Despair Runs Deep in Christopher Irvin’s Burn Cards

Despair runs deep in Burn Cards, a novella from Christopher Irvin. The characters in Burn Card don’t dabble in desperation, they inhabit it. Everything they do- from gambling to drugs to sex- is an effort to escape their problems, even if only for the moment.

Mirna’s father gambles away whatever money he has or can borrow. Despite her better judgment and the advice of friends, she can never say no to him, despite the cost to her. She despises herself for giving in to his pleas for money, wanting to believe this time he’ll hit the jackpot, but knowing he never will. He never has. His illusions come at the cost of her future. When he borrows money from the wrong people, Mirna learns the sins of the father extend to her.

The story begins with Mirna shoved into the trunk of a car. She recounts the events that have led her to this place- her gambling father, his murder, her attempt at love, a job at a salon, and her dreams of a better future.

When the people from whom her Dad borrowed money assign the debt to Mirna, she searches for courage and strength. Her Dad might have pushed her around, but she’ll be damned if she’ll let others do the same. The old Mirna died when her Dad did. What will happen when she stands up to the criminals who killed her Dad?

As with Federales, Irvin has written a noir tale that punches the heart and stomach.

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What I’m Reading (March 2015)

Quality over quantity. That’s my excuse for reading fewer books in March. Quality over quantity. Not yard work, longer hours at work, edits on my book, or even being sick for a few weeks. I read some outstanding stuff this month. Nearly every book this month deserved a Book of the Month marker.

BOOKS

Book of the Month: The Marauders by Tom Cooper. Set in a Louisiana shrimping community devastated by an oil disaster, fishermen are worried about how they’ll get by, an oil company representative is offering residents a pittance to settle, a one-armed man is hunting for lost treasures, and two brothers are making money the old-fashioned way- by dealing drugs. Despair and greed all rolled into one. More than a crime novel, The Marauders is the story of a community and a way of life slowly dying away.

Some other good reads:

  • Adrian McKinty has added another fine addition to his crime novels revolving around Detective Sean Duffy during the Troubles era. Gun Street Girl is worth the time.
  • Worm by Anthony Neil Smith is an novel set in the Bakkens, the wild west, where anything seems to go with where oil money and drugs come together. Add a Yugoslavian war criminal and the story gets even more interesting.
  • Fast One by Paul Cain takes a bit of time and effort in the beginning, but it’s worth the effort. Written in the 1930’s, Fast One is a hardcore pulp novel to the nth degree. Mayhem and murder come one after another as the main character, Kells, stumbles into an opportunity for one last big score. Fast-paced and superb. Note: The life of Paul Cain is worth a google as well.
  • The Blind Alley by Jake Hinkson is an overview of noir films of yesterday. More known for his novels, Hinkson has provided a great introduction and history to noir films. I have a list of movies I want to see.
  • The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills tells of the year and a half Mills lived next door to Harper Lee and her sister. This is a fascinating look at a woman who published one book and retreated into her life in a small town.
  • Salt, Sweat, and Tears: The Men Who Rowed the Oceans by Adam Racily. My first thought, what would posses a man to want to row across the Atlantic Ocean? In addition to chronicling the author’s own attempt, he tells the story of the men who succeeded and failed before him.

Most of the time, if I don’t like a book, I’ll mention the title and say nothing about it or leave it off my list altogether. While in Austin, I saw a book, Austin Breakfast Tacos, and my interest was piqued. Among many things, Austin is known for breakfast tacos and a book on the the subject of one of my favorite foods- I was all in. The book is the collection of interviews from people in Austin about breakfast tacos. Every interview is exactly the same. It’s as if the authors sent a questionnaire out to people and slapped those responses into a book. Very disappointing.

TV & FILM

All the usuals here: Better Call Saul, Justified, and The Americans. I believe they all finish in April, so maybe I’ll have more to say then.

On Netflix, I stumbled across a show called The Red Road, a show from Sundance TV. A college student goes missing, a woman has a psychotic break and can’t remember if she hit someone with her car, her policeman husband tries to cover it up, and his only ally is a man recently released from prison for drug trafficking. Season one only contains six episodes and I found myself surprised at how much I liked it.

WRITING

I finished my hand-written edits of Taken For Granted, which is always the hardest. I’ve sent a draft off to a reader, am reading it again myself and making a few revisions. This one is close to being done.

