.
If you go to Phoenix and see sleeping in the lobby, do me a favor and slip me a cracker or two.
Really, writing the book was easier than booking this trip.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Thanks to Jesus' General, we know this man is looking for a mate on Sean Hannity's on-line dating service. (Yes, there is such a thing.) He's called a Hannicatch, and catch he is. Below is his personal information, in his own words and spelling.
Ladies, you might want to check it out.
I dont like the other choices under language first off..If you dont speak English, git the heck out of my country! I dont like other races intermingling with my race, I think the man must defend his women and his race too. But I dont hate the other races, I just think they should git there own place!
And I love kids, they are God's gift to us for doing the evil deed... I have guns and ninja knives and I am looking to share them with that speshul someone. I am irratable when my flag is disrespected, or if queers get too close, but other than that my friends say im easy going unless I get drunk... I am a good protector and I love to be the man...And I love America!!!
I am good lookin and I can kick like a mule... I am athletic and have muscles...Shoes make me feel gay, so I wearboots...I am definately a briefs man..when I wear any...
I am looking for a woman that will stay at home with the kids and with grampaw... I am notpicky about looks, but I do like a bigger girl...I am for real, I need a good woman and I live by the bible... I love kids and wnat to raise them in a christian house that has rules and punishment for breaking the rules..like go to bed with no supper and wash the floor with a toothbrush...or I will git the numchuck out and spank your but! But not to hard cause I am a Christian
There you go, ladies, a real man who knows how to treat a woman.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
For a second year, I was invited to shoot with a gaggle of military academy graduates, despite my never having advanced beyond the rank of E-4. Twenty-one shooters took up positions at a Camp Butner range and terrorized cardboard for a few hours.
It started to rain as we finished up, so we looked for a place to eat our packed lunches out of the weather. For a half hour I followed officers around in the rain, men who obviously didn't have a fucking clue where we were going. It was a lot like active duty.
Once we found a covered spot for lunch, the grads of West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy added up their scores and a plaque was awarded to the winning team.
Navy won, I think.
I don't know for sure because, as a guest, my score doesn't count. But between you and me, I was 4th out of 21, with a final score of 303.
I don't shoot often. In fact, the last time I was at the range was last year with this bunch. But I did OK. That's one of my targets up there. You'll see all ten rounds hit the paper, and this was at 25 yards. At my advanced age, I can barely see 25 yards, let alone hit anything at that distance. I was just happy I didn't shoot anyone's eye out.
For you gear heads, I was shooting a Colt 1911, my favorite pistol. Seriously old school.
I love these cordite-soaked outtings. When my nephew is in town, we hit the range, him with his Special Ops H&K, me with my slab-side GI .45. A few years ago, my brother-in-law, Chris, took me to the range at Quantico and we threw lead down range. We were the only ones there, and we got to talking with the range master who said, "You boys interested in shooting anything automatic?"
Does the average American shun the all-you-can-eat buffet?
So we fired off a few clips from a Mach 10, an ugly little thing I'd only seen in movies, an Uzi, a weapon I'd fired once in the service, and my personal favorite, an H&K MP5, the choice of SWAT teams the world over. Damn, I want one. I want one real bad.
My sister calls these get-togethers TBEs, or testosterone-based events. Jenny once said, "I don't get it. They're loud, smelly and dangerous," to which Chris and I replied, "And what don't you get?"
So yes, I'm every conservative's nightmare. A liberal with a gun.
I'll close this self-indulgent ode to the firearm with one of my favorite movie quotes. This is from Tombstone, when a blowhard mistakenly reaches for his revolver and an unarmed Wyatt Earp says, "Go ahead. Skin that smoke wagon and see what happens."
Damn, that's some fine writing.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Barry's posts, and one from his friend, former Spec Ops officer who goes by the nom de guerre of Slugg, have been thoughtful, considerate, and informed.
Some of the comments, however have not. One accused Barry of posting nothing more than what he could get from "the drive-by media," the exact phrase I heard yesterday from Rush Limbaugh. So we know what that guy listens to as he scopes out the local elementary school playgrounds.
