Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nemesis--Book Review

Photo: Paperback cover of the book, from this website.
Yet another great Nordic Noir.  Nesbo is right up there with Mankell and (in the first two books of the series, anyway) Steig Larsson.  Mankell is a bit more abruptly gritty (still can't forget he had his main character make a brief mention of soiling himself) and Larsson was a bit more character-driven, but all three are giants in the genre, and deserve to be.

In this one, Hole is face-to-face with yet another ex-girlfriend (he's got lots of those, as he's a work-obsessed alcoholic), who apparently still holds some sort of grudge against him.  But she's beautiful, and Hole may, or may not, have had something to do with her dying.  This happens further into the book than you'd think.  Nesbo handles that well, though I suspect that a lesser writer wouldn't.  And Nesbo is successful enough to ignore the adage of agents: The crimes need to happen right away.

One crime that does happen right away is a bank robbery.  There've been more than a few of those over the years, with maybe the same M.O.--but maybe not.  Throw in a feud with another cop and an infamous prisoner related to the woman described above, and there's much going on here.

As with many Nesbo books, this one seems to end two or three times before it finally does, which became a little distracting for me here, but not overly so.  There was more to solve, and it's right that crimes like these don't get neatly solved and gift-wrapped quickly, like they do on TV and in the movies.  Plus, there's the slightly strung-together storyline with his on-and-off current girlfriend and her son to deal with.  (They'll come into play big-time in Nesbo's Phantom, to be reviewed soon.)

The crimes themselves shouldn't throw an established reader of this genre.  I had the bank robbery and the ex-girlfriend's demise figured out almost right away, though I didn't catch on to the signature in the emails.  (This is rather embarrassing, as one should always be able to explain the book's title in relation to the story.)  That is, I knew what had exactly happened, and by whom, but with no proof whatsoever.  Nesbo's books work well that way: For all the good writing, the characterization and description, it all boils down to a procedural.  Watching how Hole solves it all and gets the evil-doers despite himself and his flaws is the whole ride.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Do You Do To Keep Hope Alive?

The question asked to me was: What do you do to keep hope alive while you wait?  The insinuation was: While I wait for the reply from a literary agent, or while I wait for the editor of a magazine I'd just sent my story to, or while I wait for my taking-forever novel to be done.

My response:

1. I look around at others who are only their jobs.  I remind myself that I don't want to look like that, for they often look miserable.

2. I write for myself.  To better understand my world.  To better understand me.

3. I don't feel bitter about the success of others because they don't write what I write and I don't write what they write.  Each artist and his work are a unique tandem, and so I remind myself that such comparisons are impossible.

4. I don't write because of my dreams.  I write towards my dreams.

5. I remind myself that, although agents are not infallible (re: J.K. Rowling), they are also not idiots.  They have to take on projects they believe they can sell, period.  They have mortgages, too.

6. I write different things.  Though my current novel is taking beyond forever, I have finished and sold some short stories.  Though only Alice Munro and two or three lucky others can make careers out of selling short stories, the fact remains that I have sold some, and this gives me confidence--which is invaluable, and can't be taught.

7. I think, "Why not me?"  Stephen King used to work in a laundry.  He lived in a trailer and typed Carrie on a laptop--a busted, old typewriter on his lap. J.K. Rowling was a single mom on welfare with three kids.

8. I remember that it's a business.  Dreams don't sell.  Good writing does.

9. I always have something to work on next.  After I send out a short story, or a query letter, etc., I get busy on the next page of my story and novel.  I don't leave myself time to worry about the stuff I just sent out.  I'm not J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee anyway: One novel probably won't make a career for me.  Best to be working.

10. I write.

What do you do to keep your hope alive?  What are you hoping for?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

When Plague Strikes: Blame and Bias


Photos: Pieter Bruegel's "The Triumph of Death," and an AIDS victim, from this link:

This book is an excellent primer for anyone interested in plagues.  I read this to research The Gravediggers, and while it didn't teach me anything new (except exact names and dates), it does put many of my novel's themes in the same place for ease when I'm writing.

Essentially it focuses on the social, political and historical aftermath of the plague outbreaks.  I like that it groups AIDS together with the Black Death, as my novel does, and that it connects the social biases at the times as well.  My novel does that, too, but it's nice to get reinforcement of your ideas.

