Thursday, January 28, 2016

Unflappably Westlakian

Why Me (see here), by Donald Westlake is on the hot seat this week. Like Dick Francis and Lawrence Sanders, I turn to Westlake when I want a comedy. You know what you're going to get when you read about Dortmunder. (That being said, I'm reading the book, I have no idea who Gus is nor who Bruno is . . . although that's a funny picture of Christopher Lloyd)

The first line is also vintage Westlake, not great, not even good, but gets the reader directly into the right frame of mind.

“Hello,” said the telephone cheerfully into Dortmunder’s ear, “this is Andy Kelp.” 

“This is Dort—” Dortmunder started to say, but the telephone was still talking in his ear. It was saying: 

“I’m not home right now, but—” 

“Andy? Hello?” 

“— you can leave a message on this recording machine—” 

“It’s John, Andy. John Dortmunder.” 

“— and I’ll call you back just as soon as I can.” 

“Andy! Hey! Can you hear me?” 

“Leave your message right after you hear the beep. And do have a nice day.” 

Dortmunder held both hands cupped around the mouthpiece of the phone and roared down its throat: “HELLO!”

Westlake, Donald E - Why Me?

Last thing on that movie poster . . . having gotten midway through the book,  I think it would be a horrible movie. I'm not surprised I didn't know about the movie. More surprised that it was made.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Felix is No Dick

Nope, as I said in a post last week, Felix Francis is good, but he's not at all as good as his father. I finished Damage this weekend, and although it was good, it wasn't a five star story like many of his father's are. Why? Several reasons.

First, it's not original. My favorite comic (of all time) is the Bloom County about there not being any truly original ideas anymore (I posted it at the end of this post for you). The fact that Felix is not using an original idea is a problem with me. It's as if he's trying to reproduce a story and he's not done it very well. I mentioned this in last week's post as well (see here).

I had to create a form for our business a few years ago. When I had come up with just the right form on my computer my boss told me, "Go and copy it about 10 times and see just how legible all those lines and shaded areas become." I'm glad I did it. The text became illegible in the shaded regions after just a few copies. They would have become illegible in our field locations as well. This is the way Damage felt. As if after several copies the story became fuzzy and not as good as the original. And yes, I blurred the image above for just this reason.

Secondly, he uses cheap and easy mystery/thriller techniques. Guess what? The main character, Jeff Hinkley, gets hit by a car and gets hurt. Happens in most of his books. He happens to put a tracking device in a rugby ball, the perfect vehicle for throwing it out a train window later? How did he know he'd have to do that! Additionally, Jeff figures out who the villain is about three quarters the way through the book, but Felix doesn't let the reader in on it till the end. He has Jeff and his wife sit outside the villains house for a full day and never let's his main character mention to the reader who it is they are watching. They follow him, they discuss him with others, and always Felix writes "I told him what I thought," or "I showed him the proof that I had against our target." It's a pathetic way to build suspense and it doesn't work in this case at all. If anything it only gets the reader mad.

I have given (and will continue to give) Felix Francis the benefit of the doubt because I love reading Dick Francis' books and wish that there were new ones to read. But this has me wondering if I should give up on the endeavor. Three star at best. Perhaps two is more realistic. I hope that Vincent Lardo offers a better bridge to more from my favorite authors than Felix.

(Here is that comic I mentioned)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ben Thimmes, RIP

You may not be aware of this . . . but if you bought my book in the past year then you contributed to ALS on behalf of Ben and Sarah Thimmes (see here and here).

Sarah was a great friend of my wife's from their days at Miami University in Ohio. They were close and fast friends so naturally as my wife and her friends all got engaged and married all of we husbands and fiances got to know one another. I only saw Ben a handful of times before he was diagnosed with ALS. I wish that I had seen him more both before and after.

What strikes me is Sarah's resilience. The devotion that Sarah showed Ben and her family, the persistence and resolution and mostly . . . at least from where I sat, her indefatigably. If there is one thing I learned from being friends of Ben and Sarah is that I hope I can show that same amount of resilience in the face of long term adversity as she did for her husband, Ben.

I will miss Ben and will leave my note about profits going to ALS up and hope that one day I become a blockbuster writer if only so I can hope to make a bigger impact.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Back to an Old Favorite

The title is "Back to an Old Favorite" but can I really say that when it's the son of a favorite?