Then someone suggested that he didn't know you had to be a Special Forces officer in order to cut and paste Seymour Hersch, implying that Slugg's post was just a rehash of what Mr. Hersch had written in the New Yorker, you know, that liberal magazine. Barry promptly set fire to the guy and he left.
Now, I expect things to split along ideological lines, and if you can look way off to your left, you'll see where I'm coming from, and that's OK. Dusty and I have both had fistfights with Charlie Stella, a man of terrific writing ability, in spite of his Neanderthal politics.
Just kidding, Charlie.
No, I'm not.
We all made up in the end and I expect we'll have a few good drinks together in Arizona, and that'll be great. I'm too old to let politics get in the way of alcoholic comraderie. Life is far too short.
But, you know how it is. There's always one guy. One commenter who is stupid or dishonest or sometimes both.
The argument in question went something like this (and I've edited this to make me look smarter and more reasonable. Let the other guy start his own damn blog):
The jerk: "Linguistically speaking, if you're not Pro-Life then the only other choice is Pro-Death."
Me: "I prefer to think of abortion as a right to privacy issue. And nothing is this black and white."
Jerk: "What does politics have to do with abortion? It’s a matter of right and wrong, moral and immoral, life and death. Not politics."
Me: "I'm just saying that nothing is this black and white. There are always shades of gray. There are even contradictions in the Bible, but please, don't start throwing scripture at me."
Around this time the guy asked me why I assumed he was Christian and I, assuming I'd made an incorrect assumption, apologized, to which he replied (and this is a quote):
"Why, because I'm Christian? I think it says something (what I'm not sure) when you feel you have to apologize because you confused me with being Christian. Is being Christian an insult? As far as killing life of any kind, I could very well and might possibly be, a Buddhist. The sad thing is that had I mentioned the unwarranted killing of insects as the Buddhist believe, no one would have said a thing."
Now, if the president was a born-again Buddhist, or the Buddhists were campaigning to get their cosmic tale taught in science class, or if Fox News was reporting every day on the War on Buddhists, then I could see how relevant Buddhisim was to a political discussion, but they're not.
And this guy knows it. Suddenly, he's turned a political discussion, one started as a thread on linguistic spin, into an assault on his religion and he went on to wonder why I was not allowing him (as if I had this magical blog power) to quote scripture.
Jesus Jumping Christ, I had to walk away to keep from reaching through the lines and throttling the guy.
So, while I applaud Barry for trying to host a thoughtful blog on politics, I worry that dishonest asshats like this, armed with the smug surety of the convert, will make it impossible to have an honest give and take.
That's why I save my political rants for the Planet, where I can openly mock people's most deeply held convictions. It's much more fun.
Friday, April 21, 2006
As the owner of two large dogs, this is the best news I've heard since Jesus. Apparently, we can tell the Saudis to go suck it because we don't need their oil. We have dog poo. Tons of it. I know, because I pick up five or six pounds of it every damn day.
Leave it to the free thinkers of San Francisco to step in something and smell potential. Their punjabs of poo say city pets are producing 6500 tons of the stuff and why shouldn't they turn those turds into turbines. They say the dog doots picked up in city parks and pried from the treads of a million San Francisco sneakers will be used to produce methane gas, which can power America to energy independence. Bite on that, Iran!
Will this mean my boys, Boomer and Duncan, will finally start carrying their weight around here? Probably not. With our luck, once they discover their droppings are worth money, both will become so constipated it'll take dynamite to unblock those bowels.
As the saying goes, "If shit was gold, the poor would be born without assholes."
Thursday, April 20, 2006
I was going to retire on the money I'd get from suing Jennifer Jordan's Fuck Noir. Now, I'm just fucked.
The California Supreme threw out a sexual harassment case by a former assistant on Friends.
What was her beef? Was she shocked by the sheer fantasy of young people renting those huge Manhattan apartments? Was she offended that the only black person on the show was being boinked by David Schwimmer and was hotter than the sun?
Nope. None of the above.
She was offended by the writers. "They talked icky," she said in her complaint.
"Who the fuck isn't offended by writers?" the chief justice asked. "Now get your skank ass out of our fucking courtroom. And take that faggot lawyer with you."
With the brakes thrown on this gravy train, it looks like I'm going to have to suck it up and finish this novel.
