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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

45 Great Things From My 45 Years

On September 16th (Tuesday for those of you without a calendar handy), I’m turning 45. 45! Where did the time go? In celebration of, or in remembrance of, I compiled a list of 45 great things from my 45 years. What puts a smile on my face? What’s most important to me? What do I like most about life? What are the things I want to remember (while I still can)?

You’ll see some expected items, even a few that might qualify as sappy, but you’ll also find more than a few atypical items. For me, those unique items provide the color that enriches and distinguishes one life from another. It’s what makes you and I different.

What are you going to learn about me? I like to eat, read, write, and ride a bike.

By the way, as you peruse the list and see the many food items I’ve highlighted, you should keep in mind that those foods, enjoyable and delicious as they are, are not a daily staple in my diet. Unfortunately. However, one of the side benefits of riding a bike so much is the freedom to indulge a bit more than I should.

Anyway, here’s the list:

  1. The Wife – For the last 25 years, she’s been a near daily presence in my life. She puts up with a lot, as you’ll see from the list below, and in return I’m not sure she’s getting equal value, unless doing the shopping and cooking counts more than I think. Regardless, I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll keep saying it, I cannot imagine who or what I’d be without her. (Don’t worry, this list won’t be a sapfest.)
  2. My son – I’m not padding the list here by adding my son as a separate item. How do you even begin to describe the joy that a child brings? He can wrap his arms around my chest and make the frustrations of the day go away. (And no, you cynics, he’s not reaching for my wallet. At least I don’t think he is.)
  3. My two brothers – One day, we’re chasing each other around the house and yard (sometimes in fun, and sometimes while swinging a baseball bat), and the next day we’re living in three separate cities. Growing up, it seemed like you two would be a daily presence in my life forever, and I never imagined a life apart from you. We don’t see each other enough, and no one is to blame, but I look forward to every time we’re together again. You guys are amazing.
  4. Friends – If I wanted to pad the list, I’d list you all separately. Of course, you could also accuse me of hiding those persons I’m not too fond of by refusing to name the friends who mean the most to me. But then you might be a cynic. I’ve lived in San Antonio, Austin, Seguin, Abilene, Ovilla, Arlington, and a few other places, and I’ve always been fortunate enough to make new friends who’ve enriched my life. I’m a lucky man. (Enough with the sappiness.)
  5. Breakfast tacos- Now we’re getting somewhere. FOOD. Eggs, cheese, a dash of salsa, and bacon or sausage. The perfect way to start a day, or as I have started doing, the perfect mid-ride snack. I like mine the best, but I’ll settle for a batch from Fuzzy’s Tacos or Rudy’s BBQ or even Smokey Mo’s when I’m in Austin. By the way, when did it become popular for BBQ restaurants to start serving breakfast tacos (not that I’m complaining)?
  6. Iced tea – You never saw my Dad without a glass of tea nearby, and I am the same. No coffee or hot tea for us, we like our tea on ice. I can drink it without or without sugar, unlike Dad who required copious amounts of sugar in his. Each morning I start the day with a glass of iced tea- not juice, not coffee, but iced tea.
  7. Chili - The first food item I ever learned to make, and to be honest, it took me awhile before I found just the right mixture of ingredients. Nothing hits the spot like a good bowl of chili. I love to get it started on a cold morning, let it simmer all day, and fill the house with its smell.
  8. Homemade flour tortillas – Or as close to homemade as you can get. Here’s how you can tell if you have a good flour tortilla – does it leave a residue of flour on your hand? If it feels like plastic, then leave it in the plastic bag it came in. Eat them plain, slathered with butter or guacamole, or fill them with nearly any type of meat or vegetable. HEB, Taco Cabana- you feed my addiction nicely.
  9. San Antonio puffy tacos – Here’s what you need to know about these puffy tacos to understand their allure. Dad, upon being released from the hospital after a surgery to clear to a clogged artery (and no I don’t remember which time this was) demanded I drive him to Jacala’s henrys-puffy-tacoMexican restaurant on West Avenue in San Antonio where he proceeded to order a half
    dozen puffy tacos. I protested his dietary choice given his recent medical procedure, but he failed to hear my words as I was busy stuffing my own mouth with some puffy tacos. Dad devised his own homemade recipe and cooked them on Sunday afternoons, filling the house with smoke, which nobody minded. Corn tortillas, fried till puffy yet still soft, and filled with meat, cheese, salt, pepper, and salsa. I was pretty much useless after those Sunday lunches. A number of restaurants in San Antonio serve them, and I must have them when I visit. I don’t know why anyone outside of San Antonio (especially in the Dallas-Forth Worth area) has not started serving them. They are the best. My only regret- Dad never taught me his recipe, and I’ve never been able to get mine to taste like his.
