30 April 2007

Playing hooky

I took today off for mental health reasons. I've been spending all my weekends hobbled and not moving around much, but my job still requires me to use my legs. It is nice to have a day, a work day, where I don't have to move around. I'm going to finish another Hard Case Crime book (Donald Hamilton's Night Walker) and surf the 'net a little, and listen to the Giants on the radio tonight. Last night we went out late and saw a show at Sengthong's Blue Sky Room in Dunsmuir. Yes, little Dunsmuir has the happening-est spot in Siskiyou County. Roy Rogers, the Golden State's blues guitar king, showed off his sensational chops. My head is still ringing! He is a diminutive fellow and hid his face behind a grey fedora, but his fingers flew off the fretboard like little dervishes and the clean, clear notes piled on top of each other with amazing speed. He played with a slide on his baby finger, and sang his own compositions along with covers of Willie Dixon's "Built For Comfort" and Elmore James's "Shake Your Moneymaker." He managed to update the Delta sound (he played two Robert Johnson numbers, "Kind Hearted Woman" and "If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day") and fuse it with a rollicking, upbeat Chicago-style boogie. This guy is the real deal and deserves to be "checked out." His website is The Slide Zone. OK, OK, I'll admit that I played hooky so I could stay up late partying to some great live blues. Not being able to dance, I happily sat at the bar and drank pale ales and double bourbons on the rocks. I'm paying for that, a little, today. You know the rules: do the crime, do the time.

29 April 2007

God bless you, Mr. Trout

Kilgore Trout says in God bless you, Mr. Rosewater, "In time almost all men and women will become worthless as producers of goods, food, services, and more machines, as sources of practical ideas in the areas of economics, engineering, and probably medicine, too. So--if we can't find reasons and methods for treasuring human beings because they are human beings, then we might as well, as has so often been suggested, rub them out." The empahsis is Kilgore's, not mine. I can call a fictional character by his first name. And I'm particularly fond of Kilgore. He's a science fiction writer. He's not real, of course. He wrote a book (it was really Philip Jose Farmer) called Venus on the Half-shell that is a real book. You ask: why should I read this book? I answer: why not? You ask: are there other fish-named science fiction writers? I answer: indeed, Theodore Sturgeon. You should read Mr. Sturgeon. And I particularly like "Riders of the Purple Wage" by Mr. Farmer, anthologized in Harlan Ellison's well-known Dangerous Visions. Kilgore's quote made me think of that seductive and terrifying tale of a brave new world. At least Kilgore left us an instruction: ". . . find reasons and methods for treasuring human beings . . . " which ought to be clear enough.
God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.

28 April 2007

Murdaland (warning: story details revealed)

Murdaland is what the hobbled read on warm, still spring days. May 9th I get sliced, and I can get off my James Stewart-in-Rear Window-ass again. At least I'm getting some reading done, and Murdaland has some particularly excellent work in it. The final piece is a David Goodis reprint. It is exciting to discover authors like Stephen Gibson ("Boars") and to revisit others like Ken Bruen ("Words are Cheap"). I'll probably read the whole issue through again before I get #2 in the mail later this year. Too many good stories, and all of them deserve to be read again. In the meantime I will wait patiently for Out of the Gutter #2, and read that with a sharper critical eye than before. The bar has definitely been raised. The other book I finished today is HCC-023, The Last Quarry. Max Allan Collins now has three in the Hard Case Crime paperback library. The Goodis story was called "Professional Man" and it was about a hired killer who had to kill a woman he loved. The Last Quarry was about a hit man who falls in love with his intended victim. I wonder if the Hit-Man-As-Regular-Joe is the flip side of the old Prostitute-With-A-Heart-Of-Gold plot. We know that "fallen" women litter the scenery in noir fiction, and some of them get "redeemed" but mostly they just kill, get killed, or get others to kill for them. If they live, they get to live with the tragedy they (often unwittingly) set in motion. Do men who sell their "services" get the same treatment? Goodis is typically bleak, and the ending is devastating. Collins is more modern, and strangely, more lenient. "Quarry" is a series character, so it makes sense that there is too much invested in him to bump him off. And although Tom Hanks dies in the movie version of Road to Perdition, the end is somber, not tragic. Just points out how good Goodis is.

27 April 2007


A new feature here at TPP is "5-10-15." Since birthday XXXI I have kept a log of all the books I've read. Regularly I hope to enervate readers with a peek into the past. What was M.C. reading? Are you bored yet? OK, if you're still with me, we'll take a look at 15 y.a., or 1992. I had just been introduced to the British military historian John Keegan--his Face of Battle changed my thinking. Keegan is not the most accessible writer, but he his engaging and thought-provoking. After Keegan, you won't be able to watch battle scenes in films like Braveheart without laughing. Ten y.a., 1997, was my introduction to Carroll John Daly. Like Robert Bellem, Daly was one of the pioneers of hard-boiled fiction. I have to thank an "Old Blue," ex-roomate Marcus, for turning me on to this stuff. When you read Satan Hall stories, you understand where Dashiell Hammett comes from. I challenge anyone to read the first paragraph of The Maltese Falcon--where we meet Sam Spade--and the first paragraph of Satan Sees Red--where we meet Satan Hall--and not think "plagiarism." In 2002, I reluctantly accepted a loan of Laura Hillenbrand's Sea Biscuit, a surprising and wonderful read which impressed me greatly. A healthy dose of John Shirley is always good for the soul, his collection, New Noir, has been a huge influence on me. Check out Mr. Shirley HERE.