When the plagues hit, nobody understood them, and so many prevailed upon the bias of the time to find scapegoats.  But, really, if allowed to hate and maim, certain people will be happy to do so, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their actions.  And so:

From the chapter "Looking for Scapegoats" re: the Black Death:

"In 1213, Pope Innocent III decreed that both sexes, from age seven or eight, had to wear circular badges of yellow felt that identified them as Jews..."  The book then draws the parallel between those badges and the ones forced upon the Jews by the Nazis almost 600 years later.

"According to the rumors, the Jews were polluting the wells in the Christian communities with poisons imported from Moorish Spain and the Far East.  If Christians drank water from the wells...they would be infected with the plague and die..."

"...the rumors led to eleven Jews being put on trial in September 1348.  They were charged with having poisoned the wells in a small south German town.  After hours of painful torture, the eleven confessed to the deed and said they had received the poison from a rabbi in Spain...

"...In January 1349, the two hundred Jewish residents of Basel, Switzerland, were herded into a wooden building on an island in the Rhine River and burned alive..." (Giblin 36-7).

There's much more, but you get the idea.  (I don't know why I was surprised by Switzerland's involvement, considering its history of neutrality, but I was.)

Though the Native Americans were not blamed for causing smallpox, colonists and Europeans were quick to use it against them.  The most infamous was Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, who was unwise enough to put it in writing.  This was sent to a colonel:

"Could it not be contrived to send the smallpox among these...tribes of Indians?  We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them."  The colonel's response: "I will try to [infect] the Indians with some blankets that may fall in their hands..."  Amherst's enthusiastic response: "You will do well to try to infect the Indians by means of well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race" (Giblin 86-7).

The British and the colonists were so happy with the results that Amherst, Massachusetts was named in his honor.

Those of my generation remember the bias against homosexuals when AIDS made its appearance here in the early-to-mid-80s.  I do specifically remember (unfortunately) some diatribes by Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell.  So, too, apparently, did this book's author:

"The conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan wrote, 'The poor homosexuals--they have declared war on nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.'...

"In a statement that sounded remarkably similar to some made by clergymen at the time of the Black Death and during early smallpox epidemics, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said: 'When you violate moral, health, and hygiene laws, you reap the whirlwind.  You cannot shake your fist in God's face and get away with it."

And it hasn't always been just the clergy, or the conservative.  Haters will hate, if just given a cause to hate about:

"Wielding baseball bats, the youths rampaged through a public park frequented by gays.  They shouted 'diseased queers' and 'plague-carrying faggots' as they beat up every man unlucky enough to be in their path.  After his arrest, one of the attackers tried to defend his actions.  'If we don't kill these fags, they'll kill us with their f---[ing] AIDS disease,' he said" (Giblin 135-6).

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What will the next plague be?  And who'll be blamed and persecuted for it then?

My guess: Ebola.  Who'll be prejudiced against for it?  We'll see.  Hopefully not brown-eyed little Frenchmen, but who knows?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Free Contest to Win A T206--1,400 T206s for Auction at Saco River Auction Co. January 2015

[Free contest to win a free 1909-1911 T206 explained at the bottom of this entry, in the P.P.S.  Contest ends midnight, Sept. 30, 2014.]

Yeah, that's right.  If you're into baseball cards at all, you know the T206s.  I've posted a few pics of the few I have.  This is the set that has the Honus Wagner card, formerly owned by Wayne Gretzky and others, worth literally millions of dollars.

Well, in January 2015, the Saco River Auction House, in Biddeford, Maine, will auction off the Portland Trove of T206s.  One thousand, four hundred of them.  All in good condition, or better.  All of them.  At an average of $50 per card--a very low estimate, considering there are Christy Mathewson cards, Walter Johnsons, Ty Cobbs, etc.--that's still $70,000 worth of T206 baseball cards being sold.  The real fetching price will most likely by ten times that, or more than $700,000.

To show you the awesomeness of this, look at the pics:

Can you believe that?!?  Oh, my goodness.  This makes me want to vomit in jealousy and greed, except I can't stop looking at the pics and wishing I had them.

Of course, since there are only 527 known cards in the set (though variations pop up even now, every so often), there are going to be some duplicates.  My guess is--the piles you see on the tables in the pics are the duplicates of that card.  So if a John Anderson, let's say, (in the second-to-last pic, he's in the second row from the bottom, all the way to the right; looks like he's praying) is on a small stack of three cards, I'm going to bet there are three John Andersons in the collection.  (There's only one John Anderson in the set.)  How did this happen?  Simple: The story is that a gentleman living in NYC in 1909 or so started smoking.  His choice of smoke was the El Principe de Gales--one of the rarest backs in the set!  Anyway, he smoked the stuff and kept the card the pouch came with.  And often, it'll come with a card he already had.  Like getting a duplicate in the wax packs we bought as kids.

