What I’m Reading (Jan 2016)

2016 began with a fair amount of traveling (Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Phoenix), all work-related mind you, and the foreseeable future forecasts more of the same. One would think with all that time on airplanes that I might’ve read more, but a few of those flights were spent working, so alas, just the normal ten or so books again.

Dispatches From Pluto by Richard Grant. Grant happens to be one of my favorite travel writers (see his other two books, which are great) and so I eagerly picked up this new tome. It’s a different sort of travel book. Grant moves to Mississippi with his girlfriend and they embark on a new life in a small-town, which is a far cry from New York, where they’d previously lived. All told, another excellent book from Grant.

Recently, I read an essay, which turned out to be an excerpt from When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a intelligent and somewhat young doctor diagnosed with cancer. At first, the treatment succeeds allowing him to return to his work, but then the cancer returns. The end you can guess. These are his thoughts, well-written, well-told, and last two paragraphs, particularly the last one, might be the best part of the entire book.

Speaking of his eight-month old daughter and the message he wants to leave her, he wrote:

“When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unbeknownst to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

Tom Nolan and Suzanne Marrs compiled the correspondence between two writers, Eudora Welty and Ross MacDonald, who became close friends. Meanwhile There Are Letters provides an intimate look into a friendship that spanned years. Yes, the letters were never meant for public eyes, but they are fascinating to read, a picture of friendship unmatched.

Of course, no month is replete without a couple of noir and mystery books. Made To Kill is a different sort of noir book. Set in the 1950’s, the main character is a robot whose memory lasts only a day, works as a private detective, and has a secret job as a paid hit-man. Throw in Hollywood, nuclear war, and Russian spies and you have an entertaining tale.

John McFedtridge is a name people mention again and again as a writer’s writer of crime fiction. Black Rock is set in Canada in the late 1960’s and follows a policeman who gets involved in the investigation of a murder while most of the police efforts are spent on diffusing bombs throughout the city. Dirty Sweet is a modern day crime novel, also set in Canada, and includes drug dealers, gangers, internet moguls, and a desperate real estate agent. I’m continuing to read more of his books.

Somewhere, somehow, my interest was peeked in the writings of Kierkegaard again. I know, crime fiction to existentialism. Maybe it isn’t such a leap, come to think of it. There’s a new biography of Kierkegaard coming in the Fall, so in the meantime I found a series of introductory books called, How To Read. So far, I’ve read How to Read Kierkegaard and How To Read Nietzsche (although I’m not I understand Nietzsche anymore than before).

Three more round out the month. The Genius of Michael Jackson by Steve Knopper purports to be the exhaustive biography of Jackson. The book felt like a cursory overview; however, an in-depth look at all the crazy events of his life might be a two thousand page book.

On the Move by Oliver Sacks is a snapshot autobiography of his life. Startling to me was the drug addiction he struggled with as a young doctor. Lastly, He Killed Them All by Jeanine Pirro, is about the case of Robert Durst. Another crazy story.

As for any viewing, I watched a documentary or two, but nothing that stands out. Especially since I can’t remember the title.

I think January might be the first month in some time where I’ve read more non-fiction than fiction.

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What I’m Reading (Dec 2015)

Another day, another month, another year. December came and went fast, as it seems 2015 did. For once, I can’t say that I read anything that blew me away or that stood out from the others. They were good reads, but nothing great.

Of course, I’m reading a couple of books right now that are outstanding, but I haven’t finished them yet. Next month…

Overall, 2015 was great year for reading. I discovered some new authors (Malcolm MacKay, Don Winslow), introduced myself to some old ones (Jim Thompson, Harry Whittington), read some by my favorites (Ken Bruen, Jake Hinkson, Jo Nesbo), and enjoyed some other good books The Long and Faraway Gone, The Marauders, The Mockingbird Next Door, and My Father, The Pornographer.

BOOKS

Here’s a list of what I read this month:

  • Sharecropper Hell by Jim Thompson. You should read Jim Thompson. You really should. He is one of the best.
  • The End of Everything by Megan Abbott- A creepy, tense novel about the abduction of a teenage girl. Nothing and no one is how they seem. The age of innocence falls away through the eyes of thirteen year old Lizzie Hood
  • You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott- I read an advance copy of this one. What parents and coaches will do in the world of competitive female gymnastics to try to get to the highest echelons.
  • Cemetery Road and Assume Nothing by Gar Anthony Haywood- Solid crime fiction.
  • Alphabet Land by Max Eberhart- Good noir.
  • Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K Dick by Lawrence Sutin. After watching The Man in the High Castle on Amazon, I became interested in the life of Philip K. Dick. Very interesting life of a man who was able to produce many great books while struggling to keep a grip on reality.
  • Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church. If you’ve seen the movie Spotlight, this is the book and stories on which it is based.
  • The Legends Club by John Feinstein. I read an advance copy of this as well. Feinstein does a solid job as always, telling the story of three coaches in the ACC- Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, and Mike Krzyzewski.
  • Exploring Calvin and Hobbes– Contains a lengthy interview with Bill Waterson.