26 April 2007

CQ CQ CQ (anyone listening?)

Baseball is a radio game. I grew up with Lon Simmons and am just old enough to remember Russ Hodges as well. KSFO was the Giants station "back in the day" and like many my age I can still sing "When the Giants Come to Town, it's Bye-Bye Baby!" Jon Carroll of the SF Chronicle wrote a great piece the other day about the joys of baseball broadcasts. Check it out HERE. Thanks, Nancy for sending it my way. Last night we listened to the Giants beat the Dodgers, a tense game that involved a Barry homer (741) and a quick, easy Benitez save. We were settling down on the couch around 10 p.m. for a long, drawn-out, agonizing Armando Benitez 9th-inning nail-biter, when he fooled us all and blew through the Smogsuckers with ease. Ah, baseball, it never gives you what you expect! Nowadays baseball on the radio requires a subscription to MLB audio for 15 bucks per season. (My local Giants "affiliate" station also plays the A's along with its predictable line-up of whining reactionaries, and I can't count on them to carry every game.) I can get the radio over my DSL-internet connection and play it on the computer. I have a little gizmo used with mp3 players that plugs into the speaker port of the computer and sends out an FM signal. I tune my home stereo in to that frequency and PRESTO! Baseball on the radio! The best part? I can use my remote to mute the commercials. I can't mute out the pointless, hyperactive chatter of the announcers, and long for the days of relaxed, slow-talking Lon, but you take the good with the bad. Yesterday was, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Feast Day of St. Mark the Evangelist. Thus April 25th is my "Namesday." A Giants victory over the Dodders ain't a bad way to celebrate it!

25 April 2007

Diagnosis: Meniscectomy

A "partial" meniscectomy, that is. I hate words that end in "ectomy" as you know something of yours is getting sliced off. My visit to the orthopedic surgeon started badly with a nearly hour-long wait (make appointments in the morning if you want doctors to be on time), but improved as time went on. He and his assistant left me with a good impression. They were confident, knowledgable, and understanding. The doc very patiently answered my many detailed questions with no hint of annoyance. Both the doc and the P.A. spoke to me as if I were capable of understanding polysyllables, and both treated me with courtesy and professionalism. If I'm going to get sliced, I'm OK with this outfit. The fact that they are less than a mile from my house is a big plus. The surgeon had a great line: "If this were my knee, I'd be here for surgery tomorrow at 8:00 a.m." The surgical "fix" is the quickest and probably safest choice, and if I make that choice, sooner is better. But the surgeon admitted that shaving the meniscus changes the physics of the knee joint. Like a road cut, the bank eventually erodes. The shaved slope of the meniscus will wear down again, and guess where I'll be? Back under the 'scope! The doc said he'd see me again in "seven years." I don't like that. But non-surgical therapies will take too long--the lack of functionality will be hell on me mentally. And they will have there own set of potential complications. Cartilage does not "heal" like skin or muscle. Really, I have a choice between various types of adaptation. I guess that is what being XLVII is all about--adjustments. I finally have the athletic confidence and skill that I lacked as a youngster, but the body is breaking down. So it goes.

24 April 2007

Spring of '07

My mother grew up near Fenway Park and will kick you out of her house if you suggest that Ted Williams is anything other than the Greatest Player of All Time. Naturally, I keep my mouth shut about Barry. She sent me David Halberstam's Summer of '49 for Christmas in 1996, which I devoured eagerly. I was only familiar with his famous The Best and the Brightest, and reading that had spurred a frenzy of Vietnam study: Phillip Caputo, Neil Sheehan, Stanley Karnow, Michael Herr, and William Westmoreland's A Soldier Reports. But Summer was about baseball, more precisely, the Yankees and the Red Sox, and that's my territory. I'm skeptical and critical by nature, and have little patience for scholarly tomes about The World's Greatest Game. Mr. Halberstam can write, though, with great verve and passion, and his story about the 1949 pennant race feels like a novel. It was so good that when I discovered October 1964 about the Cardinals and Yankees in the World Series, I gobbled it like chocolate candy. Halberstam has the ability to tell you history and give you the sense of the times without losing the narrative flow of the main story. The characters are iconic--Williams, DiMaggio, Mantle, Gibson--but the men in the book are real, and so are the tumultuous times they play in. Great reads, both of them. David Halberstam was killed yesterday in a car crash in Menlo Park, California, after speaking at my alma mater, U.C. Berkeley. From the SF Chronicle: "On Saturday, Halberstam talked about the importance of craft, advising the audience at one point that if they wanted to learn storytelling, they should read mysteries, where it was paramount to build suspense and keep the reader interested." I knew there was a reason I liked this guy. Requiescat in Pacem.