Whenever I'm casting about for something to read I will commonly go back to the old standards and favorite authors. Go look through this blog and you'll see some of those favorites quite easily. There's Lawrence Sanders (see here), Dick Francis (here), Fredrick Forsyth (here), even some Evanovich (here) and several others. They are safe, secure, you know what you're going to get and it's like walking into a party where you know everyone and there will be some, but not too many, surprises.

This time it's Dick Francis' Damage (buy it here) . . .but it's really by Felix Francis his son. Why is it "Dick Francis' Damage?" Did Dick Francis outline the novel and Felix just complete it? Is he just drawing off the fame and reputation of his father by using his name? (I know, I know . . . it's this . . . but bear with me). Before I continue, let me share with you the first line. I love compiling this list of first lines (see here) and going back and reading them all. This one may be one that I skip over.

I’ve had the test results and the news isn’t good.” 

I couldn’t get the words out of my head. 

I was sitting in the shadows at the back of a race-program kiosk near the north entrance to Cheltenham racetrack, scanning the faces of the crowd as they flooded through the turnstiles. 

I was looking out for any one of the fifty or so individuals who were banned from British racetracks, but my mind kept drifting back to the telephone conversation I’d had that morning with my sister. 

“I’ve had the test results and the news isn’t good.” 

“In what way?” I asked with rising dread.

“It’s cancer,” she said quietly.

Francis, Felix - Dick Francis's Damage

Now, one my suspect that whipping out a word like "cancer" would instantly make for a good first line, but for my money, that could be one of the more boring story openings in existence (that could be hyperbole . . . I still have quite a few more to read).

Now back to Felix. Nothing against my own pops, but I wouldn't want people coming to a train meet that I called "David Hannah's Train Meet" when in effect there was no trace of my father in it. Felix should break out on his own I say. I understand the need to make a living and the desire to continue the work of his father, but have some courage to just call it, Felix Francis' Damage.

Not to mention the fact that as far as books go, his aren't too bad. I don't think they're as solidly good as his father's but they're pretty close (see here). Also, there were some stinker Dick Francis books out there. Felix I hope will one day drop the Dick Francis banner at the top of his books and go fly free on his own.

This is an irksome to me in many ways, not least of which I find Felix not quite as good as his father, but also because of Vincent Lardo. I feel dismayed whenever I go out to read a new Lawrence Sanders book because there are no new ones. His Archy McNally character could be one of my favorite characters ever (despite being a blatant rip off of Archie Goodwin of the Nero Wolf series . . . see here), but there is old Vincent Lardo continuing the series in Sanders' absence.

On the one hand I think it's the height of patheticism to have to use someone else's characters and fame to create your own. On the other hand it sure is nice to have even the semblance of a growing library out there of some of my favorite authors. I'd love to know what others think about this as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: The Quiet Game

Greg Iles is a terrific writer. The Quiet Game (see here) was to the point, engaging and I great introduction to his writing and his books. It makes me want to go read more. Very similar to reading John Grisham, it was intriguing to see how Iles described Natchez (which is a city I've never visited) and the race relations that plague the South in general. There were a few B.S. moments where as I read I thought to myself "that would never happen" or "that's B.S." but what books don't have those moments.

As a writer and novelist myself it was fun to see a polished and well regarded writer struggling with many of the same problems I find myself dealing with. But as a reader I enjoyed The Quiet Game immensely and can't wait to read his next novel.

I like to list the first line of the novel's I read, particularly for my blog and found this one to be intriguing:

I am standing in line for Walt Disney’s It’s a Small World ride, holding my four-year-old daughter in my arms, trying to entertain her as the serpentine line of parents and children moves slowly toward the flat-bottomed boats emerging from the grotto to the music of an endless audio loop. Suddenly Annie jerks taut in my arms and points into the crowd. 

“Daddy! I saw Mama! Hurry!” 

I do not look. I don’t ask where. I don’t because Annie’s mother died seven months ago.

Iles, Greg - The Quiet Game

Overall, one of the better books I've read this year and I look forward to adding Greg Iles to my ever growing list of favorite authors to read.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Who the Heck is Anthony

So several folks asked after yesterday's post (here), "Who the heck is Anthony?" (primarily you can thank Nicole)

Anthony was a little two year old boy who was a foster kiddo for our family about two or three years ago. He stayed with us for about ten months. He was a super sweet little kiddo and spoke in squaks and screeches since he was a tad behind in the development of his speaking words. He came to us because his folks were having a hard time. Anthony's little brother died suspiciously in the home, so since there was a record of drug abuse, and physical abuse n the family, CPS decided it was best that Anthony stay with us while they conducted an investigation into the little baby's death.

