Sunday, January 29, 2017

We Are Everyone, From Everywhere. We Do Not Ethnically Cleanse.

Photo: the Lady Liberty posted by Rihanna, Mandy Moore, Jessica Alba, and others after The Ban. From this website via The Daily Mail.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Just not after January 28th, 2017, I guess.

This nation was founded by those escaping religious persecution. Such persecution happens somewhere in the world, every day, and always has. But never before has it happened here.

We are the only nation on Earth that, by our very nature, is a consistently changing population. The population of most countries is predominantly an unchanging group of said peoples. The majority of the population of France is French; in Denmark, the Dutch. But in America, we're everyone, from everywhere. That is the very essence and nature of this country. We are Everyone, from Everywhere.

Let's not change that now. Let's not turn our backs on those who need us now. They're the next Us.

Germany tossed out, and closed its borders, against a certain peoples. That's not what we do. Let's not toss out Muslims, the vast majority of whom are not violent people. Let's not toss out Mexicans and then put up a wall against them.

The Muslim Ban today. The Mexican Wall tomorrow. What's next? When will it end? Is this the start of an American cleansing?

Let's not start this. Let's not do this. This is not who we are. That, is un-American. Literally.

[Please feel free to copy and paste into your social media, without giving credit. Please just share this message and spread the word.]

Friday, January 27, 2017

Back Spin by Harlan Coben

Photo: from at this address

A slightly better book than The Final Detail, the one I reviewed previous to this, Back Spin is about a golfing family--man, woman and child--that is torn by the kidnapping of said child. There's a large cast of supporting characters for a book of this genre, and by the end all of them figure into the crime in one way or another. There's nary a red herring in the whole thing.

There's nary a Win, either, which is a first for me in this series. Granted, I'm only three books in, but it seems that Bolitar and Coben agree on the same point: For the good of the series, or for Bolitar (which is saying the same thing), a little less of Win may be more. You can't have his safety net for the whole series, or for the main character. Every once in awhile, it's important that he does it alone. Win does come into it, of course, but only for character development. He does nothing to help solve the crime. (He attains a copy of an important VHS--this is the late-90s here--but that's it.)

This book again shows Coben's flair for character development. In these CSI-type mystery novels--I say CSI not because of the forensics, but because of the reliance on the tried and true formula of presentation, as well as the dominance of the case over all else--it's refreshing that Coben remembers and insists on character development and even moral philosophizing, the latter more on the reader's behalf after the reading is done, as opposed to the characters themselves babbling and morally philosophizing, which hampers lesser writers. Robert Parker, for example, who was not exactly a lesser writer, did occasionally get bogged down with Spenser and Susan's and Hawk's philosophizing and moralizing, which Coben seems to purposely stay away from. Not Parker's exclusively, but the habit of this genre's characters to do so.

In fact, Coben's characters go out of their way--even more than Parker's did, which is saying something--to point out cliches and to downplay them. In fact, Coben's characters do it so often, that in of itself is becoming a cliche. He believes, apparently, that pointing out the cliche is better than falling back on it. Though, of course, by mentioning them so often, and panning them so often, he's falling back on his characters doing that. I'm sure Coben has noticed this, but by now it's a staple of his series, and it's therefore way too late to stop doing it now. I can see this after just three books, and violently out of order, at that.

So Coben also is good at the character development, or at least with the characters being aware that they are developing. Bolitar especially realizes this about himself, in every novel so far, and in each he says that he doesn't like what he's learned about himself, either. But Bolitar also goes out of his way to notice the personages of his other friends, each of whom (Win and Esperanza so far) has had his fair share of the limelight. This is better than usual for this genre. For the third time in a row, as well--noticeable because I've read them so out of order--a mother has to go to an extreme to protect her child. (Again, it's a son.) This has become a common motif so far in Coben's work as well.