23 April 2007

A Look at the Loo

I suppose I'll have to label some posts as "rants" about things in general. Fer chrissakes, how does one get through a day without at least one stream of expletives directed at someone or something idiotic? One of my favorite websites, the BBC, has great news and sports, but also celebrity bits of astonishing silliness. The latest Hollywood Hipster to speak out on Important Issues is the lovely and talented Ms. Sheryl Crow, who is concerned about the amount of time the hoi polloi spend wiping their arses. Or, more precisely, the amount of paper we use. Crow has suggested using "only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required". I can say from this moment forward that I will happily use less TP in the loo, and substitute instead Ms. Crow's CD liners. I'm sure she has a few thousand laying about that can be shipped up my way. At least I can promise Cheryl I'll think of her when I'm wiping the brown gunk off. I know I'm supposed to be glad, grateful even, that a famous wealthy person cares about global warming, especially when El Presidente pretends it isn't real, but gimme a break. Has any one of CC's handlers, minions, toadies, personal assistants, studio reps, lawyers, agents or (gasp) FRIENDS suggested to her that she looks and sounds like an IDIOT when she talks about freaking toilet paper? Look honey, if you want to help, do some real work. Or shut your mouth and open your checkbook and pay people who will.

22 April 2007

Writer's blog

I suppose the pun was inevitable. "I'm suffering from writer's blog." Ha-ha. I never seem to suffer from speaker's block, most who know me think I suffer from speaker's diarrhea. It is a rarely fatal malady, more like an annoying rash. You scratch and scratch and apply ointments and salves and you discover that just spreads it. So, is there any way to channel speaker's diarrhea through my fingertips? That would get the blog flowing, eh? Enough of that. I will start adding labels to the posts henceforward. One category will be "writing." Another will be "books & reading," labeled thusly so I can blog about stuff I read that ain't in a book. I will bow to the crushing weight of my history and include a "baseball" or "giants" tag. After all, I can't go all summer without writing about Me Bhoyos. For those pals o'mine in the Giants E-mail Group, I Will Not Abandon All Ye Who Enter Here. The GE-mG will function as usual. TPP will serve for those pontificatory excesses suitable only for volunteers. Kind of like "optional" readings in university classes. As if the required few hundred pages a week weren't enough! Blimey! I expect a "whiskey" label will make a showing as well. This won't change much, just make it easier for fans and new converts to get caught up on any threads that may emerge. Of course, I could go on for years here at lovely blogspot.com and have no more than two other persons in the universe bother to read it. But that's OK. That's why they call it writer's blog.

21 April 2007


Cap'n Bill celebrated his retirement last night after 37 years a firefighter. Bagpipes wailed and fireworks burst from the demesne of Castle Lloyd. Delicacies were shared and roast haunches were devoured. A keg of beer was drained and party cake was consumed. Thirty-seven years. If you multiply 37 by 365 (and add 9 leap days) you get 13,514 days. That is one billion, one hundred sixty-seven million, six hundred nine thousand, six hundred seconds. 1,167,609,600. My calculator shows it as 1.1676096 E 09. Now I think I'm supposed to add a leap second in there for the millenium--or is it subtract? I can't recall. I'm sure I can dig it out of the U.S. Naval Observatory website some time when I'm feeling really nerdy. I was contemplating the billion seconds because of the piece de resistance of the affair, namely, a 37-year old single malt whisky called Bruichladdich. Impossible to pronounce at first glance, it is hard to imagine that "brook-laddie" will do, though that fails to capture the aspirated k-sound. Get that first "ch" caught in a gargle in the back of your throat and the whisky sounds like a curse, or maybe a prep move in a loogey-hawking contest. Shame on me--the whisky was too sublime for that! Thirty-seven years in American oak, in a cool, dark cellar on a Hebridean coast, this was a once-in-lifetime whisky. The nose alone had such depth and complexity I was afraid the flavor and finish would be unable to live up the the expectation it created. No need to fear. The golden dram was impossibly smooth, with warm, rich tones, and a long, dry, lingering aftertaste. Memorable stuff, and a memorable night. Amazing what a billion seconds can do.

20 April 2007


M.C. gets some notice! Check out Muzzle Flash, the hard-boiled e-zine, for my story "Silent Partner." The link to MF is below and to the left on my "m.c. sez check 'em out" list. Or I suppose you could click here http://www.dzallen.blogspot.com/. I've collected my 3 flash pieces and my 1 short story into a chapbook. Send me an email (moc@snowcrest.net) if you want a copy shipped your way. Don't forget to click on the link for Out of the Gutter magazine (on the MF page or on my list) for the list of contributors to issue #2. Guess who's there? That's right, your loyal and trusty M.C.! How 'bout that? I suppose that just means I have to get to work and write some more stories. I can only milk these for so long. Speaking of long, I'm keeping it short today. Happy 4-20, everyone.