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What I’m Reading (Feb 2015)

It doesn’t seem like I read much this month, but ten books or so is something. Between some changes at work, editing my own book, catching a cold, and lots of other stuff, I’m not sure how I found the time to get any reading in, much less get through ten books. Nonetheless, I did and I discovered two gems.

BOOKS

Book of the Month: The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney. This is why you read- to find an entertaining and unique story. Words like ambitious have been used to describe the book. The Long and Faraway Gone follows two characters haunted by crimes which took place when they were teenagers in Oklahoma City. One is trying to solve the disappearance of her older sister, and the other is a private investigator who can’t escape the fact he was the lone survivor of a movie theater robbery. In most books, the two stories would intersect into one, but Berney takes a different approach. The characters run into each other on a couple of occasions, but their stories never converge. It’s an excellent read. The last two hundred pages, I couldn’t put it down, which is always the sign of a good book. I also read another of Berney’s novels, Gutshot Straight, which is more straightforward noir.

The other good book I read this month: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This is more of a psychological thriller, as the majority of the story is told from one character, who has a drinking problem, which causes her to blackout. She rides the train into work every day and sees a couple in a house nearby. She imagines the life they must live, the life she does not, and then one day she sees something which shatters it all.

Other books I read this month: The Devil Doesn’t Want Me by Eric Beetner (crime novel), all five volumes of The Cycling Anthology (new and original essays on the sport of professional cycling), Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J Mann (covers the events leading up to the murder of William Desmond Taylor and the investigation into his murder- the book is also a primer on the early days of Hollywood and the movie industry), and Why I Watch People Die by Barry Graham (a collection of essays and journalistic pieces about Phoenix, crime, murder, and the death penalty.)

TV & FILM

The documentary, Desert Runners, available on Netflix, follows a group of ultra runners as they attempt to complete a series of ultra races over the period of one year. Fascinating. You will ask yourself why would anyone put themselves through such torture. The blisters on their feet…

I’m continuing to watch and enjoy three shows: Justified, The Americans, and Better Call Saul.

I tried Bosch from Amazon. I gave up after five episodes. I found the storylines predictable and the characters stock. It wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t expect much as I’ve only read a couple of the books and found them okay.

WRITING

I’m doing the slow process of editing my latest book, Taken For Granted, which means I’m going over by hand. I make my edits and then type them into the computer. It takes forever. However, I do recommend this process. There’s something about seeing what you’ve written on paper that helps you see it in a different light.

When my beloved saw me scratching away on my manuscript, she asked me if I thought I was done.

“Eh, somewhat.”

If this is what you call ‘nearly done.’

IMG_1110

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What I’m Reading (Jan. 2015)

2015 started off with a bang, a slew of outstanding books, a handful which qualified as the book of the month.

BOOKS

Book of the month: Stay God, Sweet Angel by Nik Korpon tells the story of a romantic, sad character with a past he wants to remain hidden, a girlfriend he wants to keep, ambition that threatens his present and future, and an escalating sense of paranoia. The writing is fantastic. Korpon’s writing reminded of Will Christopher Baer.

Baer is not a household name, but among those who’ve read his work, he’s highly-regarded. He’s published three books (known a the Phineas Phoe trilogy), Kiss Me, Judas; Penny Dreadful; and Hell’s Half Acre. His writing is violent, captivating, stunning, and unique. Hell’s Half Acre hit the shelves in 2004 and since then… nothing. At one time, there was a listing for a fourth novel, Godspeed, but it’s never seen the light of day and no one seems to know why. In the Internet era in which we live, it’s almost impossible for a person to drop off the face of the earth, but Baer has managed to do so. Nobody seems to know what happened to him, where he is, what he’s doing, or even if he’s writing. His amazon biography identifies him as a teacher as the Memphis College of Art, but a perusal of their faculty names doesn’t list Baer. Google his name and you can find a couple of forum threads where people ask what happened to him. Regardless, he wrote three phenomenal novels.

The Deepening Shade by Jake Hinkson is a collection of previously-published noir short stories. Most deal with the south and fundamentalist religion. The stories are outstanding. I wrote a piece about Hinkson here.

Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer by David Roberts is the non-fiction account of the young American explorer who disappeared and has never been found. I’d never heard of Everett Ruess or the controversy regarding him. The first part of the book covers Ruess until his disappearance. The second part of the book revolves around his parent’s efforts to find him and the people who took advantage of the family. The last part of the book explores the possibilities of what might have happened to Ruess. Fascinating story.