The case is riveting as well, as it needs to be, or all this character and good writing stuff would be worthless. As Stephen King points out, story, people, story. Leave the theme, development, etc. for later, to enhance the book. But the story--or, in this genre's case, the mystery--must prevail. Here it does. There are so many characters in this one, and each has some bearing on the ending, that it's important to notice that Coben gives each of them a dominating personality trait, so it's easy to tell them apart and to give a damn about them in some way, even in a negative way. (There's a white neo-Nazi with a Hispanic first name, for example.) Coben gets a pass here for getting too generalized with a group of high school girls and their vernacular, each of whom seems to talk like Jimmy Fallon's teenage girl impersonation, a good fifteen or so years before Fallon made it popular.

So this one is also worth a read, and again it's a very fast read, as I finished it in less than a day.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Harlon Coben's Home: How Far Would You Go to Defend Your Child? Is It Ever Too Far?

Photo: from, here.

It's been awhile since I've read a Myron Bolitar novel. I don't remember why, exactly. It's just one of those things: I picked up Nesbo, stopped reading him for awhile...and I've been reading other things since. But when my neighbor, a huge Bolitar / Harlan Coben fan (I'm more a fan of the latter than the former, because Coben was nice enough to buy me lunch once, and talk to me about how he wrote--but that's another story) asked me if I wanted to borrow his latest--in return for my letting him borrow all my Bolitar books--I said sure. (Thanks, Jim Fitz!) As it's a three-day weekend, and my sinuses are again out of control and I feel like crap, I started reading it and didn't put it down except to sleep. I started it yesterday and finished it today. (I read 90% of it yesterday, so there wasn't much to finish.)

It was that good. The mystery is very mysterious, and the pace and tension are so good that you'll be flipping pages, fast, like I did. The gist of the book is the title, though more specifically, it's about who your home is, not as much about the structure. Home is where the heart is, right? So where's your heart? That last question means more to the book than you'd think, and more than I'm letting on. (I'm a little proud of myself for this.) The book is about how far we'd go for our loved ones--specifically, how far a mother will go to protect her child.

The short answer: Very far. I know this. At my job I often see this, parents going to ridiculous lengths to defend their kid, even when the kid doesn't need defending.

This is an important distinction. We all know bad parents, right? Someone who lets the kid get away with everything: talking back, and badly, to them; showing bad manners, like not thanking people for gifts; and, perhaps the worst, defending them about everything, to the extent that nothing's the fault of the kid, so the kid never learns to grow up, to be responsible, to be self-reliant. We all know parents like this. Right now I'm sitting here, counting the ones I know who fit this distinction to a T, and I'm thinking 4, maybe 5--wait, there was a 6th, from a few years ago. It's more often the mother than the father, from my experience, though that last one had both.

So this book is about that question: How far will you go to defend your child? But...does the child need defending? And are you really defending the child, or are you defending, and / or celebrating, yourself? You ever see a parent so out of control with this defending thing that you wonder who, exactly, they're defending? Is it the kid who can never be wrong, or the parent who can never be wrong--so the parent, of course, couldn't raise an imperfect kid. Good God, if that happens, then that means the parent is also imperfect, right? Well--No, but they don't know that. Narcissists are not known for their logic. Watch for that, next time: Is the kid perfect, or is the parent defending the kid perfect, which is why the kid is perfect? From my experience, it's the latter.

This book isn't just about that, of course. It's about Win. In fact, it starts off with him, which threw me for a minute before I figured it out: Win's chapters are 1st-person narration; Bolitar's are third person. Limited or omniscient, you ask? Ah, there's my own caveat. (You knew there'd be one, right?) The third person omniscient narrator is almost a character himself. He hides behind the curtain, but he's there. He breaks the fourth wall to remind you he's there. Sometimes he masquerades as Bolitar's thoughts and voice-overs--and, unfortunately, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference--but he's there, trying very, very hard to be hip and snazzy. This third-person narrator (who reminds me a little uncomfortably of the narrator Snowman in those Christmas cartoons of the 60s) interrupts his own narration to often point out the obvious, or to point out the cliche, or to introduce the cliche, or to...You can either take it or you can't. Most of the time, I could.