19 April 2007

738 and counting

Unlike the national media, I'm rooting for Barry to go all the way. I know, I know, I said I wouldn't make this into a Giants blog. But after 13 games and 4 homeruns, it looks like Barry is strong and healthy and poised to make history. It will be a Pyrrhic victory. Much of the Baseball Establishment is anti-Bonds and will do everything they can to taint the accomplishment. In fact, they have already. Roger Maris didn't get his due when he broke Ruth's single-season record. When McGwire and Sosa chased history in 1998, Roger got his accolades, finally. Of course he was dead by then. Mark and Sammy have gotten their comeuppance now, and the "sports-writers" and their morally corrupt brethren will make sure that Hank Aaron is properly lionized while Barry Bonds is sledged without mercy. Now, baseball records have a hell of a lot less social significance than loser assholes shooting up college campuses, or the continuing genocide in Darfur (whoops, I mean "ethnic cleansing"). And Mr. Bonds will be adequately compensated for sacrificing his body to sport. But bullshit is bullshit, and "sports-writers" are particularly adept at bullshit. One only has to follow the Jackie Robinson nonsense of the last weekend to get a picture of what "sports-writing" is all about. Now Mr. Robinson accomplished a lot. He deserves recognition. But lets keep it in perspective. Many thousands of African-Americans and victims of race prejudice and discrimination fought terrible battles for their rights, dignity and freedom over the years. A lot of them died hoping their children would have it better than they did. They got no tributes and no hagiographies, and certainly no heroic pictures in childrens' books. I, for one, am sick of heroes, mostly because I'm sick of bullshit. Give me the flawed anti-heroes any day. At least these guys are real, full of the contradictions all of us possess. Barry is no more Satan than Jackie is Saint. Go Barry, Go! Hit a boatload of homers and blow the record away.

18 April 2007

3-6 months

M.C. thought 30 days was a sentence. Dr. Howard called me last night after I sent him the MRI report on my knee. He said "do nothing for 3-6 months." Yikes! That is PRISON! He reminded me in his firmly gentle way that I could spend that time "writing more stories." Yeah, OK, fine. I write Stephen King-like stories about men going mad in front of their typewriters from lack of recreation??? No mountain biking. No softball. No hiking. Hell, no WALKING!!! Saints preserve us, what is a man to do? I suppose I should look at the bright side: no pushing the damn lawnmower, no attacking the woods with a chainsaw, no digging drainage ditches. All necessary tasks, but not exactly FUN. Now I understand the appeal of surgery--the "quick fix." At XLVII, I'm not sure anything is a "quick fix," but arthroscopy does have a good track record for reducing pain and getting you back into your normal routine. Dr. H is a non-invasive physician, he likes the big picture, the long haul. Like me he is concerned that once you start slicing off bits of yourself there is no going back. Hmmm, maybe there is a story in that. The Man Who Sliced Himself Away. I expect TPP readers will get bored with my knee lamentations, so I'll keep the updates well-spaced. I'll use my 3-6 months to read some more and write some more. A little voice in my head from Jimmy Lerner (see my first post) keeps saying "you got nuthin' comin', dawg!"

17 April 2007

30 days

30 days, 30 posts. I decided to start a daily blog on the 18th of March, the day after St. Patrick's Day. It feels like I've completed a sentence: "that's 30 days for you, O'Connor, for being drunk and disorderly!" It has been fun, but I'll admit that it isn't always easy to find something to write about. I had a big pile of things I just finished reading, and I'm starting to accumulate a new pile, so there is always that. And my stories got put together so that was something. But now? I suppose every wave has a trough as well as a crest, eh? Speaking of physics, if you are interested in the mind of a very bright and curious fellow, visit The Quantum Pontiff. This bright and curious fellow is a local boy I've known since he was a high school student, he is now a Research Professor at the University of Washington. Dave M. Bacon comes from one of the most interesting families I've had the pleasure to befriend, and family and friends just celebrated his marriage to a local girl. She seems to be equally bright and accomplished, and the wedding was good fun. The Quantum Pontiff is Dave's blog, and you can find it here http://dabacon.org/pontiff/. I'll add it as a link to my "check 'em out" list. Now, I have a B.S. from Berkeley and have been a high school science and math teacher for 20+ years, so I'm not completely clueless. But I'm at sea when it comes to theoretical physics, and quantum mechanics is something I've read about in those groovy "ain't reality cool?" books written for non-scientists. Lewis Thomas, that great sage of biology (Lives of a Cell), was asked if he could comment on cosmology. His answer: "No, I can't do the math." Thank goodness there are some folks out there who CAN do the math! Meanwhile I'll stick to blogging and trying to beat algebra into the heads of reluctant adolescents.

16 April 2007

A whisk(e)y primer

I'm an American. I drink whiskey. With two notable exceptions, whiskey made in the USA is spelled with an "e." Now Canadians, they drink whisky. This "e-less" version of the word is known as the Scotch spelling. In Scotland, it is whisky. In Ireland, however, it is whiskey, just like the States. Now it seems nit-picky to argue over the spelling, but what is, is. I don't watch televsion "programmes" on my "colour" set, do I? Certainly not. But when I'm in the UK, I "realise" I'll have to look for the town "centre." Now, this is only an issue with me because whiskey-drinking is a staple of noir fiction. Lately, I've been astonished by the number of errors highly-skilled, well-regarded authors have made in the whiskey department. I just read a great story where the protagonists consume a single malt called Dalmore. Lovely stuff. But that is whisky. It is from Scotland, it is whisky. The author uses whiskey throughout the tale. Understandable if he is an American, but incorrect nonetheless. Tsk-tsk. We writers must do our research, what? Here in the States we have a drink called bourbon. It is a kind of whiskey. Not all whiskeys are bourbons. Those that are, are labeled as such. The most famous American whiskey is Jack Daniels. Something about Jack, he shows up regularly in hard-boiled stories. But--drum roll, please--Jack Daniels is NOT a bourbon! A whiskey yes, a bourbon no. Lots of writers have bourbon-drinking characters, and a lot of them drink Jack. Tsk-tsk. Jack Daniels is properly called Tennessee Whiskey. Jim Beam is a bourbon. Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Old Crow, these are bourbons. Just to confuse things, a very popular premium bourbon here in the USA is called Maker's Mark. They spell it "whisky." They aren't alone. A delicious Tennesee Whiskey (in my opinion, superior to Jack) known as George Dickel is also spelled without the "e." But those are the only exceptions as far as I know. I will come back to this topic because, well, I'm a whisk(e)y drinker, a spelling nerd, and a bit of an obsessive-compulsive. Cheers!

