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October 4, 2014

The novelist as a sports star

Sometimes, late at night on the deck, I will write a particularly tasty passage and wish I had somebody to read it to right then. I’ll even read it back to myself out loud and say, “Now that’s some good writing, right there. Top shelf!”

Blake Atwood reminded me of this Monty Python sketch, one of my favorites.

I have often reflected on how weird it is for some professions to not only be done as thousands or millions of people watch (sports, music, acting) but even weirder that some are subjected to endless analysis and discussion.

Consider the pre-game/post-game shows for football and other sports. These things occur before/after every single game for the entire season, hours and hours spent dissecting every player and play, their past performance, their future prospects. The only other profession that comes close is the politician.

Imagine if we did the same thing for musicians. What if every stop on a rock star’s tour was televised, with instant replays of especially tasty passages, and post-concert analysis of the bands performance were dissected and analyzed, compared to the last ten concerts, and compared to stats and abilities of the other national rock stars in their conference or league?

This video spoofs that kind of thing for novelists.

September 25, 2014

Jamming with Julie and Buddy Miller in 1982

I finally got around to digitizing a box of old cassettes and found this little gem recorded with Julie and Buddy Miller. It's not a great song. In fact, it's unequivocally lame, but on this night 32 years ago it was my newest effort. I like to think my songwriting has improved since then.

In 1981, Julie Griffin left her band in NY and returned to Waco, TX, where I met her through a common friend. When my band played a gig at the fair, Julie played 3 songs to open for us.

Several months later, Buddy Miller came down to Texas looking for his lead singer and girlfriend. In January of 1982, Julie and Buddy invited my family over for dinner and afterward we broke out the guitars and swapped songs. I hit record on a jambox before we started.

I don't have the rights to post the recordings of their material, which included How Could You Say No, but I can post one of the songs I wrote that they sat in on, Julie singing background vocals with my wife, and Buddy playing lead guitar.

And also the fun part—some interaction from the Number One Son on the front end.

September 7, 2014

Y59 R 130C B03 27038

Then the lights on the ceiling fan went out and somebody had to figure it out, so I pulled the light kit off. No apparent problem. I called in The Helpful Neighbor, who has a tester and, more importantly, the brains to use it. We determined that power was coming into the unit.

The puzzler is that there is very little that can fail in this system. The only thing between the wall switch and the light bulbs is wire and a $3 pull switch, and the switch tested just fine.

After an inordinate amount of troubleshooting, The Helpful Neighbor noticed a component about half the size of my little fingernail buried among the wires. We speculated on its purpose, since you don’t really need electronics to run a light. I suggested that it was planted by the NSA to spy on us.


Before we bypassed it to see if it was the point of failure, I decided to Google ‘y59 r 130c b03 27038’ to make sure we wouldn't regret it. It took us several minutes to recover from reading the link at the top of the search results.

July 1, 2014

Postal Recycling

“You know what I like about Tuesday?” I said.

“It's not Monday?” the Number One Son responded.

"It's when the junk mail comes."

"Ah. Why didn't I think of that?"

"There's more."

"I can hardly wait."

"It's also when they pick up the recycle."

"Well, there's a mercy."

"Yes, and an efficiency."

June 21, 2014

Characters from Fred: Vernon Crowley

At the beginning of this millennium, I expanded a series of short stories into the Fred books. Jake was in the short stories, but as I fleshed out the story of Living with Fred, I wanted another way into Jake’s story, and Vernon Crowley was born.

In the Texas singer/songwriter tradition there is what I call “the old man” song. I drew my inspiration for Vernon from these two classic songs of the genre.

Desperados Waiting for a Train
Lyrics


Pontiac
Lyrics


A few days after Christmas 2003 I woke up at 3 a.m. and after an hour or so realized I wasn't going to get back to sleep. I sneaked out of bed, into my office, and started writing Living with Fred. I didn't start at the beginning. I wrote the scene where Mark Cloud meets Vernon Crowley.

After a few pages I realized I needed to know a whole lot more about Vernon before I could write him with any degree of authenticity. Months of binge-watching WWII documentaries and devouring a dozen or so books from the library of first-person accounts of the European campaign followed.

I ended up with one of my favorite Fred characters. A few years later I wrote a song of my own, The One That Got Away. It’s the first one in this video.



Who’s your favorite Fred character?

June 7, 2014

Books, Chocolate, and Libations

Chocolate? Well, of course. Who wouldn't?

Robin Hardy, author of countless novels and the one single individual most responsible for me getting published, besides myself, of course, suggested that I join in the conspiracy to link chocolate with books. But that’s not good enough for me. Where there’s chocolate, there’s a libation, so you’re getting more for your money.

Dove Dark Chocolate / Ouled Thaleb Syrah / Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury


Some have linked dark chocolate with dark subjects, but I disagree. It’s bittersweet, and so I link it with Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, the book that springs to my head when I think of bittersweet. I discovered Bradbury in high school and began a lifelong love with his work. You could drop just about any of his books in here—Fahrenheit 451, Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes—but the creamy smoothness of the Dove Dark fits right in with the glorious 1928 summer of Douglas Spaulding in Green Town, Illinois.

