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Friday, January 27, 2012

One Great Reason to Buy a Book this Winter

  The early Kindle release of my new novel Jury Rig is now available from Amazon.  If you're interested, just follow this link to purchase the book for only $4.48.  That’s over 60% off the cover price.  The Kindle edition can also be downloaded for iPhone and Android.  If you are enrolled in Amazon Prime, you can borrow the book for free.  All around, it's a pretty good deal, and in addition to all of this, you're going to love the book.  You can read the summaries that go along with the book, but I'll add a little more personal detail here.
  I once read a wonderful story about Dostoyevsky that goes something like this:  In a letter to Ivan Turgenev, Dostoyevsky began to describe a book he was just beginning to write.  He had in mind to write a story about the most pure man that had ever lived.  Someone like Christ.  He accomplished this by penning The Idiot, which is great, because that sounds like the punchline to a joke.  But I was intrigued by the idea that Dostoyevsky would begin one of his five great novels in such a way.  So when I had finished a novel a few years ago, I asked myself what I would like to write next.  I'm not sure why, but an idea crept into my head.  I wanted to write a book about a criminal who didn't want to pay for his crimes, but he wanted society to forgive him for his crimes.  That sounded pretty odd, so I sat down for six months or so, in between the actual chaos of life, and I crafted what turned out to be a very entertaining book on this subject.  (I can say it is entertaining due to the always positive response I hear from anyone who's read it.)  There was actually a pretty serious hurricane that interrupted the work I put into this.  Which, as you'll find out if you read the book, is quite apropos.
  So now the book has been through the difficult process of editing, polishing, polishing it more, with even more polishing after that.  My family is a little sick of it, and all I can say is thanks to each of them for all of their help and ideas and opinions.  And after all of this time, Jury Rig is now available for all to see and enjoy.
  I could be lazy and simply tell you that Jury Rig is just a Mystery.  Or I could say the same thing by switching out the word mystery and replacing it with Thriller.  Or even Courtroom Drama.  I could actually say Pirate Adventure story, and I wouldn't be lying.  It's all of those things, and yet really it's a comedy, too.  I'd like to tell you why pirates take over a boat full of whining, bickering, and generally unpleasant people.  But if I did, you might later wish I hadn't so that you could enjoy the book much more with less foreknowledge.
  There's plenty for everyone in this mixed up adventure.  About the only things I left out was vampires and zombies, which is good, since the world at large has got to be getting tired of those guys.
  Jury Rig is not yet available for purchase at online bookstores.  However, you can actually buy this book early.  The print version is now available from CreateSpace.  Just click here.  For a limited time, you can purchase it with a 20% discount using this code: CLWN677V.
In February, the print edition will be available at Amazon, and you will be able to buy it in brick and mortar stores, though you'll likely have to ask for it. 
  I hope you enjoy the book, and that you let me know what you thought of it when you've finished it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My View of Hitchcock's Coffin

  Living with a poet, I am exposed to a great many books of poetry.  With so many of them lying around the house, and with my habit of picking up and reading anything I find near at hand, I can say that I've read a great deal of poetry, though I rarely ever set out to do anything of the kind.  Now, let me be the first to say that I'm not drawn to poetry.  Most of it leaves me wondering what I've just read, or worse, it leaves me with the faint impression that the poet has just insulted me or at the very least judged me and found me lacking.  That's a bit of an old joke with my dear wife, who has often showed me a new poem of hers, which after reading I'll say: "Well, that's obviously about me, and you're mad at me."  She usually insists that I'm wrong, though I have a feeling that's not always true.

  If you have read any of my posts you'll know that I'm a big movie buff.  Sure, I enjoy modern movies, but nowhere near as much as older movies.  So you can imagine how intrigued I was to find a copy of Kim Bridgeford's latest book, Hitchcock's Coffin on our living room coffee table.  Hitchcock anything will catch my eye.  The subtitle, sonnets about classic films, transformed the intrigue into a full-blown plot line.  Like a character in a Jules Dassin Noir, I surreptitiously slipped the book behind my back and tried to make my way out of the room without attracting attention.  (Cue the Dmitri Tiomkin mood music.)  I failed.  My wife asked, "Are going to read that?"  There was a pause; I'd been caught attempting to take a book of poetry.  "Well, yes.  It seems this is all about old movies, and Alfred Hitchcock, and Billy Wilder," I mumbled.  "You'll love it," she said.  The only thing left unsaid was the fact that I was actually going to read a book of poetry.  I tugged at the collar of my trenchcoat, glanced furtively along the street, and disappeared into an alley, still clutching the book in my sweaty palms.