TV & FILM

It’s cold (somewhat cold) outside, which means hours of pedaling away on the stationary bike while watching the iPad

  • Fargo Season 2- Outstanding, outstanding, outstanding.
  • River– Found on Netflix. A detective’s partner is murdered and he’s on the hunt. Part of the problem- dead people talk to him and he talks to them. Pretty good show.
  • Jessica Jones– Have watched a couple of episodes so far.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens– Pretty good movie.
  • The Big Short– not so good.
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A Month On The Bike: Getting Lost

Before the dawn of smart phones, the odds of me getting lost on a weekend bike ride titled towards the high side. Every departure involved the risk, the likelihood, of a simple bike ride lasting an hour or two longer than intended as I found my way home. If I paid attention to the turns I made and returned home along the exact same path, I could make it home without incident. But that was a boring way to ride. When I came to a fork in the road, having to choose between the road I knew and the road I didn’t, I wanted the unknown.

After getting lost a number of times, and then successfully finding my way home, I began to learn the roads around me and the chances of me getting lost diminished. It also helped to get an iPhone.

On the first weekend of October, I plotted a long bike ride. Three, maybe four hours. The weather was perfect. A slight, southerly breeze and temperatures in the seventies. A guy couldn’t ask for a better day to ride a bike.

When I say I plotted a route, I should explain further. This did not involve me sitting down at a computer and consulting maps. Nor did I even look at the Maps App on my phone. Rather, as I began my first pedal strokes down the driveway, I considered the possible options and settled on one.

Everything started according to plan. The first twenty-five miles were smooth. Some flat roads. Some hilly ones. Very little traffic.

At the twenty-five mile mark, I approached a fork in the road. I know this road well, having been down it many times before. Although it may have been a year or more since I’d taken the road to the right, I took the one to the right. It was part of the plan.

The road twisted and turned. Ninety degrees to the right. Ninety degrees to left. To the right. To the left. Slightly uphill. Right. Left. Right. A dog without leash. Speed up. Left. Right. Left.

A road to the left appeared. I slowed down. The road looked familiar. Was I supposed to turn there? I slowed down and tried to recall the route from before. No, the turn was further up the road. I should keep going.

The road went left and right, up and down, but it didn’t look correct. I recognized the roads, having been down them before, but they weren’t the ones I expected to be riding. Also, I should have been heading south, but was going west instead.

Well, it had been a year since I’d been on this route. Maybe I’d gotten things mixed up in my head. Perhaps I’d confused the routes. I decided to keep going.

Turn to the right. And then a steep, short uphill climb. I could hear traffic ahead. Not a good sign. As I crested the top of the road, I ran straight into FM 917.

I knew where I was. That was the good news. The bad news, I was far from where I was supposed to be.

***

I graduated from high school in 1987. The morning of the graduation ceremony, my dad stopped me in the kitchen. In our small kitchen, there was only room for one person to pass. If two people wanted to pass by one another, the other had to step out of the way. He had me trapped.

“There’s no college fund,” he said.

I was not shocked by the statement. I’d have been shocked if there had been a college fund. The  S&L crisis had crippled the Texas economy and since Dad worked as a commercial insulator, there’d been little work the previous two years.

“No worries,” I said.

And it was true. For the past year, I’d worked afternoons in the mail room at a bank, and a couple of weeks before my graduation, they’d offered me a full-time job as the supervisor of the mail room. What did I need college for? I’d vaulted to a supervisor’s position and they were going to pay me thirteen thousand dollars a year. Thirteen thousand dollars. I had it made.

When people asked me if I planned to attend college, I told them ‘No.’ One, the last two years of high school had bored me, and two, I had a great job at the bank.

Two women at the bank hounded me all summer long. You need to go to college. You need to go to college. The bank will pay for it if you go at night. You need to do this. Every single day. Whenever they saw me. You need to go to college.

Two weeks before college classes began, just to get these ladies off my back, I applied to St. Mary’s University, a private university. I could’ve applied to a community college, but if I was going to go to college and the bank was going to pay for it, I might as well go big. Or at least expensive. Also, I hoped St. Mary’s would turn me down since I’d waited until the last minute.

They didn’t. They accepted me and I registered for two night classes.