I wish overall that Harlan Coben wouldn't do this, but I understand why he does: Something has to set the writing apart, right? Lee Child, Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben and a couple of others--Frankly, they write about the same genre, and the almost-same plots, and something has got to be different, right? I'm thinking now of Robert Parker's last 10 books or so. If you threw a title at me, and asked me to summarize the plot, I wouldn't be able to do it. I suspect that if I'd read all of Lee Childs's, or all of Coben's, I'd say the same about theirs. That's not exactly a drawback, either: One of the odd things about the genre is that a series character is like a pair of comfortable slippers. You slip them on, and you forgive their age, or their holes, or whatever, because they're comfortable. That the genre's books all blend together is actually part of the charm, not a detraction. The way to tell Coben's Bolitar apart from Parker's Spenser (as an example)? Why, Bolitar books have the narrator who frequently breaks the wall and speaks directly to the reader, even going so far as to use the second-person "you." That's no small thing, by the way, and it's a way to ease your feet back into those comfortable slippers. Every mystery writer wants a series cash cow with a main protagonist and his questionable sidekick / partner. Coben has Bolitar and Win as Parker had Spenser and Hawk. And, of course, if it works--which Coben's series obviously has--then you keep going, right? And you don't fix what's not broken.

So read this one, because the tension and plot and mystery are so good that you'll forgive the third-person narrator's trespasses, if that's even necessary for you to begin with. And at the end, you'll have a moral question to answer: Did the character go too far defending the child? (I'm having an image now of the adults who beat the piss out of each other to get the latest Christmas must-have. Remember those videos of grown people beating the snot out of others so their kid could get the store's last Tickle Me Elmo?) I would say Yes, because of the people I explained above, but I'll bet quite a few people will also say No, that you protect your child at all costs.

Even if the child doesn't need defending.

Monday, January 16, 2017

La La Land

Photo: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, watching a movie and each other, in La-La Land. From, just click here. The photo below is from the same page.

Disclaimer: Here there be spoilers. Consider yourself forewarned. If you want to see the movie, you might want to wait to read this.

My better half and I saw La-La Land recently, mostly because she's seen some "guy films" recently and I owed her one. She said I like depressing, serious films, so I should see this movie, which she said would be a happy musical. I offered the opinion that she would be surprised, that I had a feeling that all would not be well. Unfortunately, I was right about this.

It is a very good musical about going for your dreams--and the price you have to pay. There ain't nothin' free in this world, right? The movie's buzz has overplayed the feel-good vibe it sometimes has, and has vastly underplayed the sad ending, when both accomplish their dreams, but realize, perhaps, that they aren't completely happy. (Though, at the end, she seems happier than he does. But, I have to ask, perhaps in ignorance: If you're crazy about everything jazz, can you be happy? What draws people to a music genre that sounds, to me [again, perhaps in my ignorance], as unhappy and sad?) This note of sadness is especially surprising for Mia--Emma Stone's character--who has a husband and child at that point, but who looks back, wistfully, at the guy she left behind. The closing scenes, where Ryan Gosling's character plays in his head the emotions and relationship with Mia that might have been--and that would have been in the feel-good musical romances of MGM's past, which La-La Land respectfully emulates--are very touching and very sad. I walked out of the theater even more affected and sad than I thought I'd be.