15 April 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, R.I.P

I remember joining an outfit called The Quality Paperback Book Club back in my Berkeley student days. You'd send in 3 bucks or so and get a pile of books, then a monthly offer, and you'd quit, sign up again for the cheap pile, quit, and so on. I accumulated a few interesting books including a 3-for-1 Kurt Vonnegut special with Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions. Fortunately I had been exposed to Mr. Vonnegut by a couple of enlightened high school teachers, watching the movie version of Slaughterhouse-Five in an English class and seeing the play Happy Birthday, Wanda June with my drama class. By the time I tackled the novels, I knew that the World According to Kilgore Trout was unlike most places. Absurd and comical, tragic and farcical, banal and brilliant, Vonnegut raged at a world going mad with technology and greed. The obits circling the 'net after his death on April 11th dredged up a quote he is credited with that M.C. and TPP feel compelled to post: "You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction if you are not depressed." The effort it takes each day to accept that which is unacceptable takes a heavy toll on us. The suffering inflicted on our fellows by our fellows is ignored, ultimately, at our peril. I think of Vonnegut when I see the bedraggled street people holding their cardboard signs asking for help. He was holding up his own signs, reminding us of our humanist duty to behave decently even in the face of hoplessness, even without a promise of reward. Next to my QPB's on the shelf is a 1972 paperback, a 95-cent Dell with a blue cover and blue page ends, a 13th printing of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It was written in 1965, 42 years ago. I think I will give it a shot, in tribute. Like all tributes, it has come too late. We forget to honor the living, and instead eulogize the dead. So it goes.

14 April 2007

Murdaland: Crime Fiction for the 21st Century

Issue One of Murdaland arrived yesterday, on Friday the 13th. I was born on a Friday the 13th, in November of MCMLIX. Knowing that we are now in MMVII, get out your Roman Numeral Slide Rule and calculate my age. OK, OK, I'll be XLVIII in November. I'm a math teacher, forgive me. It's like a disease--no matter how many drugs you take you still have the damn disease. Like this noir thing. I'm infected. I think I might have used that metaphor in a previous post, but it still works. I'm on a noir kick, a hard-boiled jones, a crime bender. I'm the same milquetoast I was before, cringing before the might of the law, terrified of prison, intimidated by cops, queasy around attorneys, a goody two-shoes, all talk no action, never been arrested, jailed, or hauled into court, and lost the only real fight (self-defense) I was ever in. Get the picture? I work for the SCHOOLS fer cryin' out loud! Let's all join hands and chant "NERD!" So what's the deal? What's with this noir obsession? Beats me. Sorry if you thought I was gonna get psycho-analytical on y'all, I got no deep insights or breast-baring neuroses to talk about. I just like reading the stuff. Now I like writing the stuff. And Murdaland seems to be the hip, upscale version of it these days. This is a literary magazine, like Granta or The Sun, but it is entirely fiction. No essays, poetry, interviews, photos or artwork, and just two b&w small-press ads at the end. It has a muted feel with the cream-colored pages and small typeface. At 250+ pages, it is novel-length. Perfect-bound, 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches, it has the heft of a trade paperback. Interesting that Out of the Gutter and Murdaland both have one issue under their belts, though OOTG comes across like the poor relation that shows up at the fancy wedding in a suit from Sears. Guys like Daniel Woodrell and Ken Bruen are featured along with 17 others, including a David Goodis reprint. M.C. will report back after reading all of it, stay tuned to TPP for updates. I will say that Anthony Neil Smith's Lovers Through All Eternity and Forevermore is a story I wish that I had written. Find it at http://www.murdalandmagazine.com/.

13 April 2007

Doc talk

There is no significant joint effusion and there is no evidence of significant popliteal cyst. The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments are intact. Good news! ACL and PCL hangin' in there. There is edema along the soft tissues medial to the medial ligament complex particularly proximally and there is slight thickening of the complex proximally without evidence of interruption. Hey, I'm an active 47-year old, whaddya want, perfect? There is no evidence of subchondral bony contusive change in the tibia, femur or patella. Dem bones, dem bones, dem drrryyyy bones! There is a horizontal tear in the undersurface of the posterior horn of the medial meniscus. There is a focal tear in the apex of the body of the lateral meniscus. So now we get to the REAL STORY. Blame the messenger, blame the messenger! Back in the day kings would KILL the little fuckers who brought 'em bad news. Sucks for their team. Articular cartilaginous thickness in all three joint compartments is well maintained without evidence of focal cartilage flap on this examination. Well, shoot, already killed the poor sap even though the last bit was reasonably good news. I mean the meniscus is torn but it ain't flappin' around so I figure that means they'll sew it back together and leave it. Flappin' parts often just get hacked off. I like having cartilage, y'know? That's my report for today all you loyal TPP readers, figured y'all wanted to know what my MRI results were. And people wonder why I like fiction.