Unfortunately, those two ladies weren’t done with me. The bank created a new department, computer systems, and with the new department came three new positions. You should apply, they said. Again and again, they said this to me. I relented and applied. One of the ladies spoke to the vice-president of the new department on my behalf.

I got the job.

A week into the new position and I was miserable. I had my very own cubicle on the second floor with my very own computer next to a window that looked out over the city. From this beautiful view, I used my computer to change the addresses of customers. All. Day. Long. Occasionally, they gave me another assignment, but my main duty involved changing addresses.

In my misery, I paid closer attention to other employees at the bank. A short survey helped me figure out that people with college degrees advanced while people without degrees hit a ceiling. I needed a degree.

At my current rate of taking two classes a semester, I would be done with college somewhere between forever and eternity.

What was I going to do?

***

I knew where I was, FM 917, but it wasn’t anywhere near where I’d planned on being. The upside, I could stay on FM 917. Eventually, the road would lead me where I wanted to be. The downside, it would add another hour to hour and a half to my already long ride.

I could go back the way I came, but seeing as how I didn’t know where I’d missed a turn, going back seemed fraught with the possibility of getting even more lost.

On to FM 917 it was. Up and down hills I went, mostly up it seemed. Cars and trucks, mostly trucks, whizzed by at fifty miles an hour.

I glanced at roads to the left, thinking I might find one that looked familiar, one that might lead me back where I came from. Every single one had a Dead End sign posted. Up a hill. Down a hill. Finally, I spotted a road without a Dead End sign. Before turning, I pulled over to the side of the road and consulted my iPhone.

Would this road lead me where I wanted to be?

I found where I was and located where I wanted to be. The two were connected, but not directly. A number of different roads would need to be travelled in order to make the connection. I didn’t recognize any of the roads. I stared at the screen, memorizing the directions as best I could. If I missed one of those turns, well, I’d still be lost and I’d have to consult the iPhone again.

I took off down the unknown road. Beautiful homes lined the left side of the road. On the right, I passed acres of ranch and farm land. The roads were flat and smooth with hardly any traffic and trees provided plenty of shade. A few miles down the road, I passed a creek with a pier. Horses roamed the land to the left. How had I never been down these roads before?

The road began to creep upwards. At first, the ascent was mild, then it became steep and turned to the right. I shifted down, careful to conserve energy as I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, how lost I might be, or how long I might be out on my bike.

Calling the wife to pick me up was not an option.

I spotted a white iron fence at the top of the hill. It looked familiar, but then I’ve seen a number of farms with white iron fences. Beyond the fence, I spotted a red barn. Again, not an isolated site in Texas. Still, something about the two of them stuck in mind.

As I approached the fence and the barn, a fork in the road appeared. I spotted a house to the right. The house, the fence, the barn. I recognized the place.

I’d made it back to where I wanted to be. I looked back over my shoulder at the road I’d travelled. I would have to remember those roads.

***

Flailing about as to what to do, I made a decision that still baffles me. Somehow, I thought it would be a good idea to become a minister. Why I decided this is beyond me. Somehow my brain thought this was not only a good decision, but the best decision.

For the record, my Dad was against it.

Where does one go to school for such a thing? I didn’t know, so I asked the pastor of the church I attended. He suggested his alma mater, Hardin-Simmons University, in Abilene, Texas, a small town in West Texas.

Abilene is as far removed from San Antonio in every conceivable way. Nevertheless, in January of 1989, I moved there, giving up my job, my friends, my car, and pretty much everything else. I moved from a big city to a small town where I knew two or three people.

One word described that first semester, misery. Pure misery. What had I done? What was I doing? I couldn’t wait for summer break so I could return to San Antonio.

When I returned home, my plan was to stay there. Put Abilene in the rearview mirror. But then what? Live at home? Attend community college? Start over? How? Where?

As the summer progressed, my stance against returning to Abilene softened. A part of me wanted to return, not because I liked it, but because I thought I had a better chance of finding myself there than staying at home. I knew what was at home. Besides, returning home would be giving up.

I had to give it one more semester. Try again. See how it went. Maybe I’d figure something out.

I arrived on a Friday afternoon with classes due to start on Tuesday. The following night, I met The Girl. The one. By Thursday, we were going on our first date. Within three years, we were married.

***

The weekend after getting lost near my house, I returned to Round Rock for the Outlaw Trail, my favorite charity ride. The weather is usually great, the support fantastic, and the route wonderful. I signed up for the sixty-five mile route.

Around mile forty-five, I’d found that I’d gotten ahead of most people. An unusual occurrence. Then a woman on a tri-bike blew past me like I was standing still. My male ego took this as a challenge.