There were days were Anthony was a challenge, he had fits that were just a shade less than uncontrollable, he didn't like eating his vegetables, but he loved his brothers and seemed to love our home. It was a great ten months and we would have gladly adopted the tyke had we gotten the chance, but after ten months he went home and all was for the best.

So we thought.

About a year after he went home we got a call that he was in the foster care system again. Apparently his parents had split up, he was living out of a car with his mom, and she had just given birth to another little boy, but had been found to be high when she was admitted to the hospital. CPS jumped in a again and we were called.

The second time we had him it was for another ten months. Let me tell you meeting him that second time was surreal. First of all, he could talk. That first go round I never heard him say a word. Then I go pick him up and he talks to me. Mind blower. Secondly, he was not at all happy to see me. Seems as though he blamed us for letting him go that first time. He hardly looked at me. We got over it and then during the ride home I heard him talk about his dad's guns, and how there was shooting, and his mom and him had to hide in the car so the police couldn't come get him. Broke my heart to hear about his year from him.

Another ten months and now he's gone again. This time he's back at the foster care agency with a family group of other long term foster care kiddos. It would seem that CPS was loath to force a separation from his parents as they would have a hard time proving he was in immediate danger, despite the two children that had previously died in that household. The parents did not want to relinquish their parental rights. Plus both parents were members of different Indian tribes. If any formal or official movement toward adoption was started the tribes would have to be informed and based on their history, the tribes would want to take him into their care if they knew he was out there.

Finally, the foster care agency didn't want to do anything because in their eyes Anthony was perfectly safe and sound with us . . . in limbo perhaps . . . but safe. Additionally, their continued goal was to have Anthony and get back with his parents despite the fact that his parents are alcoholics, continue to fail drug tests (the last one was for meth and cocaine) and despite both being diagnosed as bi-polar. They had a host of problems, but throwing Anthony in a newborn would hardly help them overcome those problems.

So here was this little guy who was stuck in (long-term limbo) and we decided that that just wasn't an option for us. It was a tough decision made easier by Anthony's continually worsening fits. Still feel incredibly guilty about his not being here, and still wonder what would have happened had we tried a bit harder, but there you have it.

Like I said yesterday, I think about Anthony and think that his story which is so filled with challenges would be perfect for a villain in a movie or story. I think the harder thing to do would be find a way to make his story one of accomplishment and achievement. I think too that it would be a perfect vehicle for highlighting how messed up the foster care and adoption process can be, particularly where drugs and alcohol and Indian tribes are concerned.

I remember when the foster care agency found out that I was a novelist they asked if I had ever written about the foster to adopt process. I said that I hadn't. "You will, after this," the child psychologist said. That was before the process started. Who knew he would be so prescient or that it would be such a negative story.

But to sum up yesterday's post (here) . . . Anthony's story breaks my heart.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What Breaks Your Heart?

Today at church I had a stellar idea for a novel, or for at least a start of my next novel. I've been playing with an idea of having a mystery where the protagonist is a grown up Anthony, our former foster kiddo. Right now I've been writing a silly little romance cum literary fiction novel, but it kinda has nowhere to go. I'm waiting for my novel Vapor Trail to come back from editing, I'm uninspired to write the children's book on Rangers, so I'm sort of casting around for a new project. This one about Anthony might have just found a place in my schedule.

"What breaks your heart?"

I see the novel starting with that.

Anthony would be the protagonist. The idea came to me when I considered Anthony's future. I was in a morose state, have been for a while now. 2015 took alot out of me. For more on that see my other post (here). Nonetheless I was thinking about Anthony and his future. He will be in long term foster care for the rest of his life if he is lucky. He might go to be a foster or adoptive kid in an Indian tribe, but that doesn't look likely. He might go back to his no count parents, but again, not likely. He's going to have a rough life.

At first I thought it would be a great genisis story for a villain, but then I gave it another thought. What if he overcomes all of the hurdles that will be thrust on him and is successful. It was a complete change in perspective for me. In my mind he would be a mystery solving protagonist who has no sympathy for the antagonists he faces since his own background was so tough.

It's already inspired me to get started on it. Just hat first line is sometimes enough to get things going in the right direction.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bad Year Means Good Writing?

I was talking to my mom the other day about this past year and how rotten it has been. I went over some of this in my blog post the other day about my father's death (here). But my father's sudden passing is only one of the many things that 2015 brought and I'm happy to see in the rear view mirror.

