Monday, April 30, 2007

Thank you.

For a murder-minded crowd, you have shown yourselves to be the kind, generous, giving people I always suspected you were.

Even Dusty.

Things have taken a turn for the better here, but we still have a long way to go. When I can find my way to making crude jokes at others' expense again, I'll be back.

You can't get rid of me that easily.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound...

I am a complete and utter ignoramus when it comes to classical music. Unlike our friend Charlie Stella, I couldn't tell Shostakovich from Rostropovich, the cellist who joined the choir invisible yesterday at age 80. That's him up there giving what the Times called, "an impromptu concert at Checkpoint Charlie after the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989."

Very cool.

The reason I bring him up at all is because I love that picture and can only imagine the sheer joy the moment and the music gave him and how those gathered around him were witnesses to the man's irrepressible celebration.

And while it's true that classical music in our house is more Sonny Boy than Saint-Saƫens, I know that in times of darkness and uncertainty, I can always find solace in music. It's the one thing that's never let me down.

That's why I love that picture.

We often speak of the music we listen to when we write, and music we quote in prose. When I was an actor, I landed the role of an Eastern European Jew. I went to the local Rabbi to get lessons in the accent because, as always, I wanted to get it right. The Rabbi took one look at the script and said, "David, I don't see the problem. The melody is written right into the words."

Ah, music is everywhere and we would indeed be a sad and low species without it.

Mstislav Rostropovich, RIP. You can read more about this remarkable man here.

Now, I need to go put on some Coltrane.

How can such a tragic guy bring so much joy?

My TBR stack just got bigger.

I know this is probably the last site anyone comes to for real news, but just in case, these are last night's Edgar winners. And while my faves like Cornelia Read didn't take home the little mustachioed guy, I extend my congratulations to everyone nominated.

Winning is good, but nominations are nice, too.

And special props go to Richard Abate, the agent who swung the deal for MANHUNT (and another, lesser known book by a lesser, little-known author).

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson (Random House)

Snakeskin Shamisen by Naomi Hirahara (Bantam Dell Publishing Delta Books)

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson(HarperCollins & William Morrow)

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fearby E.J. Wagner (John Wiley & Sons)

The Home Front, Death Do Us Part by Charles Ardai(Hachette Book Group, Little, Brown and Company)

Room One: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Buried by Robin Merrow MacCready (Penguin YR Dutton Children’s Books)

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure by Steven Dietz (Arizona Theatre Company)

Life on Mars, Episode 1, Teleplay by Matthew Graham (BBC America)

The Wire, Season 4, Teleplays by Ed Burns, Kia Corthron, Dennis Lehane, David Mills, Eric Overmyer, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon & William F. Zorzi (Home Box Office)

The Departed, Screenplay by William Monahan (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

It's easy to be humble.

Laura Bradford over at the Good Girls site, wonders about fans and what hooks them, whether readers of Romantic poetry or followers of that American Idol hair guy.

I'm more interested in those things that keep us humble. Being married works. Nothing can puncture an over-inflated sense of self-importance like a wife with a good memory.

A few years ago a young man posted a nice mention about Beneath A Panamanian Moon* on his blog and I responded with a thanks. He immediately went into fan stammer, astonished that an actual author would post on his blog. I wanted to tell him that he shouldn't be in such awe, that I begin every day of my life picking up dog turds, but I didn't. Why ruin the kid's illusions. That'll happen soon enough without my help.

True story: I went to get my hair cut, coincidentally on the same day I'd finished writing a novel. As I sat in the chair the barber asked how I was doing and I said, "I only get to say this once every year or two, so I hope you won't think I'm bragging, but I finished a book today."

He said, "Oh, yeah? What are you reading?"

Of course, reading better books than mine, and they are legion, will keep me humble, but it's the day-to-day that does it best. I'm curious, what is it in your life that keeps you grounded, especially as you meet gushing fans or get glowing reviews?

Because any time I get too full of myself, I always have my dogs, eager to produce instant indignity at a moment's notice.