I quickened the pace and dropped into an aerodynamic position. I wasn’t catching her, but she wasn’t putting anymore distance between us. Occasionally, I glanced down at my Garmin computer and saw our speed hovered between 25 and 30 mph. I glanced behind me. There was no one. We had left them all behind.

So this is what it felt like to be in the lead. Amazing. Fantastic. Incredible.

I spotted a crossing road in the distance. The woman ahead of me slowed, circled back around, and then stopped.

What the heck was she doing? There was no traffic in either direction.

I stopped next to her.

“I think we’re lost,” she said.

“What?”

“There’s no marking on the road. I don’t know which way to go.”

I looked at the pavement. True enough, there were no markings on the road indicating whether we should go left or right as there had been at every intersection. I looked behind me. There was no one. Then again, we’d been going pretty fast.

“Do you think we missed a turn?” she said.

“I don’t remember seeing any.”

She took out her phone and furiously began searching for the route map online. I stood there. Enjoying the scenery. The lostness.

We’d find our way. Eventually. Even if we didn’t have a map.

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What I’m Reading (Nov 2015)

A few days late this month. You’d think with a couple of business trips and plenty of time on the plane, I’d have read more than normal, but that turned out not to be the case.

BOOKS

Book of the Month: The Racer by David Millar. Yep, you guessed it, a book on professional cycling. The Racer is Millar’s look back at his last year as a professional cyclist. An insightful and entertaining book that examines the highs and lows of being a professional athlete.

A close second was My Father, The Pornographer: A Memoir by Chris Offutt. I read an advance copy of this book (due out Feb 9) and it’s a phenomenal book. When Offut’s Dad passes away, he takes upon himself the task of cataloging the numerous pornographic books his Dad wrote over decades of work. He struggles to reconcile the turbulent relationship and memories of his Dad to his admiration of the man as someone intensely dedicated to his craft.

Others from this month:

A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson (great noir, reminiscent of Dostoevsky), Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason (mystery, Between the Lines by Victoria Pendleton. (autobiography of Britain’s standout female track cyclist), Cats Don’t Bark by Shane Hipps (self-help).

TV & FILM

Fargo (season 2) is phenomenal. One of the best seasons of a television show I’ve seen in awhile.

The Man in The High Castle, available on Amazon, is an interesting tale of how the world would be if America had lost WW2.

I made my annual foray to the movie the day after Thanksgiving. This year, I saw Spotlight, a movie about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the sex abuse scandal of the Catholic Church.

I spent one weekend on the couch recuperating and watched a slew of movies: Bad Words (crude, but funny), American Sniper (okay), Manhunt (interesting), and Candelabra (weird). I think I watched a few other things, but they obviously didn’t leave much of an impression.

WRITING

The speed with which I wrote last month has been replaced by plodding through paragraphs this month.

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What I’m Reading (Oct 2015)

October equals colder, wetter weather and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. This October also involved a trip to Charlotte for work, which meant a few hours of uninterrupted reading time on the plane.

It was hard to choose a best book of the month as I read so many good ones this month.

BOOKS

Jim Thompson. What can you say about one of the best noir writers ever? A number of years have passed since I last read Thompson, so I thought I’d re-read a few of his book and read some others for the first time. He writes as well as I remember. There’s a reason so many writers point to Thompson as an inspiration. He is the best. Superb characters (as in twisted, tortured, and sometimes downright creepy), fast moving plots, and pure entertainment. I only got through a handful of them and it doesn’t matter where you start. Each one is fantastic: A Swell Looking Babe, The Grifters, Pop.1280, After Dark My Sweet, The Getaway, and The Killer Inside Me (which might have one of the creepiest psychopaths for a main character in any book ever).

No Tomorrow by Jake Hinkson. He’s one of my favorite modern day noir writers and No Tomorrow is another outstanding addition. I wrote about it here.

Some other good books:

  • Van Halen Rising: Howe a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal by Greg Renoff. An encyclopedic look at the creation of Van Halen. Entertaining.
  • How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor. Everything you wanted to know about Star Wars and fans of Star Wars.
  • The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. An insightful book on what it means to ask someone for help.
  • The Chili Cookbook by Robb Walsh. Another very good food book from Robb Walsh, this time on another favorite dish of mine- chili.
  • He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond. British noir. So good.

TV& FILM

A few shows I’ve started. Fargo (season 2). So far, excellent!

A show that might have promise, this one from Amazon, The Man in The High Castle. Amazon has only released two episodes to date, but the rest are due to be released on November 20. The show operates on the premise of the US having lost WW2 and Germany and Japan having control of the United States.

 

WRITING

Taken For Granted is out and available. If you’ve read it, I hope you enjoyed it. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? The ebook is only .99. The response has been great and I’m hard at work on another book, no title yet.