When the Light Bulb is Bare by Barry Graham is an excellent collection of essays on noir and fiction. Kill Your Self: Life After Ego by Barry Graham is a series of short essays on Zen Buddhism. I’ve read ten or so books on Zen before, but Graham’s book helped me understand Zen Buddhism in a way I hadn’t before. He clarified a lot of misunderstandings I had about Zen Buddhism.  I also read two noir novels by Graham, How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy and The Wrong Thing.

Other books I read this month:  Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura, Lamentation by Joe Clifford, The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle,  and Tussinland by Mike Monson

TV & FILM

January means cold, wet weather, which leads to me watching lots of TV while riding the indoor bike.

Hidden, an entertaining 4 episode show from the BBC. A solicitor was involved in a crime years as a young man and his past is catching up with his present. The Fall (Season 2), another series from the BBC available on Netflix. I’m usually out on anything having to do with serial killers, but this one works. My only complaint, they could’ve done without the last 15 minutes of the finale.

Gone Girl is hard to judge having read the book last year. I knew the story hook, so the movie lacked the tension for me. Still, I enjoyed it.

I’ve also started Justified, season 6, and The Americans, season 3. So far so good on those.

WRITING

I finally sent the latest draft of Taken For Granted to a couple of readers. They gave me some great feedback on the story and I’m incorporating their thoughts now. While waiting for them to read it, I launched into another novel and I have written about a quarter of the first draft.

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A Writer Worth Reading- Jake Hinkson

Southern noir with a teaspoon, and sometimes a hammer, of religion. That describes the writing of Jake Hinkson, the author of three novels, one novella, and a short story collection. He might not be known to the masses, but his books are worth your time to read. (Forget about the fact you can own them all for less than $20.) When trying to describe his writing, some have referred to him as a mix of Flannery O’Connor and Jim Thompson, and others have called him a ‘hardboiled hillbilly.’

I first read Hc1e0ee_b3411060ee804f4a98d3f0a628e71136.jpg_srz_349_559_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzinkson in 2014, starting with Hell on Church Street. He hooked me within the first few pages and by the second chapter I couldn’t put it down. I recommended Hell on Church Street more than any other book last year.

In Hell on Church Street, a con man talks himself into the position of a youth minister at a church in a small town in Arkansas. He manipulates the pastor’s underage daughter into a sexual relationship and all hell breaks loose afterwards. Hinkson’s descriptions of religious life and the ease with which a duplicitous person with a kind smile and the right religious platitudes can gain church people’s trust is deadly accurate. The seedy youth minister meets his match and murder ensues.

The Posthumous Man takes a familiar tale and adds a c1e0ee_ce272fd3b5ce478cb5af4da074e17eea.jpg_srz_369_559_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srztwist. Man wakes up in the hospital after attempting to kill himself and falls for the attractive nurse, who is in with the wrong crowd. A criminal gang ready for the one big score. The gang start turning on one another like snakes in a pit- greed rages, lies are told, bodies fall, and then comes the big ending. To tell you about the ending would ruin the story. It was so good, I read it twice.

c1e0ee_c79dd667e854484b883ae5c29af95264.jpg_srz_347_559_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzSaint Homicide. With a title like that, you know religion will play a factor. The novella is told from the viewpoint of a passionate anti-abortionist, who has an ill wife. The anti-abortionist also struggles with lust and self-hatred for his impurity. When the religious man makes a mistake, how can he atone for his sin?

The Big Ugly tells of an ex-con, newly released, hired to c1e0ee_f24873f40ee449b7bcfd67c65e33ae82.jpeg_srz_302_514_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpeg_srzfind a missing woman. She encounters southern politicians, televangelists, petty criminals, while dealing with her own family who doesn’t understand her actions, and others intent on causing her more harm. She struggles to figure out who, if anyone, is telling the truth, and to do so before she and the missing woman are killed.