So, if you're not doing anything on a particular day TBA in January 2015, and if the weather isn't too bad, I might just take a drive up to 2 Main Street in Biddeford, Maine--about a three hour drive, or so.  Hopefully the auction is on a Friday or Saturday night!  I might save up a little bit by then, and take my list of cards.  If you're into T206s, maybe I'll see you there.  Save your pennies: All of the cards in this trove were graded by SGC, and they're all in good condition or better.

Speaking of card collections, do you have one?  If so, what's your favorite?  Or do you have a favorite specific card, or set?  If you don't collect cards, what do you collect, and which of those is your favorite?

P.S.--Speaking of T206s, I've got a few extras, so I'll be having contests on this blog every now and then and giving one away for free.  Caveat: None of the ones I'm giving away are professionally graded.  They're known as "raw" cards, and they'd list in Poor, Poor / Fair, or Fair condition, but will still be worth at least ten bucks each, even in bad condition.  (I mean, they're free, so waddaya want?)  I'll mail it in a tobacco card toploader.  Stay tuned.

P.P.S.--In fact, what the hell.  I'll have a contest here and now.  Just answer the question(s) above the P.S. in a comment to this blog entry and I'll enter you in a random drawing to win one of my extra T206s from 1909-1911.  Each is worth somewhere between $10 to $25 and can be easily mailed to you.  If you're the winner, I'll ask that you send me an email.  When you do, I'll email you pics of the ones I've got available, and you can pick whatever one you want.  I'll mail it to you free of charge as well.  It can fit in a regular envelope, after all. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Library of America: War of 1812

From the weekly emails I get from the Library of America, here's what I've gleamed from the journal of British soldier George R. Gleig, who assisted in the burning of the White House, the treasury, and the Capitol.

For this entry, we'll focus on what British soldier Gleig wrote about what he saw when he helped burn D.C.

--First, this was not mentioned in either account, but was in the summary: When British Admiral George Cockburn arrived in the city, he searched for the offices of the National Intelligencer, which had long been insulting and taunting him, and oversaw personally the destruction of the pressroom. Spectators overheard him denouncing the publisher “with much of the peculiar slang of the Common Sewer.” The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812 mentions a contemporary report claiming that the admiral instructed soldiers to “take special effort to obliterate all of the c’s in the newspaper’s type racks” so that the publisher could no longer spell Cockburn’s name.  Amusing.  If the Admiral was that thin-skinned dealing with a foreign newspaper, how could he have been with the papers, politicians and brass in his own country?

From Gleig:

--The inhabitants of D.C. were so sure of victory over the British that they didn't leave the city--until the British troops were actually in it.  This includes Madison, the President, too.

--The withdrawal of the President was so quick and last-second that he left a gourmet dinner for 40 still hot on his table, with many bottles of wine open and ready.  All of this was enjoyed by the British troops before they torched the White House.  "[After speaking to the troops, President Jackson] hurried back to his own house, that he might prepare a feast for the entertainment of his officers, when they should return victorious. For the truth of these details I will not be answerable; but this much I know, that the feast was actually prepared, though, instead of being devoured by
American officers, it went to satisfy the less delicate appetites of a party of English soldiers."

--The British were surprisingly humane.  Though they burned the White House, the Capitol and the Treasury (and "a noble library"), they let all of the other houses stand--except the home of the guy who killed the General's horse.

--All of the citizens of D.C. were still there when the troops arrived because Madison had just crossed the only bridge that spanned the Potomac--and immediately ordered it burned:  "...the rest were obliged to return, and to trust to the clemency of the victors."  Thanks, Mr. President.

--All the National Archives were burned.  Can you imagine the historical stuff that must've been in there?  Things from the Pilgrims to the Revolutionary War--all lost.

--Greig wrote that the American forces vastly outnumbered his own--but they didn't (or couldn't) fight.  He says the American forces should've been successful, no problem, but that the generals and soldiers didn't know what they were doing.  Reminds me of the Northern generals defending D.C. in the beginning of the Civil War, just 49 years later.

--The Government section of D.C. was completely destroyed--and the awesome, mile-long wooden bridge, the National Archives, the White House (and all of the historically relevant things in it) and all of the early buildings, all built just 25-30 years before--if that.  Devastating.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Innocent Men Set Free After 30 Years

Photo: from the AP article mentioned below: "In an an Aug. 12, 2014 photo, Henry McCollum sits on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C. He and his half brother Leon Brown have spent more than three decades in prison for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in 1983."