Back in May my best friend, Killian died. It went about as well as those things can. I wrote about it (here). It was if not a defining moment, then a moment in my life I'll remember forever. He was a good old dog and a great family friend.

In June I laid off my entire department. My department here at work went from a department of five to a department of one. Over and above the increased work load, it was a tough week to suffer through if only because it was hard to say goodbye to so many people who I had come to depend on and trust. It was purely business, but still, that was a tough week with a lot of tough calls.

In July my grandmother, Muzzie, died. I've mentioned Muzzie several times in this blog, (see here) but I don't know if I ever mentioned that one of the last few times I saw her, in the nursing home, she was sitting up in bed reading my book, Toe the Line (here). She told me that she was loving it. She intonated that it was the first time she had read it when I knew that it was actually the fourth or fifth time. But isn't that what I as an author should want? Shouldn't I want my readers to feel like my writing is new and fresh each time they read it.

In September our foster son Anthony left. It was the second time he had been with our family and it just wasn't working out. So we had to have him leave. Stunningly hard. I'm sure it will come up in my future writing.

Now this with the Pops.

There were more things going on, the detritus of life, the odds and ends of writing and living, some big, some huge, some just the details. But what's the point of all this 2015 reflection? Pity? Hardly! I remember when I first started writing I read that great artists must suffer in life and for their heart. I remember writing about it though I can't find it now. I thought it was silly and for the most part still do. But boy does 2015 show me that a bit of suffer adds a ton to the options of what to write about it.

I wrote it up there about Anthony. "I'm sure it will come in up in my future writing." Muzzie will too. My father's death as well. It is not just subject matter it is also experience and adds depth.

Though as much as I thank 2015 for the help in my writing (hopefully), I'm looking forward to 2016 just cause 2015 sucked so much.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Surprised by Angelou

I ran across a quote from Maya Angelou the other day that made me think it would be a perfect theme for that book that I'm planning to write about friendship. It feels like a theme that would be worth exploring.

“Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”

First, I was surprised this was a quote by Maya Angelou, then I did some more research and BOOM! Imagine my surprise when I saw all of the quotes, most of which I had never read, that were attributed to her. For a list, see (here).

There are some good ones on that list. I love the one about creativity. If I was writing a post about why I restarted writing this blog I'd probably list that quote about creativity as an underlying reason. But it's that one about making someone a priority that resonates. I can just imagine one character making the other a "priority" while he remains nothing more than an "option" to the other. This would generate beaucoup tension.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Epiphanic Resolutions

Yes, this is a part of the new year's resolutions, but I am also writing this because I had an epiphany.I had a similar epiphany when I read, Among the Truthers, by Jonathan Kay (see here and here). That empiphany inspired by the Truther's lead to my penning my most recent book, soon to be released, Vapor Trail (see here). So these epiphanies happen I need some place to write about them, why not here. Also, my resolution was to start the ole blog back up so this seemed like a decent enough topic.

But with the passing of my father last week (see here) I found that I was hearing from people, and not hearing from other people in a surprising way.  What do I mean?

There are those I had forgotten about completely in my life. Sure they may be friends on the Facebook, but for the most part they are way in the back of the auditorium when I speak, and really they're only half listening. They may send birthday wishes, but for the most part we are friends due to circumstances, or friends of friends or worse co-workers. Let me tell you though, and this should also be a positive benefit of Facebook, they have been so supportive with this whole "my father passed away suddenly" life event.

There have even been clients to come out and offer support. I don't even know some of these people but there they are providing support, comfort, wise words about life lessons. The works. I must say, despite all the bad habits and problems so many people bring up regarding Facebook, it's a God's send in terms of birthday's and other major life events. I think I only keep my Facebook account now for how wonderful it makes me feel on my birthdays to hear from so many people.

Then there are those forever friends, the ones I thought would be up at the front of the line to offer condolences. Not a peep. Stunningly there were no peeps. I found this to be true last May as well (see here) when Killian died. It held true again when Muzzie died in July. Those I thought would be there were not.

So what's the point? Where's the epiphany? There has to be a novel in there about knowing who to count on and who can't be counted on. I already have the bare outlines of a novel about this, I'm thinking of going back and tweaking it to include this moral.

An Earth-shaker? No. Not particularly, but epiphanies rarely are. They just move a few stones, maybe at the top of the mountain. Some create avalanches and change the course of rivers. We shall see what this one does.