The Deepening Shade, Hinkson’s collection of short stories, landed this past week. In these stories, Hinkson demonstrates his craft as Covera writer. In each one, he leads you down a path, letting you think you know the outcome, before taking the story in a different direction. Markers and Coke, the first in the collection, tells the sad story of a down on his luck police officer, who can’t bear to face shame and embarrassment. Randy’s Personal Lord and Savior revolves around an employee’s interaction with a zealous Christian. The Empty Sky is the haunting tale of a childless senior citizen. Three of the best of the collection, in my opinion, are: The Serpent Box, which deals with snake handlers, two drifters, the crime they commit, and the agony of revenge; Night Terrors, about a one-night stand gone wrong; and Our Violence, about a widowed father with two sons, a plot of land, and how the father’s intense faith inspires one son and turns the other away.

The goal of a writer is to entertain, and Hinkson does that and more.

His characters, particularly when he mixes in religious fundamentalism, compel you to see them as people, even though you may not like them or agree with them. Sometimes, the danger of fundamentalist and religious zeal is evident (Saint Homicide). At other times, the gullibility of religious people is demonstrated as they are snowed by a smile and the right words (Hell on Church Street). The religious people want to trust someone. In some cases, particularly in the short stories, you see people who believe to their bones. The ripples and dangers of their belief seems apparent to all around, alienating family and friends, but not to them. In a sense, it makes you feel for them, even though they can be held partially responsible for what occurs (Our Violence in The Deepening Shade).

As a reader, I enjoy Hinkson’s writing. I can read these stories again and again. As a writer, he gives me a level to which to aspire.

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What I’m Reading (Dec 2014)

Another Christmas season done and dusted with even a bit of time for reading, watching, and writing. 2015 looks to have some exciting books coming and I am eager for their release.

BOOKS

Book of the Month: A Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler by Tom Williams. For maybe the second time in 2014, a non-fiction book tops the list. Chandler is known for the detective character he created, Philip Marlowe, and the books about him. Chandler wrote some of the first crime novels I read and he played an influential part in my wanting to write crime novels. This is the second biography I’ve read of Chandler and the author provides a thorough and entertaining biography of the writer. Born in the US, reared in England, and Chandler returned to the US in his twenties and settled in Los Angeles just as the city’s boom started. He worked as a bookkeeper for years and never appeared to express interest in writing crime stories until he lost his job. He started out writing for the pulp magazines and a couple of years later, at age 51, he published the first Philip Marlowe novel. Chandler’s books never sold great, but Hollywood recognized his skill and he found work as a screenwriter. A lifelong battle with alcohol proved to be his undoing, and his problem increased after the death of his wife. Fascinating life and a good biography.

The World of Raymond Chandler by Barry Day (his life in words) attempts to tell the life of Chandler through his letters and excerpts from his books.

I read the biography of another crime writer, Dashiel Hammett: Man of Mystery by Sally Cline. Chandler, Hammet, and James Cain were recognized as the three preeminent crime writers of the pulp era. Whereas Chandler’s books didn’t sell great until later, Hammett’s books were an immediate success. He only produced five novels and published nothing over the last half of his life. Like Chandler, Hammett suffered from an addiction to alcohol along with a number of other maladies. Also, a thorough and fascinating biography.

Last month, I raved about Allan Guthrie and this month I completed my reading of his novels. Bad Men is great and Savage Night is superb- both are dark, crime novels. In Savage Night, when you think it can’t get any worse for the characters or any darker, it does. Hilda’s Day Out is a collection of short stories and contains some real gems. I’m awaiting Guthrie’s next release.

Pantani: Debunking the Murder Myth by Andrea Rossini (translated by Matt Rendell) is an intriguing account of the death of Marco Pantani, the great Italian cyclist. The police concluded he died of a cocaine overdose, but recently people have sought to re-open the case, believing Pantani was murdered. The author recounts Pantini’s last days and reviews the evidence, which he concludes points to a cocaine overdose.

I also read Saturday’s Child and Sucker Punch by Ray Banks (the Cal Innes series), The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (a fascinating fable), and Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

TV & FILM

Many have highlighted The Honourable Woman, a spy-thriller set in the Middle East, and produced by the BBC. It is superb. Highly recommended. Available on Netflix.

I made the annual trek to the movie theater, this time for The Hobbit (Part 3). The best part of the movie- my son enjoyed it. Me, not so much.

It seems as though I watched another movie, but I can’t recall what it was, so it must not have been that great.

WRITING

I am polishing up the draft five of my latest book, They Took Me Granted, and then it’s off to a couple of trusted readers for comments. A year ago, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the story and wanted to dump it and start over. While looking out a window, I had an idea. With that idea, I’ve dove back into the book and have worked on it all year long. This might be the hardest I’ve worked on a story.