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A Month on The Bike: 46 Is Not the New 26 (Or Even 36 For That Matter)

The day of reckoning looms on the horizon. Time, like a vulture, circles above, preparing to swoop down upon its prey. The accumulation of years are beginning to catch up to a person. Or more likely, tackle him to the ground.

The joints creak and pop. The muscles become sore and stay sore for days. The body is stiff. Guttural groans emanate when standing. Recuperation is a multi-day event. And bedtime, it comes earlier and earlier.

In September, another birthday rolled around. I turned 46. I’m in pretty good shape for my age. But I’m not the man I used to be.

****

I made an offer to my son. “If you want to train for a 5k, I’ll run with you.” He’s 10 and doesn’t go much for athletic endeavors. I expected him to say, “No.”

Never offer to do something when you’re counting on the other person saying, “No.”

He said, “Yes.”

And so it began.

****

At one time, as a much younger person, I could play basketball for hours on end every day and never feel any pain or stiffness or soreness. I expected it to go on like that forever.

In college, the Saturday before classes were to start, a friend asked me to join him on a run at the track. In the middle of the afternoon.

It was August. In West Texas. The temperatures reached one hundred degrees and stayed there.

I went. We ran. It was fun.

As soon as I returned to the dorm, another friend asked if I’d hit baseballs to him.

“Sure.”

We jogged over to the baseball field. I hit fly ball after fly ball to him for about an hour. Then we switched and I shagged fly balls.

Again, as I returned to the dorm, I ran into another friend.

“Up for some tennis?”

I was.

We played four or five sets.

And I felt great. Then and the following day. No sore muscles. No stiffness. No achy knees or ankles. No pain. Ever.

Those were the days.

****

To train for a 5k, we used the couch to 5k app. The app starts you off easy and progresses to the point where you can run an entire 5k.

How hard could it be? I’ve been riding a bike for 5-10 hours a week for over 10 years. Before that, I used to run 3 miles 4 times a week. I am in shape.

Conditioning was not the problem.

Remember all those years of playing basketball from age 7 to 20 on concrete courts 7 days a week? My knees do.

As we began our 5k training, I also maintained my normal biking regimen. We ran on Mondays or Wednesdays, Fridays and Sunday mornings. I also biked on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. During the week, I biked for an hour, on Saturday and Sunday, the bike ride could be anywhere from 2 to 4 hours.

The first week went well.

The second week…

We ran on a Friday night. Saturday morning I got up and biked three hours. Sunday morning we ran. Sunday afternoon, I went for a bike ride. Well, I was on a bike and pedaling. I had no speed or energy and everything hurt. My wrists, my shoulder, my neck, my back. I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. An early indicator of tendonitis.

I could’ve eased up. Could’ve.

Ice became my friend. After every bike ride, I iced both knees.

One Friday, while we were running, my son cut in front of me. I felt a sharp pain along the back side of my right calf.

I added the application of BenGay cream to the affected area to my daily regimen. The pain went away after three days. During that time, I continued running and biking.

The following weekend, I felt a sharp pain in my left calf. I knew what to do: ice on the knees, BenGay cream on the calf, and maybe some pain relievers.

I invested in some leg compression sleeves for my calves when we ran. They seemed to help.

I kept thinking I would start to feel better. My body would adjust to the running. Or at least I hoped it would. We were only three weeks into an eight week plan and we’d yet to run anything longer than three minutes at a time.

Maybe it wasn’t a matter of fitness, but a matter of age.

And decay.

I hope not.

****

On the second Saturday in September, I lined up at the start line for the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, a 59 mile bike ride. The wind was light and from the north. The temperatures mild. A perfect day for a bike ride.

As for my asthma flareup in August, I’d recuperated fine. The only drawback, I’d spent two and half weeks doing nothing, then had two weekends of bike riding to get ready for the Cowtown Classic. Finishing would not be a problem, how I would ride would be the issue. I forgot about trying to set any PR (personal record). After all, I’d been sick and was set to turn 46 in a week.

Have fun. Take it easy. Enjoy the gorgeous scenery.

Sometimes, I don’t listen to myself all that well.

We set off at eight o’clock. Up and down rolling hills at the start. I started well. Calm. Focused on breathing. Averaging a decent speed. I snuck into a group or two and drafted off the others.

I was riding smart. Conserving my energy.

I checked my time at the one hour mark. Woah! Faster than expected and at a moderate pace. How could I be doing so well? I’d been sick for two out of the last four weeks. This made no sense.

At the one and a half hour mark, I checked my time again. Even faster. A quick mental calculation and I discovered that if I maintained my current average, I’d annihilate my previous PR by nearly half an hour.

A monster PR and my 46th birthday only a week away.

What is this thing people call getting old?????