  10. Warm and chewy chocolate chip cookies (preferably with nuts)- Homemade is best, because you can eat them straight out of the oven, if you haven’t over indulged on the cookie dough. Who am I kidding? Even if I have gorged on cookie dough, I’m eating those cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. In a pinch, a dozen or so from a bakery will do. If you happen to work near Tiff’s Treats, they’ll deliver warm cookies to your office.
  11. Ice Cream – I like ice cream, but I didn’t become a raving ice cream addict until I tried Brusters Real Ice Cream. Unfortunately, the location near us closed last year, and it’s been a bit of an ice cream drought lately. Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip, New York Style Cheesecake, S’mores, and Pumpkin, I miss you. I think we started having family night as an excuse to go to Brusters. Don’t worry, I’m avoiding withdrawals thanks to Blue Bell. Is it bad to plan a vacation trip to Florida around a stop at Brusters? I didn’t think so either.
  12. Fudge Brownies (preferably with nuts)- In the second and third grade, I walked home from school and passed a barbecue restaurant in a red building on West Avenue. The front display case, next to the cash register, contained a tray of freshly-made fudge brownies. Other kids might’ve spent their money at the ice cream truck or the sno-cone stand, but I stopped for brownies. I’ll still stop for brownies.
  13. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – Chocolate and peanut butter, how could you go wrong? They also mix quite well inside a DQ Blizzard.
  14. Mexican food – Tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, tamales, fajitas, beans (black, charro, and refried), rice, tortilla soup, chips, salsa (I may have four open containers in the fridge), queso, and guacamole (homemade, of course). Nothing else need be said. If the question is ‘Do you want to go out for Mexican food?’ then the answer is always ‘Yes.’
  15. Sub sandwiches – A nice wheat roll piled high with deli meat, pepper jack cheese (preferably), lettuce, tomato, onions, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and bit of oregano. Jersey Mike’s is right down the road from the office, and let’s just say the discovery of their mobile ordering app, thereby allowing me to bypass their long lines, made for a very good day.
  16. BBQ – I’m from Texas and live in Texas, so yes, I love BBQ. Brisket, pulled pork, sausage, and when done right, turkey and chicken. Psst, by the way, brisket or sausage inside a homemade flour tortilla makes a great meal. And no, I cannot pick a favorite BBQ restaurant. Too many.
  17. Roasted vegetables – Hey, I’m all about the vegetable as well. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Asparagus, Corn, or Brussels Sprouts- drizzle a bit of olive oil, add some salt, pepper, and garlic, and then roast them in the oven till just right. Phenomenal.
  18. The Thanksgiving meal – Thanksgiving might be my favorite meal of the year. Start cooking on Wednesday night and continue first thing in the morning on Thursday. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing (whatever you want to call it), gravy made from the drippings (which I could eat as a meal by itself), some roasted vegetables, and biscuits. This might be the one day of the year I could forgo dessert, having tasted so much food while cooking, and then eating the meal itself, but, as you might imagine, I can’t resist the dessert table. Okay, that’s enough of the food.
  19. Reading – How this one slipped so far down the list proves my list should not be considered a ranking in order of importance (except for the first two). I’ve had a book in my hands as long as I can remember, and since college I’ve been devouring 8-12 books a month on all sorts of subjects. Ebooks have been a lifeline, saving me money on the cost of purchases and keeping me in the good graces of my wife as the books are no longer spilling out into other parts of the house. The upside of ebooks, or perhaps the downside, is that I can have my entire library with me at any time, which means I can read ANYWHERE ANYTIME. And I do.
  20. Riding a bike – Another one that seems too far down the list. I started on a bike in kindergarten, but I didn’t fall in love with riding a bike until the fourth grade when we moved to Seguin. The bike gave me a sense of freedom and discovery as Mom let me ride all over town. In my thirties, I picked up riding a bike again, and have become a bit of dedicated nut about it. Cold, hot, windy, hilly, or flat, I’ll ride almost anywhere in nearly any conditions, although I’m not much of a fan of riding in the rain. And yes, I take my bike with me on vacation. If you see me twitching in the corner, it’s because I haven’t ridden one of my bikes in a few days (yes, I own more than one- all Treks). On occasion, certain family members have strongly suggested I go for a bike ride. That is love.
  21. Riding a bike on country roads – I’m all in favor of bike lanes in the city, and I never hesitate to ride in the city, even after being hit by a truck (and I lived to write a book about it- shameless plug- available at amazon). BUT, I love wandering along a desolate, two-lane country road with only the occasional car passing. Just me, my bike, the open land, and some farm animals. I sometimes wonder what those horses and cows think when they see me speed by (a relative term, I’ll admit) clad in lycra and adorned with a helmet hunched over two wheeled pedaling machine.