According to this story, more people than ever are refusing to go toward the light. That's not good. Soon, the highways will be clogged with people driving 45 in the left lane with their blinker on. Come on, folks, time to go. Chop chop.
The story says this is an amazing success for American medicine, but I see it as a conspiracy between denture adhesive marketers and the producers of The O'Reilly Factor. Time to cull the herd.
I know several people who should run a bath and plug in the toaster. There's one guy I worked with who is such an evil prick that I've promised to make him a character in every book I write. The fat neo-Nazi pedophile? That's the guy. The businessman who picks up a transvestite hooker and gets used for group water sports? That's him, too. The guy's name is Tom and he's someone we could definitely do without. Come on, Tom. Stand in this puddle and hold these wires. That's right. That's right.
Let's all encourage people to shuffle off and let's get that death toll back up where it belongs. Come on, people, if we work together, we can make the USA number one.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
I was a kid, uneducated, bored, removed from everything anyone would consider a normal life, and I was desperate for things to read. Thoughtful friends sent me books. They sent Richard Brautigan and John Barth, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde and Chekov, Shakespeare and Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Joseph Conrad. I still have that collection of Conrad in my library, thank you Miss O'Donnell.
I can't tell you how grateful I am, 35 years later, to those who took the time and effort to send those books.
Now it's our turn. Jennifer Jordan posted this over at her place and I want to pass it along, just in case you missed it. I don't care what your politics are. I don't care what you send. Just send something. These guys will appreciate books more than you will ever know.
Do it now, and pass this along to your friends. I'm putting together a box today and I urge you to do the same.
21st TSC, Medical Transient Detachment
ATTN: Soldiers' Angels,
Mary Ann Phillips
APO AE 09263
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz says bird flu would bugger the word economy and kill billions. Hurray!
Paul Wolfowitz was one of the major architects of the Iraq war, the guy who said it would pay for itself and wouldn't cost American taxpayers a dime. Considering he was off by 300 billion dollars (and counting), we can figure he's completely wrong about this, too. Wonderful news!
And it gets better.
President Bush is expected to turn his laser-like attention toward "a detailed action plan" for how the United States would deal with this threat from birds.
"I don't like parrots. You can't trust 'em," the President said. "They talk. And that parrot in Nogales is a liar."
So relax, eat all the Chinese chicken you want. The bird flu isn't a problem.
Thanks, Mr. Wolfowitz! Thanks, Mr. President!
I don't want to talk about Rumsfeld and his resignation. We kicked that horse to death over at Barry Eisler's fine new blog.
No, I want to talk about book promotion.
Tommy Franks showed up on MSNBC's Hardball, and what fascinated me was not Tommy's fellating the boss with the giant-headed Chris Matthews. No, what caught my eye was the strategic placement of Tommy's five million dollar memoir. Not one, but two copies flanked his military noggin, both ready for prime time. (I couldn't find a screen snap, so I threw together a facsimile in Photoshop, but trust me, it was this obvious.)
Joe Konrath has covered book promotion over at his place, and he's all for it. Really. But even Joe draws the line at this kind of blatant shill. In his excellent guide for conference panelists, he tells writers that it's inappropriate to prop their book up on the dais.
But here's Tommy Franks being interviewed about six generals' claim that the management of this war has been so disastrous in its incompetence that heads should roll, and Tommy sees it as a great opportunity to push a little paper.
I have a disclaimer to make here. I was one of the writers considered, very briefly, to co-write Tommy's memoirs, and if it had been my name in small type on the cover you can bet I'd be all up in this shameless promotion. Go Tommy Go!
But it was still chutzpa on a major scale. If it was me, and I was being interviewed about something as serious as mixing a fine vodka martini (I have few other areas of expertise), I don't think I'd put two copies of Beneath A Panamanian Moon up behind my jug-eared head.
One copy, maybe. But two?
Even whores have things they won't do.
Monday, April 17, 2006
I got four players for this tired old contest, proving it's stayed long past your patience.
That said, the winner is Rita. This was my typewriter until an old girlfriend gave it a three story drop, telling me more graphically than any other critic that maybe writing wasn't my game.
Too late, Sandra. Snoozer.
Way off, Steve.