I turned down a road that went flat for a particularly long stretch. I maintained 25 mph and hit 30 mph in some stretches. (Fast for this amateur rider). I could not believe how well I was doing.

The road turned to the left. Then came a stop sign where we turned left again. The road cut to the right and went straight up.

My memory of last year’s route came back. I’d forgotten about it until this point. (Was this a sign of senility?) The first half of the course was fast and flat, the second half slow and uphill.

One uphill climb came after another and another and another. That astounding average time dropped like a rock. I recalculated my potential finish time. Getting a PR looked suspect.

At mile 56, we crested a hill, turned a corner, and faced another uphill. I requested an increase in power from my legs.

“No,” they answered.

“Let’s go. Only three miles to go!”

“No!” they shouted louder.

“Mind over matter!”

I felt a little twinge in my left hamstring.

“Feel that?” they said.

“Yes.”

“Keep asking us to push harder and we’ll initiate cramps that’ll make you cry.”

“Can we make it to the finish line?”

They conferred. I couldn’t hear what they said.

“We’ll pedal at a rate we deem capable. But if you send a message to increase the power. It’s over.”

We compromised.

Or, depending on your perspective, I surrendered to their demands.

With no energy left, I spun light gears and pedaled fast. I tried to sneak into groups, but they were either going too fast or fading faster than I was. I dropped my forearms onto the tops of the handlebars and tried to make myself as small a target for the wind as possible. It didn’t help that I faced a headwind.

I continued to check the time. I still might get a PR. As long as my legs kept up their end of the deal.

The last mile or two contained a multitude of turns. Every time I came around a corner, I hoped to see the finish line. I didn’t. I wanted to be done and off the bike. Finally, we rounded a corner and the finish line appeared. I tested my legs to see if they had anything left.

They didn’t.

I spun the pedals faster in a smaller gear and crossed the finish line 6 minutes faster than the previous year. A new PR.

I’m not sure how I did it.

46 might not be the new 26, but it ain’t 56 either.

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Book Review: No Tomorrow By Jake Hinkson

The sign of a good book is this: you want to hurry up and finish so you know what happened while at the same time you want to slow down and enjoy the story. In other words, you don’t want it to end. When it does end, you flip back to the beginning and start again.

No Tomorrow by Jake Hinkson is such a book. If you’re a fan of noir, you’ll enjoy this book.

For readers unfamiliar with Hinkson, you’ve been missing out. His backlist contains gems such as: Hell on Church Street, The Posthumous Man, Saint Homicide, The Big Ugly, and The Deepening Shade (a collection of stories). All of them worth your time to read.

By the way, Hell on Church Street might be one of the best noir books I’ve ever read.

No Tomorrow takes place in 1947. Billie Dixon gets a job as a film distributor of B-grade films to theater owners in Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Her assignment takes her to Stock’s Settlement, Arkansas, where the theater owner, Claude Peters, is ready to shut down his theater.

Claude’s main problem Brother Obadiah Henshaw, a blind preacher who has convinced the people of Stock’s Settlement that movies are a spawn of the devil. The people might not agree, but they don’t want to feel the wrath of the fundamentalist preacher.

Brother Obadiah happens to be married to the most beautiful woman Billie has ever laid eyes on, Amberly Henshaw. She married Obadiah before he went off to the war, became blind, and devoted himself to the ministry. On Billie’s way out of the church, after Obadiah has rebuffed her overtures to let the people watch movies, Amberly invites Billie to pay her a visit the following day.

Billie is smitten with Amberly and an affair between the two women commences. The encounter is everything Billie imagined it would be, but, instead of staying in Stock’s Settlement, Billie bolts back to California.

She made one bad decision with the affair. She compounds it by returning to Stock’s Settlement at the invitation of Brother Obadiah. When she comes back, all hell breaks loose.

No Tomorrow has it all- noir, religious fundamentalism, odd characters, and small town oddities- but above all it’s a great story. No Tomorrow is the epitome of noir.

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A Month on the Bike: Asthma Rears Its Ugly Head

August in Texas. Not my favorite month of the year. It has nothing to do with enduring day after day of hundred degree temperatures, although that’s no great pleasure. Rather, I dislike August for what it brings. Illness. Allergies. Asthma. As someone who enjoys going out for two or three hour bike rides, not being able to breathe because of asthma can be somewhat problematic.

***

August on the bike started off well. I signed up for the Blazin’ Saddles charity ride in Granbury, Texas, about an hour’s drive away. Their website boasts of it being the hardest ride in Texas. I’ve done some hard rides, we’d have to see how they stacked up.

I maintained realistic expectations about how I’d do. Although I’d been riding and training, I hadn’t been preparing for a hilly, 75 mile ride.