  All drama aside, I did in fact sit down to read the book.  And while I'm no professor of poetry, American literature, or even a professor of Gilligan's Island, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few things about Ms. Bridgford's book.

As the lights went down, the curtain came up, and the titles flashed across the screen, I was immediately taken in by the first sonnet in the book.  Simply titled Hollywood, it let me know right away that Bridgford is a true fan of film.  Like me, she too sits "alone, outlined with dark," and that together--

     ...we believe: in large imagination,
     The swell of orchestra, the railway station,
     With lovers kissing in the hissing steam;
     A moment's sadness is recast as dream.

  That was all I needed to know I'd like the rest of the book.

  There are three sections to the book.  The first focuses on Hitchcock, the second on Billy Wilder, and the third takes a look at close to twenty of the American Film Institute’s 100 Best Films; a journey that takes the reader from suspense and terror to love and comedy and finally ending with greatness.

  In one of the strongest poems in the first section, Hitchcock and Poe prods us to recognize that this book is not just about movies--it is also about artists who were just as creative and important as the literary giants of the past.  The author makes this clear when she says, "They want to reach inside, to seize the heart/They want the pounding restlessness of art."  There are wonderful commentaries here on Hitch's most popular films: Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo.  Among the other choices she pleasantly surprised me by choosing The Wrong Man, a movie I'd recently seen.  Don't look for her to highlight the more sensational details of Hitchcock's work.  Instead, most of her focus is on the man behind the camera.  Something we might have thought a magician like Hitchcock wouldn't have liked, since he was always trying to keep the audience from paying attention to the man behind the curtain with all of his smoke and mirrors.   His cameos, Bridgford notes, indicate this is not entirely true.  As she states in her sonnet Hidden, "He hid himself in order to be found."

  The next section, on Billy Wilder, continues to look at the artist more than his art.  A friend once remarked that it always seemed as if Wilder's films wandered off course towards the latter parts and he never got the ending right.  Bridgford's view throughout this section can be summed up in the opening lines of her sonnet The Fortune Cookie:

     This movie is both smart and cynical,
     And it's the latter thing that gives us pause,
     For while we know he's right, it doesn't sell.
     We feel too bad.  We wince from Lemmon's lies.

  Perhaps some of his cynicism has worn off on the poet as she asserts in Billy Wilder's Grave that the throngs at his funeral did not just come to see the witty epitaph on his marker.  Rather, "Marilyn's the one the bereft/Come to see: extravagant and late,/Her skirt a lavish orchid gone adrift."  Wilder could not have shot that scene any better.

  The last section touches on so many great films (To Kill a Mockingbird, A Streetcar Named Desire, Citizen Kane, to name just a few) that I won't try to comment on most of these satisfying sonnets.  There were a few that I was not expecting a female poet to take a shot at.  But she did.  And I'm glad she did.

  The Third Man is a favorite of mine.  It stars one of my favorite actors, Joseph Cotton, and it is one of the most iconic film noirs you'll ever see.  Bridgford beautifully captures its dark intrigue and bleak ending.

  In Lawrence of Arabia, she again displays the power that film has over those of us sitting in the dark:

     It is about the way we want a film
     To take us by the eyes and overwhelm,
     To take our little lives and stretch them thus,
     So that each moment is miraculous.
     For those who'll never ride in vivid color;
     For those for whom the moments are far duller.

  I can still remember such a feeling as a seven-year-old sitting in the dark as that first, awe-inspiring Star Destroyer flew over our heads in the opening scene of a little sci-fi movie that once had the simple title Star Wars.  Grand movies like David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia certainly do overwhelm.  Bridgford's commentary on Lawrence's tragic end manages to do the same: "And even he, our hero, in the end,/Is not so beautiful, and starts to blend."

  The biggest surprise in the book was the sonnet written about one of my favorite westerns of all time: Unforgiven.  As if saving the best for last, the second to the last sonnet in this book really puts a bullet through your heart.

     Clint Eastwood in a role of hesitation
     Confuses us.  We want to watch some justice;
     We want some blood, the carnage that released us
     As a nation.  We want our liberation.