And Duane, you're too smart for your own good.
Now, Rita, if you'll email your name and address to email@example.com, I'll send you one of my last copies of Beneath A Panamanian Moon. If you'd like a personal inscription, let me know, but I've been told it's worth more with just a signature.
About 25 cents more.
Yes, this is the last one. Yes, I can hear the multitudes cheering. But the best news is, this challenge comes with a prize.
That's right. The first person to correctly guess the owner of this machine will win a book, signed by this author.
Clues? This writer is still alive, although the typewriter bit the dust about the time the tall ships entered New York harbor for the big Bicentennial blow-out. He's written a small handful of short stories but he's best known for his first book.
If I told you more, there wouldn't be any challenge to The Challenge.
Take your best guess. I have work to do.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
This should be filed under "Be Careful What You Wish For."
Back when every true American thought the Iraq war was a swell idea, radio talk show trull Laura Ingraham wrote a book that billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife bought up by the bushel. This book, aimed at Hollywood entertainers, was called Shut Up and Sing.
Cue Neil Young.
Jonathan Demme, who filmed the recent documentary Neil Young: Heart of Gold, reports that, “Neil just finished writing and recording – with no warning – a new album called Living With War ... a brilliant electric assault, accompanied by a 100-voice choir, on Bush and the war in Iraq. Truly mind blowing. Will be in stores soon.”
The featured track is titled “Impeach the President.”
Shut up and sing, indeed.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
If you're in town, join us. Regulator Bookshop, Ninth St., 7:00 pm
Friday, April 14, 2006
I'm near the end of Cold Granite, by Suart MacBride, a nominee for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. For those keeping track of these things, one of the other novels nominated is a bit of comic fluff called Beneath A Panamanian Moon, written by some guy with an improbable French name.
I knew I was in trouble when, near the beginning, a prisoner is said to have been shanked and must now "crap in a wee bag." I can't compete with lines like that. Stuart is part of this new wave of UK noir writers that includes Ken Bruen, John Rickards, Al Guthrie, and Ray Banks, writers who have injected new life into dark fiction and we're all the better for it.
I plan on reading the other books in this and the Gumshoe nominations, another place where BAPM is in competition, but I doubt any of them will be more self-assured and confident than Cold Granite. It's amazing this is Stuart's first.
Stuart writes with humor, insight, and deep empathy. He juggles an assortment of sublots with remarkable ease and keeps the story rolling without feeling breathless or resorting to body count. For those of us who have walked this tightrope, we know first-hand how hard it is to keep this balance and to do it the way Stuart does, with such acrobatic grace, is a real achievement.
Without even reading the other nominees (next up is Pain Killer by Will Staeger) I can hear the truck coming down the road, bearing down on my little novel. The good news is, if the judges at ITW thought Beneath A Panamanian Moon was good enough to be considered in the same category as Cold Granite, then that is very high praise, indeed.
I have to get used to saying that.
Ted Baker, of course. This gold-plated Royal was owned by Ian Fleming, creator of the world's uber-spy, James Bond.
For those who have read Beneath A Panamanian Moon, I created John Harper, the world's most reluctant spy, as a counter to the suave Bond. Harper, like many young men, read of Bond's romanticized adventures in intelligence and thought it would be a good career, unaware until it was too late that real intelligence work is an ugly and sordid business.
As Tim O'Brien says in The Things They Carried, we tell glorified war stories because, if we told the truth, no young men would ever volunteer to go.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Time for a little diversion as I work toward the Fin on this stinking carp I call a novel.
This typewriter was one of a kind, like the author who pounded away on this gaudy relic. He created a canon that I, a wide-eyed kid, read completely. Later, intoxicated by his fictional adventure, I volunteered to go places where I could have been factually killed.
They shouldn't let stupid kids read books. They're too dangerous.
One last clue? If I hadn't read these books, I probably never would have written Beneath A Panamanian Moon.
Take your best guess.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
In case you're wondering, the interview went well, I think. The people were very nice, even after reading this blog, which may or may not be a good sign. I'll let you know if there's any progress.
If I do get the job, does that mean I'll have to start wearing pants when I write?
I forgot to ask.