Cadbury Milk Chocolate / Jameson Irish Whiskey / The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse


Milk chocolate is less sophisticated and nuanced than dark, but is also excellent when done up right, and that’s where we come to P.G. Wodehouse. There is no pretense with Wodehouse, no hidden meanings, no delving down into the nuance of the human condition. Wodehouse himself said, “I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without the music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn.” He brings good, clean fun by the lorry loads. And The Mating Season has the most complicated, outrageous plot of the 19 Jeeves books. To go with the milk chocolate, a simple Irish whiskey that adds a kick without getting in the way of the flavor.

A close second would be the Lucia books by E.F. Benson starting with Queen Lucia. I’ve been a fan for over twenty years and have yet to meet another person who has read them. A shame.

Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 85% / Fresh-ground medium-roast South American coffee black and strong / Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies


If you really want to get down to it with the real stuff, there’s nothing like an 85% cacao. And nothing better to complement it than a rich, strong coffee served black. No need for milk or sugar. The chocolate takes care of all that. So get plenty of both and settle down with the very clever and highly amusing first novel in the Salterton Trilogy. Davies is not so much unappreciated as unknown down here in the lower forty-eight, which is unfortunate because he was a brilliant writer, both of the novel and the essay.

Next week, Lara Resnik, author of The Girl From Long Guyland tackles this weighty problem.

May 20, 2014

The Mugs


A reader expressed an interest in my Rosie the Riveter mug featured in the coffee/microwave video, so I thought I'd share the three go-to coffee mugs I use to claw my way through the mornings.

In order of preference, from left to right:

  1. My favorite. I got this one at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva eight years ago.
  2. A close second. I got this on a visit to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans two years back with my true love, The Woman. 
  3. Like the design, but not the color. Acquired when I attended the Writer's Police Academy last year. 
I also have two preferred mugs for when making tea. They have a prevailing theme, as you can see.

May 14, 2014

Getting a Handle On It



“You know what I like about this microwave?” I said.

“It gets things hot?” the Number One Son responded.

“When you put in a half-cup of coffee and hit the 30-second button, it stops with the handle pointed toward you.”

The microwave beeped three times. I pulled open the door and grabbed the cup. “See?”

The Number One Son shrugged.

“Our last one stopped with the handle pointed toward the back. You had to set it for 22 seconds to get it to stop with the handle pointing out.”

The Number One Son began laughing.

“What?”

“Only you would take the trouble to figure out the exact number of seconds to get the handle pointed out. I mean, who does that?”

“Anybody interested in convenience and efficiency, that’s who.”

Am I right, or am I right?

April 26, 2014

The Open Season Reading Test

TAKE THIS SIMPLE TEST to determine whether you should read Open Season.

What do you do when you read the following sentences?

1. Her brothers had tried to teach her to play pool back in Louisiana, but it was all about angles and she was never good at geography.
  1. Laugh.
  2. Say, “Hey, there’s a typo. I think you meant geometry.”
  3. Look up geography in the dictionary.
2. It wasn't a simple question to answer, not like “How many fingers am I holding up?” or “What’s the square root of two?” and his hesitation left a lull in the conversation into which Zoe leapt.
  1. Laugh.
  2. Say, “Hey, is that a typo? You know the square root of two isn't one, right? It’s not an easy question. Maybe you meant square root of four?”
  3. Say, “The square root of two is 1.414.”
Now score your results.

If you answered A, congratulations, Open Season is the right book for you.
If you answered B, set the book down and back away slowly without making any sudden moves.
If you answered C, further study is required. Read the sample.

April 22, 2014

A Poem a Day


If there's one thing I would recommend to everyone, it's to never give advice.

I used to give advice. Back when I was young and stupid and knew everything. But after watching several disasters flower from people taking my counsel, usually interpreting it in ways I never would have imagined, I swore it off. I could tell you stories, but there are several people who would have to die first, and that's not practical.

The thing is, you never have to explain something you didn't say.

But I'm going to break that vow right now and advise something. Read one poem every day.

It doesn't have to be some serious, stuffy poem. It can be light and fun, like Ogden Nash, or zany and divergent, like Barbara Hamby, or wry and witty like Billy Collins. Or reflective or romantic or whatever suits you. But I do recommend mixing it up.

This is especially good advice for writers, but is also good for anyone who likes to get a fresh perspective every once in a while.

Here's the nice thing. APM and Garrison Keillor have made it easy.

Writer's Almanac

You can go to the website and either read or listen to the five-minute show, which starts with events of note on this day in history and concludes with a poem. Or if you prefer, you can listen to it on a radio station in your area.

If I don't catch it on the air, then I click Listen while I'm eating my Cheerios every day.