12 April 2007

Three Shorts and a Long: twisted tales

I sent my mother a self-produced chapbook of my 4 short stories: "Paid in Full," "Arithmetic Lesson," "Silent Partner," and "Tweaker." I called the collection Three Shorts and a Long: twisted tales. The Morse Code dot-dot-dot-dash (3 shorts and a long!) represents the letter "V." This is a coincidence, I chose the title because the first 3 stories are "flash" pieces less than 700 words each, and the last is a "regular" length short story of about 2500 words. Now, my mother Peggy-O is a well-read and plain-spoken woman, so her thoughts on my work would never fall into the trite, motherly "that's wonderful, son" sort of thing. In fact, she labeled it as "gruesome," but also "well-written." A lovely word, gruesome. One I had not described my own work with, nor had anyone else so far. Oldest and dearest friend JCP calls my stuff "sick and twisted" (hence the title) and worries about my mental health. But I'm sticking with gruesome. According to Eric Partridge--the guy who knew more about English than anyone--it is of Germanic/Dutch ancestry and thus comes to English from the root stock. In other words, it is not Latinate. To "grue" is to "shiver with fear." Mr. Partridge says that the word is "ultimately echoic" which I take to mean onomatopoeic. Do you "gruuuue" when you shiver with fear? Cool image, huh? Readers of TPP (there are a few of you, at least) know I don't have to defend noir, hard-boiled, horror or any other gruesome or twisted fiction. The things people do to each other in real life are far, far more horrible than anything a writer can imagine. Writing about the dark and frightening things is the artist's way of dealing, of coping with the sinister side of life. Besides, I only accumulated 4-6 dead bodies in TSAAL:tt, Shakespeare can have that many piled on stage in one scene! Hell, in The Book of Joshua, the Man Upstairs and His Chosen Folks go a-slewin' and a-smotin' with such reckless abandon it is hard to believe we are ENCOURAGED to read this shit! Damn! Enough of that. Y'all send me an email (moc@snowcrest.net) and I'll send you a my little effort if you are interested. But don't get surly if you find it too gruesome.

11 April 2007


Lawrence Block is an old-timer, like Donald E. Westlake. His 1961 novel Mona was re-packaged and released as Grifter's Game with the honor of being 001 in the Hard Case Crime catalog. Good choice. I had never read Mr. Block until this, but now I know why he has 2 more titles in the series (The Girl with the Long Green Heart 1965, HCC-014, and Lucky at Cards 1964, HCC-028). Like Westlake, he can write about criminals in a way that makes them sympathetic and likable without losing sight of their criminality. I suppose it appeals to our voyeuristic instincts--we want to go along for the ride with these guys, but not get tangled up. Block certainly makes it a fun ride with Joe, our grifter protagonist, and the femme fatale, Mona, that he hooks up with. One expects noir novels to be brisk and muscular, with smart dialog and a fast pace. Block delivers, but also gives us a fine character study. Criminals are human, too. The ending was a surprise, and cleverly done. It would not have worked without learning, via the first person account, our main man's motives. HCC-002 is a 2004 novel by Max Phillips called Fade to Blonde, and if the story is as spectacular as the cover painting by Gregory Manchess, it will be a hell of a lot of fun. And they say "don't judge a book by its cover." Phooey!

10 April 2007

Manna from heaven

The UPS guy came by yesterday while we were out working in the yard. By a scheduling fluke, I had "Easter Monday" off from school/work (a holiday in the UK, Canada, Australia and NZ, what do they know that we don't?). I knew right away it was Dorchester Publishing, i.e., HARD CASE CRIME. See my link to HCC below.
Or try http://www.hardcasecrime.com/about.shtml.
Turns out a tech entrepeneur is the brains behind the outfit, his name is Charles Ardai. He's also a writer and editor. More power to you Mr. Ardai, I really dig Hard Case! I started my subscription to their monthly offerings last year and missed a few of the early releases. I have now back-ordered the rest and the collection is complete with yesterday's shipment. If I remember, the Israelites were starving and God sent them manna to keep 'em wandering in the desert for a few more years. Stretching metaphors to their breaking point is a piece o'cake for me. The landscape of popular fiction is a Sinai-like wasteland, and I'm dying from lack of nourishment. Boxes from Dorchester Publishing are a gift from heaven for this lad.