If I'd known about the Long Ridge Writers Group, I could have saved years of rejection and unsold manuscripts.
See that smiling woman over there? She's Karen O'Connor, author of Getting Old Is Not For Wimps: Inspirations and Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tickle Your Funny Bone which may be the longest book title in history and is sure to go straight to the top of my TBR pile.
Karen is just one of the instructors at Breaking Into Print, which sounds illegal, but probably isn't. Since I want to write inspirations and stories that warm hearts and tickle funnybones, I'm going to take the free test to see if I have what it takes to break into print instead of into my neighbors' homes while they're at work.
At first, I thought I had to sketch Karen, like I sketched the Art School turtle, but apparently not, which is a good thing as the Art School took out a restraining order. Besides, Karen looks like she could probably take me in a fair fight.
So I'm sending off for the test, a brochure introducing me to my 30 instructors, plus a booklet asking "Do You Make These Common Mistakes In Writing?"
You mean like starting a blog? We'll see.
Stay tuned and we'll take the test together. Could be fun and instructive.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
I have a job interview today. In three years of this booming Bush economy, I've sent out my resume once or twice a week and I've snagged exactly two interviews.
I've even thought of applying to Blackwater for a free trip to Iraq, but while I can still shoot, I can't run more than a block without fucking up my hip.
I'm old. I don't feel old, I don't write old, and I don't smell like damp brown paper (I don't think), but I certainly can't compete with perky young things, shiny as dimes, clutching their freshly minted communications degrees and interviewing with more bubbly energy than I've exhibited since 1971.
So I'll put on a tie, polish my smile, show off my work and try not to complain about my bowels.
Wish me luck.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Because Sandra has needs, I will ignore this migraine behind my right eye, the fact that I was in the ER at 4 a.m. and will post this update. (I'm all about fulfilling a Planeteers' needs).
The festival was a huge success. Let's take a look at a few films you should check out.
The Good - Sir! No Sir! is a doc about the GI protest movement during Vietnam. I was too close to the subjest to be objective but my nephew assured me this was as good as I thought. I was one of these guys, and wrote for one of the many illegal underground papers at the time, but history has been so whitewashed by the right, I'd forgotten just how pervasive the resistance was. Seeing my brothers again, fists in the air, refusing to go quietly, brought tears to my eyes. Right on.
The Bad - Goldwater on Goldwater. The father of the conservative movement was profiled by his grand daughter and the film was great, even if the political movement is evil. While Goldwater was certainly a conservative, he was also pro choice, pro homosexual rights and deeply suspicious of the Christian right.
The Unfortunate - This movement involved a bean burrito at midnight. Not pretty.
Other high points - A profile of Frank Gehry by Sidney Pollack, a look at how the drug war has made collateral damage out of The Asparagus Capital of the World, the persecution of Tommy Chong, and displaced New Orleans musicians.
Now I have to go lie down in the dark. More tomorrow including an update on this book I'm reading, Cold Granite, by Stuart MacBride. It's really good, goddamit.
I mean really good.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
For four days my nephew, a film producer, will be in town wearing black and drinking my vodka. We'll study the schedule, argue about our choices, and watch documentaries until our eyes bleed. With more than 100 films, we'll have a chance to see a/k/a Tommy Chong, Smiling In A War Zone, Dead People and Air Guitar Nation.
In past years we've seen My Voyage to Italy, Martin Scorsese's four-hour homage to Italian cinema; Word Wars, about the eccentrics who compete in big money Scrabble championships; and Bearing Witness, Barbara Kopple's film about women war correspondents who, it turns out, have giant brass balls. Who knew?
We've been disappointed by films we were anticipating, and surpised by dark horses we saw on a whim. We've heard Walter Mosely, Michael Moore, Harry Shearer and Mr. Scorsese speak about Spinal Tap, politics, war and the art of story. Albert Maysles talked about shooting The Beatles in 1964 and the Rolling Stones' 1969 Altamont concert for Gimme Shelter.
One year I had lunch between Barbara Kopple and D.A. Pennebaker, the guy who shot Don't Look Back. For me, this is like sitting between Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy, talking shop.
So, until Monday, the Dark Planet will be darker than usual. See you next week and remember to play nice. If you need anything, call 911.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
OK, I made that last part up.