  22. Writing – Next to reading books and riding a bike, writing is one of those things I love to do. It relaxes me, helps me focus, and clear my thoughts. I’m not sure I understand why. Maybe it’s an extension of loving to read and wanting to give other people some pleasure in reading. I don’t know. I only know I have to do it, and I would continue writing even if no one read what I wrote.
  23. Hoosiers (the movie) – I saw Hoosiers the night I graduated from high school. Other people went to parties, and I went to the movies. Probably an early trend being played out in my adult life. I’d like to think I enjoyed the movie for the story, or because I happened to be obsessed with basketball at the time, but it might also be due to the nostalgia of that day in my life – one period ending and another beginning. Sort of the theme of the movie as well. If I happen to run across Hoosiers on TV, I always stop and watch.
  24. Basketball – Growing up, I spent most of my time on the basketball court. Before school, at lunch, after school, and all day Saturday and Sunday. When we moved to a new city, I looked for two things right away, the nearest basketball court and the library. I didn’t let the weather conditions bother me- heat, cold, wind- I was shooting hoops. Sometimes, I played until my fingertips bled. When I wasn’t playing basketball, I watched it on TV. My knees can’t take the jumping and running anymore, and I switched my enthusiasm to cycling, but every once in awhile, I’ll pick up a ball and shoot a few baskets.
  25. Memories – Collect as many good ones as possible, and appreciate the bad ones once they’re in the rearview mirror, even though I’m no different than anyone else in wanting to forget them. Good and bad have played a role in shaping who I am. I consider myself fortunate to have built up a bank of good memories. If you and I go somewhere where I’ve lived or worked, I can usually bore you with some recollection about my time there. A few weeks ago, we stopped in Seguin for the morning. I bored the wife and son by showing them both houses where I’d lived, the skating rink my step-dad managed, the hospital where my youngest brother was born, the library I frequented, the elementary schools I attended, and the hill we rode our bikes down. I pointed out where the Dairy Queen used to be, the Mr. Gatti’s where we ate cheese pizza every Saturday night, and the Palace movie theater in downtown my brothers and I frequented. I even bored my wife and child by pointing out the electric pole where we used to lock our bikes when we went to the movies. Memories. I hope to have ‘em a long time.
  26. The Austin-San Antonio corridor - I’ve lived in Arlington for nearly as much time as I lived along the Austin-San Antonio corridor, but that place still has a hold on me. I love to visit as much as I can, although most of my trips tend to be to Austin these days.
  27. The Florida coast (specifically the Redneck Rivera) -
    I could labor on with a bunch of words, and they would fail to do justice to the scenery. If this is what you get to look at it while riding a bike or going for a walk, wouldn’t you want to go back?photo
  28. Libraries – I’ve spent untold hours hidden inside a library. As a kid, I loved nothing more than grabbing a stack of books on a subject, sitting down, and immersing myself in the subject matter. Even in elementary school, I stopped at the school library nearly every day, exchanging one book for another, and in college I spent many afternoons and evenings there.
  29. Bookstores – Before ebooks came along, I stopped at various bookstores two and three times a week to to roam the aisles and see what new books had been released. If I went out of town, I made it a point to check out as many bookstores as possible-  chains, independents, and used book stores. It was not uncommon for me to come home from a trip with stacks of books. On a trip to Sanibel Island, I stopped at a local bookstore where the owner insisted I read a book by a local author. I read the book that afternoon, and returned the next day to buy the other three she’d been pushing me to get. From one book lover to another. As much as I love ebooks, scrolling through a website just isn’t the same.
  30. Flannery O’Connor - The first Southern goth writer I ever encountered. Reading her stories and novels is to be transposed to a different world. Many try to imitate, but no one comes close.
  31. Huraki Murakami – A celebrated Japanese author who blends unique elements and crosses genres. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I’ve read numerous times, is just amazing.
  32. David Foster Wallace – The smartest, funniest writer I ever came across. I’m one of those people who read Infinite Jest, all 1,076 pages. To think, he cut 500 pages from the manuscript. When I finished that book, I sat there in awe at his abilities. When I read his non-fiction, particularly A Funny Thing I’ll Never Do Again, I became even more amazed.
  33. Mystery and crime fiction – I don’t just like mystery and crime novels, I love them. I started with the American, particularly the American private eye (the grand master himself Raymond Chandler) and have spanned the genre from the British to the Noridic to the Japanese and back to Southern noir, which is my favorite. I love the genre so much, I even wrote my own mystery novel (shameless plug number two, also available at amazon. By the way, if you’re looking for a warm, fuzzy, feel-good mystery with a happy ending, buy mine, BUT don’t read it. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller with murder, mayhem, and deceit- buy mine AND read it.)