She deftly reveals not only the subtleties of this anti-western, but she turns the camera around and points it at all of us watching; all of us who yearn for Eastwood to throw off his cloak of guilt and newfound religion, all of us who want Dirty Harry to just get on with the killing, all of us who weren't ready to follow Clint down into this ambush of our personal desires of vengeance that had been forged in the Hollywood of old.  But she joins us in the end, sitting there in the dark, the camera on her as well as the rest of us.

     We're meant to think about the Western's cost.
     Yet we'd prefer to revel in what's lost.

  I've had to give the book back to my wife now, since it is, after all, her copy.  But like any classic movie, I'm sure I'll enjoy catching it again late at night when I can't sleep.  I hope that Ms. Bridgford realizes that there are still over eighty titles left on the AFI's list of 100 Best Films about which she could write.  If she did, I would look forward to the chance to sit yet again in the dark and watch more moving pictures with her.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My View of the Best Movies of 2011

In honor (dishonor?) of the Oscars, which just announced their nominees, I would like to offer an opposing view.  In as much as they are called the Oscars, I'll call mine the Felixes.  (Which seems so appropo, since Oscar was a cultural opposite of Felix.)  Now, I'll have to apologize, a bit.  First of all, I have not seen all that Hollywood had to offer this year, thank God, and so I may be missing a few gems out there.  And my view is merely that of a midwesterner-turned-southerner who, as Barak Obama once said, is clinging to my guns and religion.  This can only mean my choices will not coincide with the bigwigs in Tinseltown.  Again, thank God, I say, as I cling to Him.
I watched 32 movies that were released in 2011.  A few of these are listed as 2010, though they did not reach wide release until 2011.  I do not include movies I saw on DVD that were officially released in 2010.  So, limited though my view is, here are my nominees for the 2012 Felixes.  (I will only nominate three in each category.)

File:Midnight in Paris Poster.jpgFile:The Ides of March Poster.jpgBest Picture:
The Debt
The Lincoln Lawyer
Midnight in Paris

Best Director:
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
John Madden, The Debt
Actor in a Leading Role:
Bradley Cooper, Limitless
Ryan Gosling: The Ides of March
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Actress in a Leading Role:
Diane Kruger, Unknown
Helen Mirren, The Debt
Zoe Saldana, Colombiana

Actor in a Supporting Role:
Clancy Brown, Cowboys & Aliens
Cliff Curtis, Colombiana
Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

Actress in a Supporting Role:
Kathy Bates, Midnight in Paris
Jessica Chastain, The Debt
Elle Fanning, Super 8

Admittedly, I don't see too many movies that are mainstream other than action movies, which I like to catch on the big screen.  Most of my movie watching is older movies.  It was not a good year for movies, and I had to really jog my memory to recall any actors worth mentioning here.  Mostly, you can say Midnight in Paris for any category, other than special effects.  And special effects is a funny category now.  Is the category about great filmed effects?  Or simply the best computer wizardry?  I watched two dozen action films this year and none of the whiz-bang special effects caught my eye.  About the best effects I saw last year were on the movie Apollo 18
As you can see by this list, I most heartily recommend Midnight in Paris as well as The Debt, and The Ides of March.

Monday, January 23, 2012

One Reason I've Been Remiss in Writing Posts

Lately I've been remiss in getting posts up on this blog.  I have a few good reasons for this; here is one of the more pronounced reasons: 
The New Look
  I have been extremely busy editing and preparing a manuscript for publication.  My novel, Jury Rig, will soon be out, and I've been polishing it as well as working on the design of the book, including the art work.  This takes a great amount of time, since no matter how many times I seem to proofread a manuscript of 79,000 words, I can open it right back up and find a mistake without the slightest effort.  It makes me doubt my eyesight (which is certainly worse than it was ten years ago) and my brain (which should be in better shape than ten years ago solely because I'm older, and supposedly wiser.)
  One of the bigger time consumers has been a design overhaul.  The original novel had a different title, design theme and artwork.  The art department came up with a new idea just one week ago, and much time was spent bringing this idea to life.  I received fantastic help from my talented daughter Kathryn during this redesign.
  Once the print book design was done, I then had to prepare the book for Kindle, which has been an adventure since the method is new to me.  I'm getting better at it, and it should take less time the next time around.  As a bit of a perfectionist, I can now say I'm well acquainted with saving, converting, saving, uploading, rendering, saving, converting, checking, saving, searching the web for help, waiting, drinking coffee...
  Jury Rig is a comedic novel, somewhere in the neighborhood of a mystery/courtroom drama/action thriller: think Agatha Christie meets Donald Westlake.  That's not boasting, as if I've cleverly created a highly complex story that fits all of those genres.  Rather, it is an attempt to describe the odd story line that eventually develops in the book.  Hopefully, readers will find it entertaining, with plenty of chances to laugh and even a few chances to stop and think about a thing or two.  
  The Kindle edition will be available this Friday (the 27th), and the print edition is scheduled to be available on Feb. 1st.  I hope everyone who is kind enough to take the time to read it will be thoroughly satisfied.  You can visit Rocket Fire Books to learn more about it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My View of the Quick and the Dumb