But do writers ever achieve real fame? Are they gonna live forever?Are they gonna learn how to fly?
The truth is, even if a few writers reach rock star status in this business, not many readers are going to hyperventilate if they see them in a restaurant. Even a household name like John Grisham could probably walk through a mall without getting mobbed. Of course, John Grisham has people who walk through the mall for him.
I'm at an age where the best thing fame would bring is a window seat at Spago. If I went to Spago. But most of The Planet readers are younger, so I have to ask, would you trade privacy for fame? Is Barry Eisler famous? Ian Rankin? Is there an up side to fame beside instant sales and calls from Paris Hilton? And if you did get a phone call from Paris Hilton, what the fuck would you talk about? Her chihuahua? And is Paris Hilton's chihuahua merely a disgusting euphemism?
I'll let you decide.
I'm not suggesting anyone writes for fame, because that would make about as much sense as writing for money, but we've all had that daydream where we open the Sunday Times and see our book at the top of the list.
Mark Twain was famous. Faulkner and Hemingway were famous. Is there any writer today, besides Stephen King, who would have trouble eating an uninterrupted meal in public? I can't think of one.
While researching this new novel, I ran across quite a bit of stuff about J Edgar Hoover and rumors about his homosexuality. Hoover certainly fit the fabulous stereotype. He collected antiques, never dated, lived with his mom, and had a long term relationship with a guy named Clyde. He also publicly hated homosexuals, using his considerable power to crush anyone who even suggested he might be the slightest bit fey.
That made me think of Roy Cohn, the infamous DC lawyer who sat at Joe McCarthy's elbow and persecuted homosexuals with the same reckless virulence he went after reds, all while snuggling with "rent boys" at night.
Right wingers think more about gay sex than anyone other than gay men, who think about gay sex a lot. But the truth is, many of these defenders of public morality are gay men and they let they're toxic self-hatred spill out and poison entire communities.
With a five minute Google search I turned up several more examples. For instance, Lonnie Latham, a pastor out of Tulsa, was arrested after propositioning a male undercover cop. Latham has fought gay civil rights for years so, apparently, two people living in a committed relationship is wrong, but it's OK for Lonnie to do a little lap-bobbing on some stranger's crank.
Congressmen Ed Schrock, a Republican representative from Virginia, was another culture warrior with a voting record of 92% pure according to the Christian Coaltion. He got caught soliciting men for oral sex. He tried to defend himself in the press, but no one could understand him with his mouth full.
Robert Bauman, Republican from Maryland, was caught with a 16-year-old boy, although he might have been teaching the young man about the joys of baseball because there was talk of who would pitch and who would catch.
Then there's Steve Wilsey, a youth counselor with James Dobson's Focus on the Family. It seems Wilsey was focusing his gaze a little lower on the family, somewhere around an 8-year-old's crotch. The irony is, the boy's mom asked Wilsey to counsel her son after hearing a Focus on the Family radio broadcast that said the sons of single moms were at greater risk of turning gay. Tragically, the radio broadcast forgot to mention the closeted, predatory pedophiles working for Focus on the Family.
I found more, but you get the picture. I've always been interested in, and deeply respectful of, the human mystery. Sex, and America's weirdly schizo sexual dysfunction, is endlessly fascinating. We're overwhelmingly churchy and yet support a lucrative and amazingly twisted porn industry. We preach abstinence, but encourage preteens to strut their sexuality in Little Miss pageants. And what about Hello Kitty underpants? Or is that just me? Never mind. Grapple with America's fixation with sex and it always leads to something weird and creepy.
This dark little corner would be a lot more entertaining if there weren't so many innocent bystanders hit by shrapnel when these family men self-destruct.
Self-hating hypocrites have been a staple of public life and fiction for years but still, I have to ask, what's with these guys?
Monday, April 03, 2006
This is a big book. Not million-page Michener big. I doubt it would stop a bullet if you were to carry it over your heart. But big with big ideas, big gambles that pay off, and big characters who seem to move in and live in your head with their muddy shoes, cigarettes and bad teeth.
Olen writes with such breath-taking courage, and makes it look so effortless, that a reader might be lulled into thinking that all books are this fearless, and I can assure you, most are not.