I credited the caption from the article, but what I really wanted to write was:

For every overturned case due to newly-found DNA evidence that highlights a murder conviction based solely on bias--Doesn't this photo really say it all?

For the full report, read this article at this link.  Most of this entry is copied and pasted from this article, which states the facts much better than I could have.  Below the line is where I step in.

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina judge overturned the convictions Tuesday of two men who have served 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl after another man's DNA was recently discovered on evidence in the case.

Superior Court Judge Douglass Sasser ordered the immediate release of Henry McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46. The half brothers were convicted in the 1983 slaying of Sabrina Buie in Robeson County.

Lawyers for the men petitioned for their release after DNA evidence from a cigarette butt recovered at the crime scene pointed to another man. That man, who lived close to the soybean field where the dead girl's body was found, is already serving a life sentence for a similar rape and murder that happened less than a month later.

Sasser ruled after a day-long evidence hearing during which Sharon Stellato, the associate director North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, testified about three interviews she had over the summer with the 74-year-old inmate now suspected of killing Buie. The Associated Press does not generally disclose the names of criminal suspects unless they are charged.

According to Stellato, the inmate said at first he didn't know Buie. But in later interviews, the man said the girl would come to his house and buy cigarettes for him, Stellato said.

The man also told them he saw the girl the night she went missing and gave her a coat and hat because it was raining, Stellato said. He told the commission that's why his DNA may have been at the scene.

Stellato also said the man repeatedly told her McCollum and Brown are innocent.

Still, he denied involvement in the killing, Stellato said. He told the commission that the girl was alive when she left his house and that he didn't see her again. He told the commission that he didn't leave the house because it was raining and he had to work the next day.

Stellato said weather records show it didn't rain the night Buie went missing or the next day.

Authorities said McCollum, who was 19 at the time, and Brown, who was 15, confessed to killing Buie.

Attorneys said both men have low IQs and their confessions were coerced after hours of questioning. There is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime.

Both were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. At a second trial, McCollum was again sent to death row, where he remains, while Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life.

The DNA from the cigarette butts doesn't match either of them, and fingerprints taken from a beer can at the scene aren't theirs either. The other man now suspected in Buie's killing was convicted of assaulting three other women over 30 years before his last conviction.

Lawyers for the two men said the new testing leaves no doubt about their clients' innocence.
Ken Rose, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, has represented Henry McCollum for 20 years.

"It's terrifying that our justice system allowed two intellectually disabled children to go to prison for a crime they had nothing to do with, and then to suffer there for 30 years," Rose said. "Henry watched dozens of people be hauled away for execution. He would become so distraught he had to be put in isolation. It's impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost."


I have nothing but outrage to add to this, a pity since outrage doesn't come across well in a blog.  So I'll just reiterate one point: 

"There is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime."

However, despite this, "...[b]oth were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. At a second trial, McCollum was again sent to death row, where he remains..."

How do you give someone the death penalty--TWICE--for a conviction not based on any physical evidence at all, ever?  How does a mentally deficient man get the death penalty based on a confession he couldn't possibly have given willingly, in a case in which there's zero physical evidence against him?  And this wasn't in the bigoted first half of the 20th Century.  This was in 1983--just 31 years ago.

How many times do you think a black man with a very low IQ has been given the death penalty based solely on a "confession" and zero physical evidence?

Why doesn't somebody of national relevance order a review of every single case in which a black and /or mentally deficient (because of an extremely low IQ) man has been incarcerated due to convictions based on a "confession" and zero physical evidence?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Contest Winner!

Photo: Cover of Spring 2012's Space and Time Magazine, with my first sold story, "Hide the Weird."

And the winner of the contest, of all the comments on the entry announcing the publication of my last story, is......

Jonathan N.!!!

Jonathan, you've won the issue of Space and Time Magazine.  I've emailed you via the one you gave me.

Thanks to everyone, from Rhode Island to Australia, who commented and participated.

And thanks for reading!

Please stay tuned for more contests and prizes to come.  Prizes will be different, too.

Speaking of that, on my blog Steve's Baseball Blog--Cards and Commentary, I mentioned in my last blog entry today that I will be having contests over there as well, giving away one free 1909-1911 T206 card. These cards are extras of my collection, and are not professionally graded by SGC, PSA or anyone else. But they're cool cards, worth at least ten bucks or more, even in bad condition.

Do you have any collections of anything?  If so, what's your specific favorite in that collection?