   I have been working on a project for several years now.  It started with a book I picked up: Charles King's The Black Sea: A History.  This was a fascinating little overview of that region's history since the early ages of man up until our modern age.  One of the more interesting nuggets I mined from this book was a discussion of the use of lazarettos in port cities.  I admit I'd never heard of them.  They were kind of bizarre.
   A lazaretto was a quarantine station in which newly arrived travelers (by sea) were placed, to wait out a specified time in order to prove they exhibited no symptoms of infectious diseases.  What caught my attention was the fact that if you were found to be sick, you were often refused entry into the city, and there were precious few ships that were willing to take you anywhere else in the Mediterranean.  Simply, you could be stuck in the lazaretto for the rest of your life.  It was a daunting prospect, to say the least.
   Intrigued, I began to think of what would happen if a space-faring society set up a lazaretto on a central planet and forced all travel between planets to pass through this system.  The real catch was that I imagined that if you were found to be sick, you were left in the lazaretto, with no chance of ever leaving.  It would be a dark world, indeed.
   So I set about writing this story.  I didn't just write a story, I wrote a novel.  Then I wrote a second one.  I'm writing the third one now.  I've pestered my family with it, as well as a few others.  Those who have read it have been more than kind with their praise.
   There are just a few problems with it.  The kind that get me in trouble with today's publishers.
   The novel is longer than your typical thriller.  Most books today run from 80,000 words to around 120,000 words.  That is something in the neighborhood of 250 to 400 pages for a paperback.  The common advice to writers now is trim, trim, trim.  The idea being that a book must read as fast as possible.  You skim from one page to the next, and you finish in time to buy the next, quick-paced volume in the series.  Don't waste time with any text that doesn't rush you to the end.  People just don't have the attention span for anything else.
   And speaking of people, let's move on to the next bit of advice that is handed down from on high: dumb it down.  Seriously, editors actually use that phrase.  They advise that we look at the lowest common mind set out there and write to their level.  No one wants to read anything that forces a man to use a sizable portion of his brain.  Smaller ideas and smaller words sell.  We're living in an age of idiots.  Pander to them.
   These guidelines can be defended, depending on the type of book written and the sales goals of the publisher.  I have decided, however, that for my story about the lazaretto, it just won't do.  What I really want is to believe that there are readers out there who still care about a good story, and don't just want a fast food novel to consume on their way to the next little snack.
   I am encouraged, from time to time, to see that there are exceptions to this dismal publishing outlook.  Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a wonderfully long and evenly paced adventure that is far longer than nearly every book available at the chain bookstores.  Dan Simmons has published several long books that don't fit next to the other genre novels on the shelf.  And of course, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books certainly would have to be trimmed down and sped up by today's standards.
   So I will not give in.  I understand not everyone has time to read lengthy novels, though they seem to have time to watch hours and hours of television series and sporting events.  I also realize not everyone has the education to handle every level of writing.  I have trouble reading Henry James.  I'm serious.  I don't seem to understand half of what that man is saying.  But I do think that most people could take the time to read something that is written on at least a high school level.  Remember, most newspapers are written on a sixth-grade level.  We get used to that.  We must work to keep our minds exercised with something heavier.
   If you've taken the time to read this post, you might just be the type of person who has the attention span and desire to read something more than the usual fare offered in the marketplace.  If so, you might want to check out my Lazaretto books.  The first one will soon be available.  I'll update everyone when it does.  Now, go on and read something that requires your full attention and the use of your wonderfully complex mind.  You'll be happy you did.