I held out hopes of publishing it in 2014, but that didn’t happen. Obviously. After publishing 2 books in 2012, and 1 in 2013, I wanted to keep the streak alive, but it didn’t happen. Not for lack of effort.

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What I’m Reading (November 2014)

Thanksgiving- a time of family, friends, food, migraines (maybe just for me), and hopefully for you, a little reading. I have this habit when it comes to reading- if I enjoy a book by an author new to me, and the author has written other books, I try to read those books before moving on to something else. This month I may have taken that to an extreme.

BOOKS

Book of the Month: Slammer by Allan Guthrie, a crime novelist from Scotland. I’ve seen the name Allan Guthrie for a few years, but for whatever reason, I never got around to reading any of his books until this month. I started with Two Way Split, which I enjoyed. I worked my way through his backlist- Bye Bye Baby, Killing Mum, Kill Clock, and Kiss Her Goodbye, and eventually, Slammer. Slammer is the sort of book you have to pay close attention to while reading. The narrator is delusional, psychotic, drug-addicted, and paranoid whose life is falling apart. His downfall begins when he takes a job as a prison guard and is coerced into bringing drugs into the prison for an inmate. It all goes downhill from there.

Evil and The Mask by Fuminori Nakamura. A psychological thriller. I’ve read Nakamura’s previous book, The Thief, and I had marked this one to read as well, but for whatever reason it took me some time to get it. The story moves back and forth between the childhood of the main character and his present day, where he has undergone a complete facial plastic surgery to conceal his identity. Does a new face change who he is or who his father wanted him to be? As a young child, his father told him he planned to raise him to be a cancer on the world. Does his father succeed?

Other books I read this month:  The Black House and The Lewis Man (books 1 and 2 of The Lewis Trilogy) by Peter May, Billy Joel by Fred Schruers, and 400 Things Cops Know by Adam Plantinga (knowing a few cops, this book seemed spot on).

TV & FILM

I managed to get some watching in this month:

  • Happy Valley, a six episode crime show show from the BBC and available on Netflix. This one reminded me of the FX show Fargo. If you liked it, you’ll enjoy Happy Valley.
  • The Worricker Trilogy, (Page Eight, Turks and Caicos, and Salting the Battlefield) a three episode spy thriller from Masterpiece Theater. Each episode runs about an hour and a half and follows the English spy Johnny Worricker, as he tries to unveil the dark secrets of the prime minister and those who support him.
  • The Prestige, a movie by Christopher Nolan, which takes place at the turn of the century as two magicians become caught in a fierce rivalry with deadly consequences.
  • With the exception of one or two, I’ve seen and enjoyed the recent slate of 30 for 30 documentaries from ESPN.

WRITING

Draft four of They Took Me For Granted, my next crime novel is finished, and I’m working through another draft, which is going much faster. After I finish this draft, I plan on having a couple people take a look at it and give me some feedback.

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What I’m Reading (October 2014)

Towards the end of the month, I had the beginning of this post planned. I figured I’d write something along the lines of, “Some months, you might read a bunch of books, enjoy them all, but none of them blow you away. Such is October 2014.” But then I experienced the most pleasant surprise. A book I couldn’t put down. I read the last 150 pages in one sitting.

Book of the Month: Malice by Keigo Higashino. At first, this Japanese mystery appeared to be another locked room mystery. A person has been killed, yet the the house is locked. The persons with a key to the house have an alibi. Who killed the deceased and how did they do it? Malice is not your typical locked room mystery. The answer to the who and the how question is answered in the first third of the book, which left me wondering what the rest of the book would be about it. Malice is not a who done it, but a why done it. Malice grabs your attention and has you questioning and rethinking what you’ve read in the other parts of the book. Superb. I also read his previous book to be published in English, Salvation of a Saint.

Fiction

As soon as I heard about The Big Ugly by Jake Hinkson I wanted to read it, and I bought it on the first day it became available. That’s a testament to how much I enjoyed his previous three books, which I consider classic southern noir.  With The Big Ugly, perhaps my expectations were too high, but I didn’t love it like I thought I might. I think I might have been expecting something along the lines of his previous books, and this one, albeit set in the south and a noir book, is a slight departure. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I’m going to read this one again. Hinkson remains one of my favorites and I’m anticipating his short story collection due to be released next year.