09 April 2007

I Was a Punk Before You Were

I want the t-shirt. Even more than my name in print. Really.
Take a look at my link for today: http://outoftheguttermagazine.blogspot.com/2007/02/12.html.
According to the list, M.C. is getting a short story published in issue 2 of Out of the Gutter. Now as delightful as that news is, one has to remember that OOTG lacks issue dates, a regular publishing schedule, advertising, and an ISBN number. So you get a t-shirt. That's right, contributors get a t-shirt. Now, I'm cool with that. After all, OOTG is a labor of love, and they want to use my story, and they are trying hard to make something cool, and they want to use my story, and they've got that plucky rebellious independent self-published home-brewed kinda vibe goin' on, and they want to use my story. So I'm cool with that. Hella stoked, in fact. And contributors get an OOTG t-shirt. Now I want my t-shirt while it is still cool. When I was a kid, you could take a climbing course at Yosemite and you'd get a shirt that said "Go Climb a Rock." The only way to get the shirt was to complete the course. By the time I was a teenager, and actually thinking about maybe taking such a course, you could buy them in the gift shop. BING! Instantly un-cool. So I want my OOTG shirt to be worn and faded by the time they are selling them in the gift shop. Then I'll be cool, see, because I eahhhhhned mine the old-fashioned Smith-Barney way, you know what I'm saying? The Tubes, that grand old San Francisco band, used to sing a song back in the mid-70's and early 80's called "I Was a Punk Before You Were." It was such fun sending up the fashionistas, openly mocking their I-got-there-first ultra-hipness. Ah, those days, those days. I want the shirt.

08 April 2007

Nerds Rule!

If you are reading this (does anyone read this?), you don't have to guess what I mean by "nerds rule." I mean, fer chrissakes, without armies of nameless nerds the entire cyber-world would be fantasy--nothing but grist for SF mills. So a "tip o'the cap" for all the nerds, alive and dead, rich and poor, famous and forgotten, who make the internet, email, the World Wide Web and all its spawn (like weblogs) possible. Thanks, gracias, go raibh maith agat, merci, danke, and arigatou! Speaking of nerds, no one can accuse them of lacking a sense of beauty. Just take a look at my favorite website, Astronomy Picture of the Day. Regulars know it as APOD, click http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html, and be sure to peruse the archive. Take a look at my new list of links (on the left below my thumbnail photo), APOD is there! (Thanks, Google nerds, for making blogger so easy to update. Note my new photo and message at the bottom of the page as well.) This international community of scientists, astronomers both professional and amateur, photographers and writers bring these amazing and awe-inspiring images to desktops every day. Their joy in the complexity and grandeur of the cosmos is infectious. M.C. sez expose yourself--get infected!

07 April 2007

Another shot of rye

Or gin, perhaps. John D.'s most famous creation, the inimitable Travis McGee, liked gin. Plymouth gin, when he could get it. And though Trav liked to drink, his adventures wouldn't qualify as "Gin-Soaked Fiction." You have to travel to Modern Drunkard magazine for that. The latest on-line version had a slew of short stories, all thoroughly hard-boiled, and a mix of articles and regular features. Click on the submissions link and you get delightful bits like: "The story should be imbued with drinking. If alcohol hasn't reared its lovely head by the second page, you're on the wrong track. Putting a drink in the hand of your protagonist does not a drinking story make. If you can replace the booze with coffee and the plot isn't affected, you're trying to pull a fast one." I like an outfit that knows what it wants. MD lists Frank Kelly Rich on the masthead as editor and publisher. I've only just heard of Mr. Rich today, but I'm ready to join him in the Drunkard's chant "Say it Loud, Say It Plowed."
Refill that shot for John D. and pull up to http://www.moderndrunkardmagazine.com/index.html.

06 April 2007

A glass of rye for John D.

Funny how I found the Ellroy looking for John D. MacDonald. No offense to Mr. Ellroy, he being a heavyweight in the crime fiction field, but the last "fictional" half of Destination: Morgue! sounded like William Burroughs doing a parody of Mickey Spillane. Now, I'm a fan of both writers, but a combination of psychotropics and shots of rye is bound to turn out badly. Trust me, I've been there. Speaking of shots of rye, two separate characters in John D. MacDonald's "Five Star Fugitive" pour rye whiskey when they needed a belt. "Five Star Fugitive" was the name of the novella when it appeared in a 1950 Dime Detective, it was re-titled "Border Town Girl" and re-issued (apparently) in 1956 with another short novel "Linda." I found them bound in a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback titled Border Town Girl that lacked a publishing date, but from the groovy block letters and psychedelic art I suspect the early 1970's. Now rye whiskey is a drink just finding its way back to respectability after years of languishing unappreciated. Sort of like 1950's Dime Detective stories if you don't mind me stretching the metaphor a bit. Mr. MacDonald, of course, has been much and deservingly praised for his remarkable body of work. A story like "Five Star Fugitive/Border Town Girl," with its crisp, suspenseful plotting and strong characterization hasn't lost its luster. With a happy ending and neat resolution, it lacks the cynicism of David Goodis or Charles Williams. But I note that Ellroy's hip, contemporary noir tales have fairy tale-fantasy endings despite their vulgarity and twisted violence. If you wanted a lens to see 1950's America, you would do well to use John D.'s, and if you need a model of great fiction writing, you'd go no further. Mastery of the craft doesn't go out of fashion.