Talk to me.

*Speaking of keeping me humble, my Amazon ranking for BAPM this morning is 1,625,350. Ouch.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

In praise of friends and relatives.

The man behind the eye is Ted, my nephew, although he's more friend than relative. See, I can choose my friends, and relatives I get whether I want them or not. But if Ted was not related to me, I'd still choose his company.

Ted comes down every year to sit in the dark with me and watch documentaries for days. The great fun is talking about the movies afterward and sometimes arguing, because he refuses to acknowledge that I am always right. Always.

I attribute his reluctance to his youth.

But sometimes even I can learn something from the youngsters and Ted, a film maker, has introduced me to painters, musicians and cork flooring.

A few years ago, Ted and his patient wife Jen, bought a house on the outskirts of DC, gutted it and rebuilt the interior, piece by piece, moving bathrooms and walls, wiring and plumbing, all themselves. It was truly impressive. You can see Ted's place on line because the Geico caveman lives there. Yep, that's his place you can snoop around in. Go take a look.

He's a great editor, hard-working producer, solid soundman, art collector, lover of music and man with a vision and the stamina to see it through.

But his most appreciated talent is his ability to listen patiently to his uncle talk absolute blather.

So, here's to friends. Here's to relatives. And here's to Ted, a man whom I admire and I'm happy to say is both.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Love at first sight.

Today, Jenny and I have been married for 27 years. That's 27 years of good times, hard times, really hard times, and a love for one another that seems to get stronger every day.

I don't know where I'd be without her.

In this week of such terrible news, it's good to look at the the things we take for granted and find the divine in the mundane and the eternal in the day-to-day.

I've told this story before, but it's worth repeating. I first saw Jenny on stage, a star of our summer theater company, rehearsing for a show. I was a character actor, far from being a major player, but when I looked across that dark theater and saw that long neck and wicked spark, I whispered to my friend, "That's the woman I'm going to marry."

It took quite a while to convince her to jump into my leaky boat. I was unemployed 27 years ago, with few prospects, but she saw something in me that I couldn't. Which is why I dedicated my book to her this way:

To Jenny,

who is good when times are good,

and when times are bad

she's even better.

I love you, babe. Please, don't ever come to your senses.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Enough to make Jesus drink himself to sleep.

My pal, Dusty Rhoades, has posted two reprehensible posts from right wing fucktards about the Virginia Tech murders. I was going to link to them myself, but you can read their screeds over at Dusty's place here. I don't have the heart to search them out myself.

I try to entertain people with this blog. I don't tell you how to sell more books, or how to write better, or how to be a better person. Sure, I post political rants about things that piss me off, but always in the hopes that, in the end, it will make you laugh.

I can't quite gin up something funny today.

In response to something truly twisted from Michelle Malkin, one of the dumbest fucking people on the planet, I posted the following comment. With apologies to Dusty, I thought it was appropriate for me to also post it here.

There's a reason I haven't posted anything about the Virginia Tech shootings. I read things like Malkin and other blogs in a tizzy, right and left, about guns and gun control, and I have to turn away.

This is a real human tragedy, one that causes me to think about our place in this extended family, the pain a mother must feel waiting for that call that tells her her child is safe, the darkness that would bring a young man to do this horrible thing, and the trauma the survivors feel now and will feel for years, wondering why the kid next to them is dead and they're not.

Malkin, the asshat at the NRO, they all make me slightly nauseated with their pouncing on this tragedy in order to score a cheap partisan political point. These are horrid human beings. Absolutely horrid.

Come to think of it, maybe I do tell you how to be a better person. I apologize for being so presumptuous. Tomorrow, a more entertaining post.

I promise.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I could do wonderful things for you...

The sexiest woman alive sent this to me. Enjoy.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Yeah, if King Lear had stabbings, eye-gougings, patricide and long-winded jokers...