Other works of fiction I read this month:

The Ploughman by Kim Zupan, Winter Sleep by Kenzo Kitakata,  The Good Life by Frank Wheeler Jr, The Tower by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman, and Dove Season by Johnny Shaw.

Non-fiction

As I’ve mentioned before, I listen to quite a few podcasts, and this month I heard an interview with Lawrence Block by Brian Koppelman on his podcast. Block is famous mystery writer, but not one I’ve read a great deal of. He mentioned a memoir of sorts he’d written, which had to do with race walking. Maybe it was something he said about the book, or the fact that the topic seemed rather odd. I never thought I’d read a book on race walking, but Step by Step is more than a book on race walking. It’s about writing, life, wanting to give up, and forging one’s own path through life.  Excellent book. I also read Afterthoughts, a collection of introductions he recently wrote to most of his books.

I also read The Getaway Car by Donald Westlake (a collection of essays on writing and such), and Scribe: My Life in Sports by Bob Ryan.

TV, Movies, Documentaries, Podcasts:

You must listen to Serial: This American Life a weekly podcast, and you must start at episode 1. It’s the story of a murder of a high school girl in 1999 and her ex-boyfriend who was convicted of the crime. The reporter interviews the convicted, family members, friends, and conflicting accounts of the relationship and the events of that day become quickly apparent. I was hooked after one episode.

I finished season two of Rectify. I liked it, but not as much as season one.

Book Update

They Took Me For Granted is coming along. I’ve got 30-40 pages left to edit in this draft, and I’m at the point in the process where the story has come together. I’m not sure how I’m going to proceed once I finish. I may inquire with some agents to see if they’ll represent me with this book. We’ll see.

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Take A Chance

Take a chance on yourself, an opportunity, a project, an endeavor, a job, a relationship, a physical challenge, on something. Analyze if you must, and I’m prone to do that to death, take the necessary precautions, which I’m also known to do, but eventually, and maybe before you’re ready, step off and take a chance.

What might happen?

You might fail, and it might hurt. Nobody likes those outcomes, but you’ll learn far more by failing than by succeeding, which means I’ve probably learned a lot. Of course, when success does come your way, it tastes much sweeter because of the failure. You appreciate the work and the effort to get there.

That little voice in your head telling you to wait and coming up with a million excuses as to why you shouldn’t take a chance, he never goes away. He’ll always be there trying to talk you out of whatever chance-taking opportunity you’re considering.

A little over a year ago, a friend suggested I apply for a job with his company. Was I interested? Absolutely. Was it a drastic departure from what I’d been doing? Yes. Did I believe I could do the job? Pretty much, and what I didn’t know I believed I could learn and learn fast. Did I think I had a chance at the job? Not a shot. I almost didn’t apply.

What a mistake it would’ve been. I got the job, and it’s been a great year.

Around the same time last year, I published my first crime novel, the third book I’ve published, and my first novel. Every book is an experience in taking a chance. Will anyone read it? If they do, will they like it? Or will they hate it? Writing a book is an egotistical, audacious act- I wrote this, now read it. Today!

(please)

(pretty, pretty, please)

I’m not retiring to a beach anywhere, which wasn’t the goal, or winning any prizes for my writing, although that might be nice, but I took a chance and wrote three books. I plan to keep doing so.

Ah, but those are two that worked out, what about the ones that didn’t? There are plenty of them, and I’d be lying to you if I said that some of them didn’t sting at the time. Some still sting. I’ve made some mistakes in friendships, and sometimes that has cost me a friend or two or three.

I’ve changed jobs, always with the best intentions, and on occasion, I’ve made a choice that didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. Once I had to choose between two companies in the same field. I chose the startup over the established company, and the startup went bankrupt inside of a year. Another time I took a job that proved to be a disappointment, not at all as I’d expected or hoped. One of the few positives, other than what I learned about myself, was meeting the guy who later emailed me about the job I have today. I’d have never met him otherwise.

Take a chance.

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What I’m Reading (September 2014)

September is one of my favorite months of the year. It might have something to do with it being the month of my birthday, although who likes being reminded that they’re a year older, but I’d like to believe it has to do with the fall weather and the release of new books. Perhaps, it may have something to do with me receiving some amazon.com gift card money- courtesy of my birthday-  to splurge on some books I was too cheap to purchase on my own. The irony of someone who buys 10-12 books a month being too cheap to splurge on a $15 kindle book is not lost on me. It is, however, a true statement.