When Gosling's Sebastian convinces Stone's Mia to go back and try out for a movie role she'd been singled out for--and when one of the people at the audition mentions it'll be a 3-4 month shoot in Paris (this is actually on the short side of many shoots)--I could see how the stars were aligning. And the irony being set up: If he doesn't convince her to go to the audition, she doesn't get the role. If she doesn't get the role, she doesn't go to Paris and perhaps they don't permanently break up. He knows this, as he'd previously been on the road a lot and she had suffered for it. (Though, to be fair, he'd stayed loyal and returned as happily and as often as he could to her.) So by convincing her to go for her dreams, he's showing that he loves her. And so because he loves her, he loses her. Such is life, especially if you live in La-La Land, figuratively and literally. (You know, how dreamers just think la-la-la-la-la and live in La-La Land? Get it? [My father used to say that to me all the time, usually when I was writing.] I had to explain that to someone recently, about what that means, and that it's not just another nickname for Los Angeles.)

I really appreciated the theme of going for your dreams, despite the immense rejection and obstacles that will come your way. I'm the only artist (I write stories and novels and tons of other things) and dreamer I know, so it's very frustrating to share my sadness and despair in the face of rejection. I don't know anyone else that well who can understand what it feels like to spend 20 years writing a novel that doesn't sell. And getting scammed when you're 21 by an "agent." (I was very heart-warmed to see that Gosling's character had also been scammed.) Nobody I know can relate.

I haven't been as brave as La-La Land's characters. I haven't gone all-out without a safety net. I've got a great career and benefits now, and I write when I can. I feel I'm too safe, too soft, to content and satisfied with my measly sales. But that all could've been different in my early-20s, when I was writing and floundering, and nobody was feeling me. Maybe I wouldn't have stopped writing for 9 years if I'd had someone then to talk to, to understand. I'd be a published novelist now with those 9 non-writing years back. (I know now that it's more my fault for letting the scam agent stop me than it was the scammer's for scamming me.) I didn't have a Mia at that time, or a Sebastian to come get me, to have confidence in me to keep me going.

But I digress. I think. Maybe not, for the message of the movie is to keep going, to try to achieve your dreams. And you'll have to accept the consequences as well. The ending of this movie reminded me of the ending to a depressing folksy song from the 70s. The end refrain mentions that "she wanted to be an actress / and I wanted to learn to fly." (Please leave a comment if you know the title.) Both in the song achieve their dreams, sort of: She's an unhappy trophy wife and he's an unhappy cabbie. She's an actress, because she has to act happy, and act like she loves her husband and her life. He has learned to fly, but as the end of the song goes: "I fly / so high / when I'm stoned." Well, La-La Land's characters aren't stoned (and let's not fall back on a stereotype about jazz musicians and drugs), but they aren't exactly happy, either. Not. At. All.

So go see this movie, but don't believe all the overhyped whimsy of this film. There is some, but I'm here to tell ya, this movie, in a way, is more depressing to me than the serious, depressing films I'm accused of preferring.

Do I really believe this movie is as sad as, say, Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan?

Yup. Yes I do.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meryl Streep, With Class, Smokes Trump

Photo: From, at this address. I know it's two different pics, but doesn't it look like he's shouting at her, and she's laughing at him?

Rather than take the moment for herself, and talk about herself, and congratulate herself, like the subject of her comments would have, Meryl Streep took a moment to remind the Foreign Press to make sure that they behave like the press, to call the powerful to account for any outlandish behavior our new and childish leader may exhibit. They're gonna be busy.

Here's the clip, in case you missed it, from, at the Golden Globes. Just click this link.

After her classy, understated, honest and stirring comments, I said to my better half: "How long until he calls her a terrible actress, or that she's overrated"--a common Trump tweet word--"or that her movies suck?"

Answer: Not long at all. He took to Twitter faster than you can say "he took to Twitter," and quickly thumb-typed that Streep was “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood.”

Overrated is, of course, one word. Obama would've known that. Then again, classy statesmen--and stateswomen--say things verbally, without hiding behind texted social media. They know how to say things, to state things with class and authority. They could type and write things correctly, too, but the point is they don't have to. They don't jump on social media like a miffed adolescent. Though I understand that to compare Trump to an offended adolescent is an insult to offended adolescents everywhere.