05 April 2007

High on Highsmith

Why haven't I been reading you all my life? Another loaner, this one from Dr. Howard: Nothing that Meets the Eye: uncollected stories of Patricia Highsmith. Ms. Highsmith wrote the novel Strangers on a Train which Alfred Hitchcock made into a brilliant film, perhaps his best. I always gave Mr. H the credit for that taut, creepy movie, perhaps I should have searched for the source. Highsmith's universe is filled with losers and scary people--not street corner toughs, or crackheads, or gangbangers, nothing like that. Her characters seem normal, they look OK, they are just off-kilter, not quite on the same plane as the rest of us. Lonely and alienated, they drift into relationships that fail to connect them or open them up, or if they do reveal their true selves, we want to run away. This collection is diverse enough to include some upbeat tales, where "little guys" triumph despite things going awry, or oddballs find love or truth or meaning in the hidden corners of their worlds. But the pervasive tone is bleak, the primary motive is fear, and the main resolution is defeat. For all that, these aren't depressing stories, far from it. Highsmith's prose is tuned to a perfect pitch and her tales possess a graceful elegance. She grasps the little things about people that allow us to be guiltless voyeurs, and we come away having seen perhaps too much, but without having our noses rubbed in it. Unsettling and satisfying at the same time--that's quite a balancing act, and she pulls it off.

04 April 2007

Riffing Ellroy

Local bookstore. Good crime section. Sniffing old MacDonalds. John D., not Ross. Destination Morgue! by Mr. J. Ellroy out of place on a stack. Grab it, riff it, buy it, read it. Staccato prose like machine gun bursts. Autobiography as pulp fiction. Memoir, commentary, reportage. Crime files. LA. LA as blood, as oxygen, as bread and water. Time and place and past and present form their own logic, their own sequence. Meditations on life and death, love and sex, crime and punishment. Compassion. Contrition. Redemption. Fate. Consequence. Vengeance. Hell and Purgatory. Almighty God. It's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride for the Soul. It's James Ellroy, Professor Emeritus of the Hard-Boiled University, and he's rapping the lectern so pay attention, finals are next week, and then it's over, baby, class dismissed.

03 April 2007

Holy Week

I was raised a Roman Catholic and this is indeed Holy Week on the liturgical calendar. It is also the OPENING of the BASEBALL SEASON, and that makes it a special time. Today the Giants open at home and it will be the BARRY & BARRY show with baseball's yin and yang, Bonds and Zito, working their magic. TPP is not going to be another baseball blog, there are too many excellent ones already. Check out http://www.giantswin.blogspot.com/ if you need a taste. I have a previous post where I list others and I will continue to direct TPP readers to cool Giants blogs and other MLB-flavored sites. Today will be filled with rituals and observances, sacred garments and special foods. Church is finally open after the long winter hiatus. GO GIANTS!
May the baseball gods bless us and bring us good fortune.

02 April 2007

Contemporary noir

Seymour Shubin's Witness to Myself was Hard Case Crime's April 2006 release, and it challenges your perception of a "hard-boiled" novel. First of all, the main characters are a lawyer, a writer and a nurse. The only crime occurs in the backstory. There is no blood spilled, and no shoot 'em up or car chases. I suppose "psychological suspense" would be the label to apply here. I like when the definition of noir is broad and inclusive--when it reflects more the writer's outlook and attitude than any particular plot pieces. Mr Shubin published his first novel in 1953, and at 80+ years of age has seen all the fads and trends of popular fiction come and go. Witness to Myself is about a childhood memory, a traumatic event, that our protagonist has to come to terms with. All of us can relate to these psychological demons, and Shubin handles this one with sensitivity and empathy. Suffice to say the ending caught me by surprise, and I was glad it did. The book built its momentum slowly, and the middle-class world of our characters cracked a little at a time, just enough to keep you turning the pages. I can't say enough about the good things coming from Dorchester Publishing's Hard Case Crime series. Check out http://www.hardcasecrime.com/index.shtml, you won't be disappointed.

01 April 2007

M.C. rocks!

I can be forgiven for a little self-promotion, can't I? Fans of Ten Pound Press--there are a few of you out there, right?--know that I have been pimping two sites, blogs really, in previous posts. The first is DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash (more of an e-zine these days, check out http://www.dzallen.blogspot.com/) and the second is Out of the Gutter (http://outoftheguttermagazine.blogspot.com/), which puts out a real-live print magazine. Your Humble Narrator ("there was me, that is, M.C.") has submitted three flash pieces to MF, one in response to a contest. "Paid in Full" was posted there on 15 January, you can find it under my name in the ARCHIVE section. "Arithmetic Lesson" was submitted for the flash contest. It made the Final Four and generated several positive comments but ultimately lost out to a story called "The One That Got Away" by Jacob Kohl. Unfortunately those Final Four stories are no longer posted. I don't know if they will be added to the archive--I hope so, and it seems logical they would be. Finally, "Silent Partner" was submitted for the MF e-zine and it appears we will see it shortly in issue #4 (issue #3 is up now). M.C. is pretty pumped! But the best news is that I received an e-mail last night from the editor of OOTG and they want to use my short story "Tweaker" in issue #2!!!!! I submitted "Tweaker" for the OOTG short story contest and apparently I am a co-winner and both of the top stories will be printed. Currently the OOTG site lists only one winner for the contest (Paul A. Toth's "For All I Know"), but I was told the magazine will print that my story "tied for first place." I could hardly sleep last night I was so excited! I realize OOTG is small press, well, micro-press at this point I imagine, and I'm not getting paid, but still! M.C. is pumped! Did I mention that already? It feels great to be included among some very hard-working and talented people--many of the contributors to both sites are professionals--and I'm honored to have my fiction debut with this bunch. A heartfelt THANKS to the MF and OOTG gang for the contests, the 'zines, and the inspiration. Oh, and of course, CONGRATULATIONS to the contest winners!