It should be noted about my biking abilities. Yes, I’ve been riding for over 10 years. Yes, I’m dedicated to working out and riding a bike. No, I’m not the fastest guy on the bike, nor do I care. I ride because I enjoy it. You want to pass me? Go right ahead. I’ll still have a good time.

On the day of the ride, after the requisite thanks for attending and warnings to be safe, we set off. I struggled right away. Hyperventilating. It happens from time to time. I’ve never been able to figure out the cause. I don’t know if I start off too quickly or forget to breathe in and out, but within a few minutes my heart is racing and I can’t seem to breathe. I feel like I’m blowing air out, but not taking any in. I’ve learned I have to ease off the pace and concentrate on breathing. Sometimes, I literally have to tell myself- breathe in, breath out, breathe in, breathe out- until my breathing returns to normal.

After a couple of miles, I could breathe regularly again. Time to concentrate on actual riding.

The first half of the ride, I flew. Down in the aero position, hanging over the handlebars, quick cadence of the pedals, going fast- it was a blast.

This was hard?

Then came the second half of the ride. Uphill. Uphill. Uphill. We’re not talking the French Alps or anything, but it was up and up and up. Long stretches of hills at times. Steep inclines at others. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s fast going uphill.

At mile 70, the route reached the top of a hill. The event organizers had posted a sign indicating this was the peak of the entire route. Finally, no more going uphill. As I crested the hill, the road went straight downhill. By this time, I was beat. The last hill had taken what little energy I had left.

No energy equals slower reflexes. Going down a sharp descent, the smart thing to do would’ve been to ease off the pace. Tap the brakes. What if a car shot out of a driveway? Or a pothole appeared in the road?

 

Slowing down meant more time on the bike and getting to the finish line later. I was ready to be done.

I gripped the handlebars tight and hoped for the best.

I managed just fine.

Sorry, no tales of flipping over the handlebars or narrowly avoiding a car.

At the finish line, there was a tent with refreshments. Usually, there’s nothing but water, watered-down Gatorade, warm bananas, and oranges. I wanted something liquid. I grabbed a cup, willing to take whatever came out of the orange container.

It wasn’t water or Gatorade.

Sweet tea.

I stood there and downed three or four cups. Sweet tea never tasted so good.

****

Asthma. Tightness in the chest. Struggling to breathe. Wheezing, if it’s really bad. I’ve dealt with it my entire life. The earliest occurrence I recall took place in the fourth grade. My mom tells me I was diagnosed at the age of three. I’ll have to take her word on it.

Elementary school and junior high were the worst years. In the fourth grade, on the way to lunch, I had to go to the nurse’s office to use a nebulizer. Every day. In the fifth grade, I spent a week in the hospital. In sixth grade, my mom held me out of PE the entire year after an allergy test demonstrated I was allergic to nearly every type of weed and grass. It also showed that I was allergic to cigarette smoke, cats, and dogs, but that didn’t stop my dad or step-dad from smoking, nor did it propel my mom to give away the cat and the dog.

Eighth grade might’ve been the worst. For a few months, we lived in Phoenix. My routine went like this: Monday= school; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday= home sick; Friday= school; Saturday and Sunday= home recuperating. It was quite the life. I also received allergy shots during this time. They provided no discernible difference.

Once I went away to college, my asthma symptoms abated somewhat. It could’ve been the West Texas air. Or the lack of cigarette smoke, cats, and dogs. The only times I remember having serious asthma problems were after mowing the yard.

For the next twenty years or so, while living in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, my asthma had seemed manageable to me. Yes, I carried an inhaler with me everywhere I went and used it a couple of times a day. But, compared to when I was a kid, bed-ridden, and wheezing, I felt much better.

But there were flareups. Reminders of the stranglehold asthma held over me. One doctor put me on allergy medication. It helped some. Another tried a different allergy medication. It helped a little more. A few years later, after experiencing a flareup that lasted for a couple of weeks, another doctor had me try a preventative inhaler. Dulera. Wow. This is what normal people must breathe like. For the first time in my life, I walked around without an inhaler.

Until I’d have a flareup. Which happens in August. At least for the past four or five years. It has to do with…well, I don’t know what causes it. I only know it happens. It could be the extreme heat in Texas. The lack of air movement. Perhaps it’s ragweed? We haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact culprit.

So this August rolls around and a dread descends upon me. Will the awful asthma rear its ugly head?

It did.

This year, as soon as I noticed a discernible difference in breathing, that tightness in the chest, I called the doctor. She prescribed six days of Prednisone (Hello, headaches and insomnia!). My breathing improved while I was on it. Hooray!

As soon as I went off it, my breathing was worse than before. I spent a Friday night sitting on the couch, struggling to breathe.