This is not merely a mystery about a crime. This is a crime novel about deeper mysteries. The mysteries of sex and marriage, of friendship, betrayal and forgiveness, of police work and oppression. Eastern Europe in the 50's was a dangerous, tightly-controlled place to be, where murder investigations carried the added danger of uncovering an inconvenient truth, one that could get an investigator sent to a labor camp, where hard work was not the worst of a prisoner's hardships.
This novel came out in 2004, but I just picked up a new paperback of The Confession, a beautiful edition that St. Martins had the good sense to put out with that terrific hardback cover. If you haven't read The Confession, you've missed an insightful, intelligent, and beautifully written book.
Olen lives in Budapest, and he's said elsewhere that he doesn't do much research. If that's true, he's managed to dream up details of a world that feels more substantial than most of America.
For those who don't know, Olen is one fourth of the blog Contemporary Nomad. Along with Kevin Wignall, Robin Hunt and John Nadler, they manage to post some of the smartest things you can read anywhere on the web. I consider myself fortunate to be numbered among their fans and, I hope, a friend.
News out of Raleigh tells us that former Senator Jesse Helms has dementia. Unfortunately, the people who voted for him don't have that excuse.
Helms started his career as a red-baiting smear artist and an ardent segregationist. As an "unofficial reseacher" for conservative Willis Smith in 1950, Helms created an ad featuring a doctored photo of the incumbent's wife dancing with a black man. He then went on to gain fame as a TV bloviator in the sixties by railing against gays, blacks and Chapel Hill. His recent autobiography tries to soften his bigotry and make Jesse seem to be just a principled man who did what he thought was right, critics be damned. But that's bullshit.
In 1984, Jesse ran a campaign that leaked stories to accomodating newspapers hinting that Jesse's opponent, former governor Jim Hunt, was a closet homosexual.
People who like Helms, and they are legion here in North Carolina, say "You always knew where Jesse stood." Except when you didn't. During that '84 campaign, there was talk about Jesse taking over the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, something far right zealots salivated over, but Jesse promised the state's rural voters that he would never give up his chair of the Agriculture Committee.
Jesse won and on election night Pat Robertson gloated over the "Christian" Helms' win and how he would soon take over Foreign Relations. Reminded of Jesse's promise, Robertson admitted that Helms would keep his word unless, and this is a quote, "he can find some way out of it."
Jesse found a way out of it. And as chairman of Foreign Relations, he used that chair to bludgeon anyone he thought might secretly wear pastel or was insufficiently conservative, which meant anyone to the left of Pinochet.
It was Jesse's support for homicidal miscreants like Pinochet and Roberto D'Aubuisson that made me hate the old bastard. His embrace of Latin American plutocrats, thugs and thieves, people responsible for the murder of children, nuns, priests, reporters and students, showed his well-publicized Christianity to be a hollow sham. When witnesses told Helms' staff that the US-financed contras were killing doctors and nurses in Nicaragua, Helms' spokesperson said "they were Communists and deserved to die." Jesse's policies made life harder, meaner and brutally short for poor people from Guatemala to Tierra del Fuego. For all those murdered innocents, he's earned a special seat in hell.
Of course, all that's in the past. Now he's a cuddly conservative. He's met with Bono. He's against AIDS. He's a southern gentleman.
"His manners are always intact," his wife, Dot, said. "He is very gracious when people come to see him. He is his same self in a lot of ways. He just doesn't always remember."
That means we have to remember. As this evil bastard shuffles into the twilight, let's remember him as he was - A deceitful, power-hungry, angry bigot who supported more cruelty in the name of anti-communism than any other single American of the past fifty years.
A few years back he had heart surgery. The doctors bolted in a valve from the heart of a pig because, as the joke went, there was no fear of rejection. Now he has dementia. Fuck him.
As a political postscript, I read this morning that John McCain, he of the Straight Talk Express, has reconsidered his previous position that Jerry Falwell is "an agent of intolerance." Now, Senator McCain loves him some Falwell and will speak at the noted asshat's Liberty University commencement. I'm sure this change in position has nothing to do with McCain's presidential ambitions.
Pure American Bullshit. It's what's for dinner.