The reaction to his reaction was severe and swift. Note to Trump: You will not win a fight by denigrating Streep's acting ability. Hollywood not just loves her; it respects her. This is a fight you will lose. And it wasn't cool to compare yourself to Jesus over the holiday break, either, by the way.

SNL's former alumni, Rachel Dratch, said: “Anyone who calls #Meryl ‘overrated’ is unfit to serve."

Judd Apatow said, “She is over rated as an actress like Michael Jordan is over rated as a basketball player or Sully as a pilot or Ted Williams at baseball."

Star Trek's Mr. Sulu, George Takei, imitating a typical Trump tweet (which will be a common alliteration these next four years, just watch), wrote: “What a small, small man. SAD!"

J.K. Rowling, Ellen Degeneres and many others chimed in.

The best part of Streep's rather short remarks (considering how long-winded she could've been, and as you-know-who would've been) is that she was hurt by the exact same one thing that I have said stung me the most. Out of all the outlandish (and illegal, and stalking, and abusive, and...) things he has said and done over the years, still the most unbelievable, jaw-dropping, soul-sucking thing to me was when he mocked, mimicked and bullied that mentally and physically disabled New York Times reporter. More than the assaults on women--which would be bad enough, normally, of course--and more than the xenophobia, more than the outright lies (You didn't really believe Mexico was going to pay for a wall that costs billions, did you?) and more than anything else, when he verbally mimicked and physically emulated a disabled person on worldwide television, I was so flabbergasted, hurt, offended, and even now I just cannot effing believe I saw what I saw and heard what I heard, and I cannot believe so many people would not mind their President behaving this way--a way that would cause any teacher at any level to throw him out of their classroom and I know this is a terrible run-on sentence but I still can't get over it...How can someone vote for a butthole who behaves like this?

Well, Streep referenced it a lot better than I just did, with a lot more class than I ever could, because I'm so angry--and because it's possible that I just don't have as much class and poise as she does. Streep, as usual, said it with class and poise. Trump, as usual, did not respond with class and poise. She correctly compared his antics to a performance, one that successfully entertained its target audience, people who were ready to "bare their teeth" and connect to that kind of immature mindset and misbehavior.

What's going to happen when a leader of a country like China or Korea says something bad about him? Is it possible he could start World War III with a f---ing tweet?!?

You know, I think it is.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The 30 Books I Read in 2016, with Authors and Ratings

Well, here are [see title] from my Goodreads page, which you can find a link for somewhere to the right of this. How many have you read? Do you agree with my ratings? These are all reviewed on my Goodreads page, so if you're interested, feel free to read them. Many of them have also been reviewed for this blog. They're in alphabetical order by title, because that's how Goodreads had it. Because of the screwy formatting, the rating I gave the book is the one in brackets. Like [3 out of 5 stars.] Don't ask me why. It didn't appear that way in the draft.

For those wondering, 30 books is my personal best for any one year, surpassing the 28 from 2015. I read 10,933 pages in 2016, which is second to 2015's 11,605. (The Game of Thrones books are very long.) My 2016 pages average to about 210 and 1/4 pages a week. The year before, I averaged 223 pages a week. Of the 30 listed here, the best written were the two by Geraldine March, by far. Shockingly well-written, like you're there. At times the Leibermann books in Vienna, circa 1900-1905, were amongst the most interesting. Lots of things to Google and Wikipedia there. The Black Chaos book has a story of mine, so that was self-serving, but the other zombie stories in there are very good, too. I thought Stacy Schiff's book on the "witches" of Salem was so awesome that I bought two copies and I'm outlining a novel that will be set in Salem in 1692. Her book motivated me to write a fictional account of some of what I read there, plus other things in my own research. All in all, it was a very good year for reading, even though my own writing and sales lagged behind it.

I hope your 2017 is going well!

The 101 Habits Of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider's Secrets from Hollywood's Top Writers

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