Every time I have one of these flareups, I descend into a mental abyss. It’s not depression, but a worrying, woe is me mentality. It’s over. This is it. The asthma is back. The meds won’t work this time. The asthma flare up is here to stay. It’ll be just like when I was a kid. Goodbye, outside. Adios, active lifestyle. See you later, bike.

Unable to do much of anything, I read a few books. I worked on my own book (about the only positive). I did a whole lot of nothing. I ‘slept’ sitting up in bed, propped up by four or five pillows, which equates to not really sleeping.

On Monday, I called the doctor again. This time, she had me come in. No messing around this time. Antibiotics, steroid shot, and another round of methylprednisone.

By the end of the week, I felt better. Two and a half weeks I’d been down. Doing nothing. Sitting around.

As Saturday approached, my mind drifted towards the bike. Did I dare go outside? For a bike ride? Into the nasty, allergen polluted air? Should I risk it? Or take it easy?

What to do?

Yeah, I risked it. A two hour bike ride on Saturday and another on Sunday.

I waited for the inevitable asthma attack. A few days passed. It didn’t come. I might be out of the woods.

Until next August

***

My thoughts turned to September. Another ride was coming up. The Cowtown Classic. A 59 mile ride. Could I do it? Essentially, aside from the Blazin’ Saddles at the beginning of August, I’d sat on my rear.

I would have Labor Day weekend to get in some long rides. Would it be enough? Should I even try?

I stared at the registration page. I pondered the possibilities. I hit the submit registration button.

Of course I would ride.

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What I’m Reading (September 2015)

The big news of the month

Taken for granted ebook final copy

Two years in the making, Taken For Granted, is now out and available. Only .99 for the ebook.

In case you forgot to get me a birthday present (it’s in September as well), don’t worry, just order a book or two or three. (One for yourself and a few copies for some friends.)

Go ahead. The rest of this post can wait a minute.

Done yet?

Good.

And thanks!

BOOKS

Aside from my own book, which you should buy and read, here are some other books I enjoyed this month.

Book of the Month: This should actually be plural for books of the month. I stumbled upon a new favorite writer, Malcolm Mackay. He’s written an enjoyable trilogy, The Glasgow Trilogy, which contains the following three books: The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, How a Gunman Says Goodbye, and The Sudden Arrival of Violence. Although the books center around crime organizations and their fight to stay in control, the main character in all three books is a hitman hired by one of the organizations. First, he’s a freelancer. Then he’s brought into the organization. Last, he has to decide if he wants to continue living the life of a hitman. Great stories. Excellent writing. Definitely worth the read.

Some other books I read this month:

  • The White Van by Patrick Hoffman- Russian gangsters, a bank robbery, and desperate people. Good crime novel.
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. A memoir of sorts. This is the second time I’ve read this book. It’s about running, writing, and life.
  • The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr – A book about memoirs and writing memoirs. Really good book.
  • Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer- A look at Mormonism, particularly fundamentalism. The things people will believe.
  • The Race to the Truth by Emma O’Reilly- She worked for Lance Armstrong at one time. Then she told the truth. He ripped her in the press and made her life hell. Then he confessed to his doping practices and apologized. This is her story.
  • The Backup Men and Twilight at Mac’s Place by Ross Thomas- More crime novels by Thomas.

TV & FILM

I’m still sort of plodding through Deadwood. I haven’t watched much else. Looking forward to the return of Fargo.

WRITING

Did I mention I published a book this month?

And yes, I’m already onto the next book. I’m about halfway through the second draft of the last novel in this series, which somehow became a series.

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New Book: Taken For Granted

Taken for granted ebook final copyMy next book, Taken For Granted, will be released September 22, 2015. Taken For Granted is a follow-up to my first novel, Secrets To Keep, and follows the lives of Jefferson, Linus, Al, and Max as they deal with the fallout that took place in Secrets To Keep.

Taken For Granted is currently available for pre-order from Amazon (ebooks .99 and paperbacks 10.95) and will soon be available at iBooks, B&N, and other sites.

 

Max can’t get seem to get a break. His two best friends are dead. He’s broke, homeless, and stealing cars to earn money. 

Jefferson did everything they said and it wasn’t enough. He can do what they say or lose everything. Of course, doing what they want might land him in prison.

When the police can’t find who murdered John Petri, his employer hires Linus to investigate. The case leads Linus back to the people responsible for him being forced out of the police department. 

Al prides himself on thinking of everything. In his business, it’s paramount if he wants to remain free. His new money laundering scheme is working to perfection. Then Al’s partner wants him to kill someone who has become a problem.

Who knew trying to kill one man could unravel so many lives?

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