...oh, wait.
"I've always had a thought maybe that I might have been Shakespeare in another life. I don't really believe that 100%, and I don't really care about Shakespeare, I've never been into Shakespeare, but then people are constantly bringing up all of these qualities in my work that mirror Shakespearean tragedies and moments and themes." - Tarantino in GQ

How can you support the troops and not support the war?

I saw this question posted on a conservative blog and it ended with this:

They would rather support the failure of a political adversary (the President, the Republican party, an alternative ideology) than the future of a free people. And they call themselves "liberals" or, better yet, "progressives".

The question has come up hundreds of times, and there are plenty of people who have made stupid statements like the one above, suggesting that anyone who doesn't back Bush is pro-terrorist and will somehow rejoice in America's defeat. What a pantload. But occassionally we have to engage in the conversation in the slim hope that light will finally dawn. Here's what I wrote:

I consider myself a liberal, but I'm not sure it means the same thing as you think it means.

People I know who think this war is a futile effort include military, retired military, active intelligence, former federal law enforcement and a whole bunch of average citizens just like you and me. Not a one of them wants Bush to fail.

Predicting failure and then pointing it out when your worst predictions come true is not a thing that gives me comfort.

As for not supporting the future of a free people, that's something the people themselves have to choose. It's not a gift we can pass along and then suddenly animosities that go back to the Fifth century will vanish like a bad smell in an ocean breeze.

That's not going to happen.

I think Iraq will be a disaster if we pull out, but this surge is far too little and far too late. If we were serious about fighting this war, and this is just me, I'd put another 400K troops in, create safe training places for the Iraqi military and police, draft a boatload of young American men (attention College Republicans!) and raise taxes, yes taxes, to pay for it.

That's not going to happen.

That means we're not serious about fighting this war and if we're not serious, how can you ask your brother to pay with his limbs or life?

Vietnam? The VC and NVA demonstrated by kicking Japanese butt and French derriere that they were willing to do whatever was necessary for as long as it took. The American people, with good reason, weren't willing.

My father was a staunch supporter of that war until he had two sons in uniform. He'd lost his brother and countless friends in one war, a good war, a war worth his sacrifice, and he proudly sent his boys off to serve when our time came. But when the reality of that homebound box hit home, he started asking why. It didn't make him a cut and run American. It didn't diminish his patriotism and sacrifice. It made him question the cost and he decided that the benefit wasn't worth his potential loss.

No American, left or right, wants our president to fail. Because if he does, it means we sacrifice our fathers, brothers and sons for a mistake.

I'm a liberal, but I take a back seat to no one when I say I love this country.

But I mistrust this government and that's a whole different thing.

As I get more time I'll catch up with the film festival with a few titles for you to watch for; an appreciation for my nephew, a smart kid who has taught me more than he probably suspects; and another love post to my wife as we begin the 28th year of this adventure.

On this Monday morning I consider myself a very lucky man coursing with the milk of human kindness. But stay tuned, that could change by lunch.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Shhh. The movie's starting.

I'm doing my annual doc block with 3+ days of movies.

Yesterday, opening day, we saw a film about the booming film industry in Nigeria, Catalonians who spend an inordinate amount of time climbing onto one another's shoulders to build fifty-foot high human towers that quite often collapse, a new look at DA Pennebaker's landmark footage of Bob Dylan's UK tour of '65, and two people talking about Katrina.

I love documentaries. Give me a good argument over whether there's objective verite in cinema verite and I'm a happy man.

Durham has received some pretty ugly publicity this week, even attracting the unblinking gaze of media harridans Rita Cosby and Nancy Grace, attention usually reserved for missing white women.

Yes, Durham has its troubles. But it also has the Durham Bulls, a terrific independent book store and this, what's been called the Cannes of documentary film festivals. In the ten years of this festival, and yes, I have attended every one, watching movies until my ass is flat, Durham has played host to Sydney Pollack, Martin Scorsese, Harry Shearer, Ken Burns, Michael Moore, Al Franken, and hundreds of other filmmakers. It's a lot like writers' conferences in a way, and I'll talk more about that next week. After the festival.

But for now, you'll excuse me if the planet is a bit darker than usual.

I have movies to see.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Connie and Walt. Gettin' busy.

With apologies to the King of Comics Commentary, the Comics Curmudgeon, I have to point out this recent installment from Zits, one of my favorite strips. If you don't know this strip, it's about a 15-year-old kid named Jeremy. He has an older brother named Chad who you see about as frequently as you saw little Richie on the Dick Van Dyke show, but I love that Connie and Walt, his parents, named their kids Chad and Jeremy.

OK, up to speed? The storyline here is, Jeremy's gone off to a friend's place for the weekend. And what do Connie and Walt do? They immediately leap into the sack for a little afternoon bed bounce. Boo-yah.

I only bring this up to do what old men do everywhere: Point out how things have changed since I was a kid.

There was sex in the comics, of course. Ask any male which one they'd rather boink, Betty or Veronica, and they'll tell you without thinking. Because they've already thought about it. A lot. They'll also tell you that Judy Jetson was hot, and Betty Rubble was a stone-age babe.

(Women don't do this, I don't know why, and when they find out we do they look at us funny.)

But back to the point. We never saw Blondie and Dagwood in post-coital bliss. Hell, they still sleep in separate beds. Donald Duck doesn't wear pants, for God's sake, but there's never been a hint of Donald and Daisy doing the nasty. And I don't even want to think about Popeye and Olive Oyl naked.

But Connie and Walt? Yeah. I like that. Progress has been made.

As always, I invite your thoughts on this weighty subject of the day.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Who's that talking smack about our President? Not me.

It seems I've been mistaken about George W. Bush. He really isn't gay, drunk, cowardly, incompetent or sleeping with Condi Rice. And I know the reason our Cowpoke-in-Chief doesn't ride a horse has nothing to do with his being afraid. It just looks that way.

No, this administration is an efficient, well-run machine and Bush's compassion, intellectual rigor and work ethic should be models for us all.

What made me change my mind about The President™?

I'd really like to be able to board an airplane sometime in the near future.

It seems that people who have criticized The President™ are having problems getting on flights. Here's a letter [edited for short attention spans] from a retired Marine officer, decorated combat veteran, and professor of Constitutional law at Princeton:

"When I tried to use the curb-side check in at the Sunport, I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list ... I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: 'Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that.'

I explained that I had not so marched but had ... given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution.

'That'll do it,' the man said."

You can read the complete letter and more at Talking Points Memo.

So, all those terrible things I wrote about The President™ were the result of a chemical imbalance. Or someone else wrote them. I don't know, I can't recall and I'm pleading the Fifth.

From now on, The Planet will have nothing but praise for The President™ and his excellent leadership in these times of terror. Thank God for George Bush, the bestest president we've ever had.

Now can I get my boarding pass?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

All Hail Dear Leader!

This came out a while back but I've been too busy to mention it. But in case you've missed it, Bush is installing political officers in every branch and bureau of the Federal government.

You read that right. Political officers. And no, this is not one of Olen Steinhauer's novels about Soviet oppression of Eastern Europe. This is America. Or it was last time I looked.

But like Stalin, Bush wants total control over everything that moves. That means his political hacks will have oversight over anything involving public health, the environment, civil rights and our quickly evaporating rights to privacy.

In an executive order, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee to supervise all documents and all rules that regulate anything larger than a chicken fart.

This means people with real expertise will have to submit everything to this "regulatory policy office" to, in the words of the New York Times, "make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities."

You know, like FEMA in New Orleans and the CPA in Iraq, because those groups have done such sterling work. Particular targets? The EPA and OSHA. Jeffrey A. Rosen, general counsel at the White House OMB said, “This is a classic good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and accountable.”

Open and accountable. The Bush administration wants open and accountable. Done laughing? No, I'll wait.

OK, let's continue.

The way things usually work is, agencies enforce laws enacted by Congress, but Bush doesn't like Congress, so he's decided to to say "fuck them." He's done this with his signing statements before, plenty of them, but that hasn't give him the reach he really wants. No, Dear Leader needs political officers throughout the bureaucracy to make sure nothing gets by that might give Dear Leader a rash.

Peter L. Strauss of the Columbia Law School said the executive order “achieves a major increase in White House control over domestic government.” Which is such great news. This administration has been so competent at governing, why not give them more power? Hell, let's abandon Congress altogether and install Bush as Emperor for Life.

Over the past few years I've written short films for two Federal agencies and each time the script was gone over for anything that colored outside the lines of administration policy, so this has been going on for a while. The old hands told me they'd never seen anything like it. Well, with this new executive order, they ain't seen nothing yet.

And for further proof this stinks like a dead fish on a hot manifold, the Times reported that "business groups hailed the initiative."

And if that doesn't keep you awake nights, you haven't been paying attention.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wow. The NY Times says nice things about one of our own.

I didn't want to pile on the plaudits when Laura Lippman hit the Times best seller list because, well, Dan Brown and Ann Coulter have made the Times best seller list. So while it was worth celebrating (especially if you're Laura's agent), it didn't rise to the drink-raising-inspiration of the review by Janet Maslin.

After a few hundred words of praise Maslin says:

“What the Dead Know,” like the best books in this tradition, is doubly satisfying. You read it once just to move breathlessly toward the finale. Then you revisit it to marvel at how well Ms. Lippman pulled the wool over your eyes."

Now that's worth celebrating. Congratulations, Laura.

And don't you just love that picture, all dark and sultry? The woman's a class act, through and through.

Where the hell is everybody?

It's come to my attention that readers of The Planet wonder why so few comments lately. Easy. Everyone's over at Crimespace. Go check out the Forum. Lots of chatter and plenty of opportunities to kill time. Like you need more.

I have been remiss in not adding Crimespace to my linky things over there but I'll rectify that this weekend.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Justice, with a small "j."

Yes, it's Photoshopped, but one can dream.

The day Karl Rove is tossed into the joint will be a grand day for America. This festering boil on the ass of American politics was speaking at American University last night, invited by the campus College Republicans, the ones who love the Iraq War but not, you know, well enough to enlist. (For more on that, visit Operation Yellow Elephant.)

After speaking to the assembled Brown Shirts, Rove went outside and was heckled by students, some of whom threw things at him, and although we don't know what, it probably wasn't monkey feces or human blood, either of which would be applauded here at The Planet.

Of course, those intrepid members of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders think this is just terrible and are wringing their Cheeto-stained little hands over Rove being heckled because, you know, that's just wrong.

Not as wrong as stealing 1,000 sheets of letterhead from the office of a Democratic candidate and printing “Free beer, free food, girls, and a good time for nothing” on the stolen sheets and sending them out as an invitation to the candidate's rally, but still wrong.

And not as wrong as Donald Segretti, Rove's mentor and one of the felonious bastards uncovered when Woodward and Bernstein rolled over that rock on Watergate. But still, wrong.

And not as wrong as bugging his own office and then claiming Democrats did it so the FBI and newspapers would investigate. But still, you know. Wrong.

And not as wrong as starting the whisper campaign that John McCain was unbalanced from his time as a POW or that McCain's adopted Bangladeshi daughter was his illegitimate black child.

And certainly not as wrong as questioning the service of a decorated veteran who volunteered for combat in a war both of his bosses dodged.

But still wrong.

Because these protesters actually confronted Rove, (the horror!) and embarrassed him. No, he was in no danger. Unlike the thousands of young men and women he helped send to Iraq.

Protesting one of the vilest humans in America makes me think there's hope for this country yet. Every one of those kids who laid down in front of Rove's car showed more courage than all 600 of those College Republicans hiding inside the speaker's hall combined.

Rock on.

Update: All the liberal blogs and talk shows have been tut-tutting the throwing of things at Mr. Rove. Not me. I was talking to a friend last night and we decided that this would be a better country if everywhere Karl Rove went, citizens would pelt him with whatever's at hand wherever he is - at home, work, a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike, or a bath house in Georgetown. Wherever.

I'm not talking bricks, people, but stale dinner rolls would be perfect.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Essential Book

There have been quite a few posts lately about books you read as a child, books that inspired you to write, and books you're reading now.

This is about a book that made me realize I wasn't crazy, or if I was, I was in good company. But first, like all bad writers everywhere, I want to stop this narrative to inject a little backstory.

I was seventeen in the Summer of Love, living in a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We got three channels on TV, maybe four with a fuzzy UHF receiver. There was no Rolling Stone. There were no videos, DVDs, or Internet. I knew little beyond what Time and Newsweek reported and it was only luck that steered me toward vinyl by a guitar player named Hendrix and a singer named Joplin. In that same store, among the paperbacks, was The Essential Lenny Bruce.

I knew next to nothing about Bruce. I knew he was considered a "sick" comic and I knew Paul Simon wrote a line about him in a song. That was enough. I bought the book, took it home and read it.

It was a revelation. For the first time I didn't feel like all those uncivilized thoughts rolling around inside my cranium were weird. Here was a guy talking about language, so much language, and sex and the lies we accepted every day from the church and government. It was comforting to know that it was OK to talk about these things (it wasn't OK, of course, but I didn't learn that lesson until much later) and in fact, people I respected encouraged this kind of thinking.

For a boy in the middle of the Pennsylvania woods in 1967, this book literally changed my life. The Essential Lenny Bruce became my essential book. I would never think about religion, sex, language or politics the same, small-town way again.

There was so much more to learn, but that book was a start.

So, the question is, do you have a book like that? One that twisted the top of your head off and shook things around up there?

Talk to me.

BTW, the video up there is Thank You Mask Man. Enjoy.

Monday, April 02, 2007

My Favorite Practical Joke

It should surprise no one that, as a kid, I loved hand buzzers, whoopee cusions and stink bombs. Which would lead you to think, quite wrongly, that I loved April Fool's Day. But to those who know the nuances of fake vomit (tip: sprinkle water on it), April Fool's Day is like New Year's Eve is to a serious drinker.

Not that any of the jokes worked worth a damn. What third-grader could keep a straight face when a plastic dog turd was involved?

But as we grow older, the pranks become more sophisticated and the really great jokes are the ones that play off a person's own weakness. The best I ever saw was pulled by a pretty country blonde receptionist named Buffy, a woman you underestimated at your peril.

Our boss was known to rifle through trash and desk drawers after hours in order to find out what his employees were up to, because he was sure they were up to something. He would sneak around corners and stand in hallways, hoping to overhear the mutinous staff hatching their plots against him.

And as paranoid as he was, he was even more of a misogynist. Pretty women were stupid and pretty women with country accents were really stupid. When Peter talked to Buffy, he was so condescending that no one would have blamed her if she'd shot him. But she didn't. What she did do was even better.

Buffy began carrying a manila folder that held a few typed sheets of paper. She would pretend to read it at her desk and when the boss approached she would casually close the folder, smile, and say, "Is there something I can do for you, Peter?" No, he would say, and slink away as the only thing he hated more than secrets were confrontations.

When Buffy went to the bathroom, she took her folder with her. When she left for the day, she took the folder home. And with each passing day, Peter became more and more obsessed with fiding out what Buffy was reading.

But of course, she wasn't reading anything. The typed sheets of paper were just that, merely office effluvia she'd picked up for the prank. Buffy did this for almost two weeks, the folder her constant companion and Peter so strung out on the secret that he could think of nothing else.

Then the folder went away.

It took Peter a few days to stop spinning. And I believe that to this day, just as Peter is falling asleep, the picture of Buffy with that folder comes into his head and he starts awake in the dark, unable to close his eyes for hours.

Practical jokes. When they're this smart, you've got to love them.