Some good books this month, and I had a hard time picking a Book of the Month.

Book of the month: Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer. Patterson Wells is drifting after the death of his son. He made bad choices before his son’s death, and the pattern continues. He wants to disappear, from society, from his past, from his present, and maybe even from himself. This is a superb novel, even if it is a crime novel, depicting the sadness of human life and the cycle of people making bad choices and suffering the consequences of their actions. What makes this book stand out, aside from the quality of the writing, the stark descriptions of the landscape, are the letters from Patterson to his dead son. Interspersed throughout the book, they are sad, emotionally-charged, and elevate this book to another level. They alone are worth reading.

Fiction:

Q Road by Bonnie Jo Campbell. One country road and a whole of lot of odd neighbors. Some are trying to preserve their way of life, while others are trying to bring the country to the city. Polite to one another on the surface, but anger, resentment, jealously, and lust bubbles underneath among these neighbors. Oh, and there’s murder or two as well. Quite entertaining.

The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is one of my favorite writers and this book, recently published, received great reviews. The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki differs from 1Q84 or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I enjoyed it a great deal. Some compared it to Sputnik Sweetheart. On a return trip from college, Tsukuru Tazaki, is cut off from his four high school friends without explanation. They no longer want to see him or even talk to him. Years pass, and a girlfriend challenges him to find why his friends excommunicated him from the group without explanation. She believes this cutting off traumatized Tsukuru and hinders his ability to engage in relationships. Almost made this my book of the month.

The Cage and Ashes by Kenzo Kitakata. I almost never buy actual physical books anymore. Ebooks are cheaper, I can read them anywhere, and they don’t take up space in the house. If a book isn’t available as an e-book, I almost always pass and wait for the publisher to get with it. My youngest brother sent me The Cage by Kitakata, which is only available in paperback, which isn’t available as an e-book. I would’ve missed out on some wonderful Japanese noir. A middle-aged businessman who had left a life of crime is drawn back to the underworld with potentially disastrous consequences. I found Kitakata’s work so amazing, I bought the other three books of his translated into English, and also not available as e-books. Ashes was tremendous as well. I can’t remember the last time I read an actual book.

I also read Piggyback by Tom Pitts and Missing by Sam Hawken.

Non-fiction:

The Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn. A seemingly encyclopedic review of Texas BBQ. Vaughn is now the BBQ editor for Texas Monthly. His book increased my hunger for BBQ, if that’s possible, and gave me a better understanding of what makes good BBQ and how some places prepare it. After reading this book, I couldn’t wait to have some more brisket. I drove to Waco for the Waco Wild West, rode 67 miles on my bike, and then, in great hunger, I drove to a popular Waco BBQ restaurant only to be severely disappointed. With my new knowledge, I could tell the minute the cashier handed me my food that I wouldn’t be enjoying the meal. With one look, I could tell the meat had been overcooked and would lack taste. One bite proved me right. I tried a whole lot of BBQ sauce on it, but this meal couldn’t be rescued.

Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe by Charles Kelly. I’ve read one book by the noir master Dan J. Marlowe, but I had no clue about the chaotic life he’d lived. A public servant who served on the city council, a man who corresponded with and helped a notorious bank robber, and a writer of some of the most brutal pulp novels, not to mention a few ‘adult’ novels, which he wrote to supplement his income. When his wife died, he packed up, moved to a new city, and launched his quest to become a writer, which succeeded. Twenty-odd years later, he suffered a stroke which robbed him of his memory. He would read his own books and not even recognize them. That bank robber he assisted, he returned the favor by helping Marlowe recover. A great book.

I also read A Spy Among Friends by Ben MacIntyre (about the infamous British spy who turned out to be a double-agent for the Russians), and Books, Movies, Rhythm, Blues by Nick Hornby

Documentaries, TV, and Movies:

As for TV, I’m slowly working through Rectify from Sundance, and I found time to watch The Fault In Our Stars. Like the book, it’s a tear-jerker.

Writing Update:

I managed to find time to write a blog post this month: 45 Great Things From My 45 Years.

As for my next book, it’s coming along, and yes, I know I keep saying the same thing every month. However, I have decided on a title – They Took Me For Granted. Coming??? Eventually.

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