  34. Ken Bruen - Bruen is the master noir writer in my opinion. Lyrical, poetic, and unlike any other crime writer. He’s pure genius.
  35. Jo Nesbo – He’s turned into a crime-writing powerhouse selling millions of copies of his books. Whereas Bruen is poetic, brief, and stark, Nesbo knocks you between the eyes with brutality. What kind of man thinks of these things?
  36. The first paragraph of The Bird Artist by Howard Norman – The single best opening paragraph to a novel I have ever read. I cannot count the times I have pulled this book off the shelf and re-read this paragraph. “My name is Fabian Vas. I live in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. You would not have heard of me. Obscurity is not necessarily failure, though; I am a bird artist, and have more or less made a living at it. Yet I murdered the lighthouse keeper, Botho August, and that is equal part of how I think of myself.
  37. Frederick Buechner – I stumbled upon his books in college, and I’ve read his memoirs countless times. In his third memoir, Telling Secrets, he writes of the helplessness of being a parent, and in his fourth, The Eyes of The Heart, he describes the pain of his brother’s passing. More than any other book, I’ve given and recommended his four memoirs.
  38. On Writing by Stephen King – How you write by one of the most prolific writers. Excellent book.
  39. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – Read and recommended multiple times. Phenomenal book. How do you write? Put your rear in the chair and get to work. It’s also how you live.
  40. Jack Logan - On random chance, I happened to walk by a TV one morning, turned it on, and saw a three minute segment about a musical artist, Jack Logan, from Georgia who’d been discovered. His discovery faded fast, but his debut album, BULK, a two-disc collection of forty-two songs, recorded over a period of time, garnered great reviews, and I consider it one of the best albums I own. I’ve listened to it thousands of times. He has an ability to tell mesmerizing stories. Can I pick a favorite? ‘New Used Car and A Plate of BBQ,’ ‘Optimist,’ ‘Floating Cowboy,’ ‘Drunken Arms,’ ‘Terminal Gate,’ and ‘Towne Crier.’ No, I cannot pick one favorite. Logan has released multiple albums since then on a variety of labels, and he always finds a new story to tell, be it ‘Alison Hilliard,’ from Tinker, or ‘Rained Like Hell‘ from Little Private Angel.
  41. Quiet Company – One of my brothers raved about this Austin band for years, and I finally gave them a listen. There’s a reason they’ve been voted Austin Band of The Year. My favorite song, if I had to pick one, is ‘It’s Better To Spend Money Like Theirs No Tomorrow Than Spend Tonight Like There’s No Money’ from We Are All Where We Belong. Simple, stark, and beautiful.
  42. Podcasts – My favorite part of the drive to work. Actually, the only thing I enjoy about the drive to work. I can queue up a podcast, and learn something new.
  43. iPad – With one device, I can read books and magazines, listen to music and podcasts, watch TV shows and movies and even professional cycling, search for the nearest restaurant and maybe place an order, store my recipes, check out new roads to ride my bike on, and keep track of my friends and family. On one little device. If they could only figure out a way for it to make the meals and desserts I enjoy, and take care of all the mundane tasks with which I waste too much time (like mowing the yard), then it would be truly perfect. Until then.
  44. Words of wisdom – They don’t come along too often, so when they do, collect them, write them down, hold on to them, and most of all, never forget them.
  45. Mom and Dad – A lot of what’s on this list is due to my parents, so they deserve their own separate category. First, they gave me the genetic material which created me, and then in their own ways, they shaped and molded me. Dad, you sent me a letter when I turned 39, perhaps the only letter you ever sent me, and I still have it. For a long time, I carried it with me in my backpack, but then I got wiser and put it in a safe place at home. I read it a few times every year. Mom, you gave me a Christmas card with a two sentence note the Christmas before you passed. Nobody knew you were sick at the time, but as with Dad, I’ve kept that card and I re-read every year. The words you both wrote have meant a great deal to me. Mom, thank you for standing up to your doctor in 1969. Your back hurt and you knew something wasn’t right. If you hadn’t trusted your gut and raised a fuss, I might not be here. Thank you. My upbringing may have been a bit chaotic and certainly not normal, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I miss you both greatly and wish you were here. There are things I’d like to tell you, such as you’re proving to be more right than I ever gave you credit, but most of all I’d like to see your face and hear your voice.

There you go- 45 great things from 45 years. I don’t plan on doing one of these at 46. I’m holding out till 90, when blogs will probably be holograms or something like that. Now it’s time to celebrate my birthday (Yeah, I always start early) and enjoy some of these great things. Thanks for reading.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment