Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Reviews: Before, During, After … Riders on the Storm … Rick Perry … Uzi madness … NFL 2014 with Super Bowl Champion Pick …

Amici:



Before, During, After, by Richard Bausch … he’s simply one of the best writers of our time and he’s latest doesn’t disappoint. More than a dozen years after the attacks of 9-11, I guess it was safe to write about that day again. I skipped most of those that were published closer to the infamous date. Updike’s Terrorist was good, but I only read it because it was Updike. This one by Bausch I couldn’t wait for, mostly because I had already started rereading some of his works (I recently read Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America and All the Ships at Sea a third time). Bausch could write about anything and I’d be anxious to read it, so I was extra anxious to see how this master would handle 9-11.

Natasha Barrett works for a U.S. Senator. She’s a painter at heart and a strong woman who has become unhappy with her life in Washington. Some part of her longs for France … and a relationship with a man she respected would be nice as well. When she meets a recently single via divorce Episcopal Priest (Michael Faulk) at a political affair, things change for both of them.

Faulk is a bit older than Natasha and his insecurity shows at every turn. He’s recently left the Church, although he still believes, much to his father’s dismay. He’s crazy in love with this wonderful woman … and Natasha has found her significant other in Faulk. He’s all the difference in her world and she has renewed his zest for life. Natasha’s parents were killed in a plane crash when she was young. She was raised by her grandmother, another strong woman, and Natasha has a special bond with her.

Shortly before they’re to get married, Natasha goes on a pre-planned vacation to the Island of Jamaica with a woman friend. In the meantime, Faulk will be attending the wedding of a very close and dear friend’s son, the ceremony to be held at Trinity Church, downtown Manhattan. Faulk also plans on having breakfast at the top of the Twin Towers on the day of the wedding, September 11, 2001.

There will be no spoilers here, but what happens before, during after the week of September 11 in this wonderful novel is so well crafted, there won’t be any chance the reader ignores the outcome. Broken into three sections (Before, During, After), the story unwinds in back and forth perspectives (Natasha/Faulk) with one very gritty scene I can still see, taste and smell; a scene not for the lighthearted, but so vivid it will stay with the reader for a long time to come.

There’s not a writer as smooth as Bausch. A wonderful read … Extremely, Highly, Forgetaboutit, Wonderfully Recommended … simply as good as it gets.

Get it here:



Riders on the Storm, Ed Gorman … his latest in the Sam McCain series has already earned the author another Starred Review (Booklist). It’s 1971, after McCain was drafted into the Vietnamese war but missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime (sarcasm intended) when he was nearly killed in a car accident off the base. A few months later he’s recovered, but confronted with a situation in his home town of Black River Falls, Iowa. Some things have changed during the interim … including his secretary gaining the necessary skills and backbone it requires to be a strong woman. One of the returned vets, Will Cullen, was changed by the war, and when he suffers a terrible beating by a rah-rah, vet (Steve Donovan), all fingers point to Cullen after Donovan turns up dead.

No spoilers here, ever, but the fun of reading Ed Gorman (much like reading Bill Crider and Elmore Leonard) is getting there. The characters are wonderfully sculpted and the times (1970’s) are well portrayed, with both sides of political arguments posed and left for the reader to decide for themselves.

Gorman has been a master writer for several decades now, and with a ton of previously published novels under Pseudonyms and his name … this one may be his best of the Sam McCain series. Riders on the Storm is wonderful read start to finish. Very Highly Recommended.

Get it here:





Rick Perry … Look, the guy is about as dumb as a pile of rocks, but this issue about his threatening a drunk D.A. is absurd. No doubt it’s politically motivated by Perry to get rid of this drunk, but Democrats flocking to her defense are equally politically motivated. Her video is more than enough to suggest she resign on her own. If she had any integrity, she’d do just that, but she doesn’t have integrity (outside of Bernie Sanders, what politician does?) Obviously, she’s a big fish in the Texas democratic machine, but all the Dems are doing now is making Perry more popular than he would’ve been without this issue.

On the other hand, maybe that’s the strategy, because if he wins the Republican Presidential nomination, the Democrats will have another cakewalk into the white house … with another Republican leading the way—Hillary Clinton.

Oy vey … vey iz mir …



Uzi Madness … blaming the trainer for the accident involving a 9-year old and an Uzi seems a bit out of whack to me. What is a 9-year old doing on the range in the first place? Okay, you need to have your 9-year old ready to shoot to kill, then what is she doing with an Uzi? Why not a bazooka? Did her New Jersey parents fear she’d need one at school some day?

This was a horrible tragedy that will no doubt leave scars on the kid for the rest of her life. It also ended the life of the trainer. For me the blame falls squarely on the parents (or whichever one thought this was a bright idea, to have their 9-year old daughter train with an Uzi). It’s not like this hasn’t happened before … there was a 2011 incident during which an 8-year old killed himself with an Uzi on a firing range.

The trainer: Shouldn’t have taken the job.
The parents; Dumb as fuckin’ rocks.
The kid: You have to feel for her.




Nostra-Stella and TK’s NFL Predictions … the rest of them.

Yous already got my AFC and NFC Beast and NFC Norse forecasts … so here’s the rest of it. Take my picks and go the other way … the quickest road to financial security in the open and free (to get burned) market.


San Fernando 49’ers … I still like them … still think they’re the best in the league, but unless they can keep their convicts out of the joint, they’ll flop again this season when it counts. I’m gonna go with my heart and the 2nd best defense in all of football. Prediction 11-5.

Seattle Sea Pigeons … listen to me: they’re a really good football team. Maybe even a great team, but you know what? I still don’t like Pete Carroll, so I’m betting against the best defense in all of football … mostly because I think it’s probably close to impossible to repeat. Prediction: 11-5.

Phoenix by way of St. Louis Cardinalettes … Great potential but as long as they have that stiff (Carson Palmer) throwing pitches, they’re not going anywhere. Interception city. Prediction: 7-9.

Los Angeles by way of St. Louis Ramettes … how snake-bit is this organization? Bradford goes down, Bradford goes down … one more season and he’s out for the count. I’m still hoping for Michael Sam to make it onto the final roster, but that’s about the only thing to be positive about now that they’ve lost their only chance to compete with the big boys. Prediction: 6-10.



Denver Broncettes … so this will be their easy year to get back to the dance, where they’ll get embarrassed again. No competition to speak of in the AFC. Just the Choketriots and they’re likely to choke, so it’ll be Denver setting all kinds of new records and breezing through the junior leagues. Prediction: 14-2.

San Diego Chargerless … Phillip Rivers is to QB’ing what Caron Palmer and Jay Cutler are to QB’ing … interceptions. I hope they enjoyed their little run last year. Prediction: 9-7.

Kansas City Chefs … I want them to do good again, but I don’t think they’re better than their schedule. Last year was a gift coming off a disastrous year. This year they return to earth, but I’ll be rooting for them and Smith. Prediction: 9-7.

The Oakland by way of Los Angeles Raiderettes … oy vey … Prediction: 5-11.




New Orleans Aints … love the city, hate the Ryan haircut, want to like the offense, but the throwing 40+ X’s a game is too much. They have the dome and that is a plus for a flag football offense, but then they have to come outside for the playoffs. Prediction: 9-7.

Carolina Rice Panthers … we like this team’s defense and we want to like their QB, but he lost a big weapon in Steve Smith and he won’t be easy to replace. Until we see what they can do without Cam Newton running for his life, we’re thinking they’ll have a tougher go this year. Prediction: 9-7.

Atlanta Falconless … they look good on HBO’s Hard Knocks, but that’s where it ends. Good offense that tends to throw too much as well (the curse of domes) … they’ll be lucky to finish with more than 3 wins, but we’re beneficent. Prediction: 5-11.

Tampa Bay the Buck Stops Here … oy vey X 2 … nothing to look forward to here. Prediction: 4-10.



The Indianapolis by way of the Baltimore Coltless … a cake walk, start to finish, although it’ll be their defense that lets them down when it counts again. Prediction: 11-5.

Texas Two Steppers … Clowney and Watt on the same line? Listen to me, they figure out how to score a few points and/or keep from scoring for the other team, and they’re back in the playoffs. Big improvement this season either way. Prediction: 9-7.

Tennessee Tuxedos … two words: Ryan Fitpatrick, says it all … Prediction: 4-12.

Jacksonville Jaguwires … two more words: Jacksonville Jaguwires … Prediction: 3-13.



Green Bay Packerless … the Pack is back … so long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy, yes they are … but defense is the name of the game, except in the NFC Norse … Prediction: 10-6 (and then one, maybe two, and done).

Detroit Lionettes … well, now that they got rid of their numskull coach (he’s now in Buffalo, because who else would take him?) … the Lionettes may prove a winner … their future is bright once again. Prediction: 9-7.

Chicago Bearless … listen to me. Cutler is another stiff going on every single year now … so he’ll throw a few big passes and compliment them with an equal number of pick-sixes … this is the year they take a big-ass bow … Prediction: 6-10.

Minnesota Vikingless … Oy vey, vey iz mir … so long as they keep playing in a dome, the curse remains (I gave them the Malocchia for building a dome) … have a nice draft pick AGAIN next season, fellas … Prediction: 5-11.


TK’s Super Bowl Prediction … drumroll …




NFC: San Fernando 49’ers …

AFC: Denver Broncettes …

Super Bowl Champion (and score): San Fernando 34, Denver 24.

Take it to the bank and cash it in.

—Knucks


Friday, August 22, 2014

Lie Down in Darkness … AFC North … Joe Cocker!

Amici:


Lie Down in Darkness, William Styron … an amazing novel that at times frustrated me so much, I stopped to read another book when I left my kindle at the office over a weekend. That said, when I returned to the last half of the book, I was surprised at how quickly I was re-hooked and anxious to keep reading. It is close to an epic read, what one has to suspect the author was shooting for (as regards length), but the most amazing thing about this novel was learning the age of the author at the time of publication—William Styron was only 26 years old when Lie Down in Darkness was published. His insights into the human condition at age 26 make this novel all the more impressive.

I could do without much of the page length descriptive narrative and/or some of the introspection, but the characters are so compelling it is difficult to ignore them for more than a few hours. I am still thinking about them, seeing them in my head, two days after finishing the read. The novel revolves around the suicide of Peyton Loftis, daughter to Milton and Helen Loftis, and sister to Maudie. Peyton is the beautiful daughter with the brains and brash. Maudie is the daughter born with a birth defect (one of her legs) and is mentally challenged. She will die an early death (age 20 or so), but she is beloved by her mother and more or less ignored by her father. Peyton, at best, is daddy’s little girl (Milton, an alcoholic, seems to long for much more), but because of Peyton's hold on Daddy, her mother despises her. Dad has a significant other (the dull and shallow Dolly) … Peyton is married to Harry (a Jewish war veteran and artist) but she ruins the marriage in her seemingly heatless search for love and acceptance.

If you can tolerate the wordiness of the manuscript, you’re in for a genuine treat. I remain floored at Styron’s 26 year old insights to drama. It is more than amazing how much he understood at so young an age. This tragic southern story of a dysfunctional family that continues to come apart, even during the course of Peyton’s funeral, is riveting. Especially after there’s Nothing! Nothing! Nothing’s left!

Very Highly Recommended.

Get it here:



AFC Norse …

Cincinnati Bengaleez … How many more times does this team have to come so close, just to get blown back again? I don’t know. Yous tell me. I say they’re a good team. I’m not as sold on the red rifle as the rest of the world, but they do have talent elsewhere to support him. I see them running away with this division and then we’ll see what the real story is come the playoffs. Prediction: 11-5

Baltimore Wes Cravens … how does one ever bet against the Wes Cravens? With common sense, that’s how! This is a black and blue division and that usually means parity in spades. They have a lot to offer, but nothing will come easy for them this season. Prediction: 9-7 and then one and done.

Cleveland Brownies … you know, I actually enjoyed watching this team the other night in their preseason matchup with the Washingtonians … the goal line stand was wonderful to see … but they’ll still have QB problems too deep into the season to be anything other than a spoiler. Prediction: 6-10

Pittsburgh Steelerettes … Big Ben just doesn’t have what he’ll need to do much better than another dismal season. If you watched them get demolished in the first half last night by the Eaglettes, you know what I mean. Pot smoking, DUI running backs 2 hours before the team travels for a pre-season game? Really? Enough said. It’s a shame to see a team with so much history fall by the wayside, but right now it’s where they belong. I look forward to the Browns ripping them to pieces come opening day. Prediction: 6-10


—Knucks

Joe Cocker … you gotta love Joe! I used to love drumming to his music when I was a kid 2,000 years ago. Recently, a year or so ago, I told my wife that his spastic routine on stage was just that, a routine, and she became very angry. She’d thought Joe was suffering some form of muscular dystrophy. The truth is so did I until I was 30 years old and read an interview with him. I saw him perform with Mad Dogs & Englishman way back in the day … at Madison Square Garden … where I’ll never go again until Glen Sather is long gone … Go Bolts!

Let’s Go Get Stoned …





Feelin’ Alright …




With a Little Help from My Friends …




Whiter Shade of Pale …


Monday, August 18, 2014

The blog hop continues … the NFC East …

Amici:


I’m asked to answer 4 questions and keep the blog moving … it goes to authors Rick Ollerman and David Zeltserman  from here … and then they will pick 2 more writers to answer the same 4 questions next week … and so on … I was one of two writers Dana King picked … the 4 questions follow:
 
What am I working on?

Dogfella, a non-fiction memoir about James Head Guiliani, a former mob enforcer turned animal rescuer. Tommy Red, a crime novel follow-up to Ode to the O’s (a short story in the Baltimore Noir collection many years ago). A collection of so-called literary fiction with (right now) as many titles as there are stories …

 
How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure it does. I don’t spend much time describing furniture, wallpaper and/or landscapes. I don’t believe it’s always necessary to do so when providing the right atmosphere for a scene. Obviously, it’s dependent on what’s going on, but I believe that what people say, how they say it, etc., will most often get the job done. I just about finished reading Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron. Make no mistake, I love this book (the darkness especially), but I often gave myself a headache trying to follow the (as I saw it) totally unnecessary never-fucking-ending descriptive narrative (as well as some of the introspection). I’m sure Mr. Styron, a far better writer than I’ll ever be, felt he needed everything he included in the novel, but as a reader, it was more than frustrating getting through it all. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

 
Then again, I can’t wait to finish his book (for good reasons—Peyton’s suicide will keep me reading into the wee hours of the morning tonight).

Why do I write what I do?

Well, I’m trying to branch out. At first, crime writing was just the easiest to pursue, but I’m coming back to my original roots as a playwright … at least as regards what interests me more and more as I get closer to croaking, which is drama; affairs of the heart and the mind, and politics at its barest essential—survival. There’s a drama this life that continues to haunt me like a motherfucker …

 
How does my writing process work?

Monday: my most productive writing day, because I’m off from my real job as a word processor (writing can't be a job when you enjoy it, right?). I’m at it a good 10-12 hours; new stuff, editing, back and forth. Tue-Fri: Up early to write new stuff, then break and begin editing. During the day, when times allows (downtime/lunchtime at work, after my half our walk/read around our parking lot), either more editing or spewing new stuff, nights (when time allows, polishing). Saturday mornings are reserved for editing. Sunday mornings the same and/or research (with Dogfella, it required Sunday mornings into the afternoon interviewing the subject and immediately returning home to transcribe).

 
That’s it. Nothing fancy or profound, that’s for sure. You wanna’ write? See above: Sit your ass down and do it.


 
Now, for why you really came here … to see what Knucks is picking, so yous can bet the other way.

The NFC Beast …

It’s a much more tame division than it once was, mostly because it’s in a constant state of rebuilding.

Philadelphia Eaglettes … no longer the dog killers because they managed to dump Michael Vick on the Moonachie Dog Killers Green Team from New Jersey, they’re going for another run at high speed flag football. With the new impossible defensive holding rules, they should set new records for yards gained … maybe even points scored, but the results will be pretty much the same. Foles won’t be the dream he was last year … this year he’ll be picked off just like all the other QBs who throw the ball too damn often much to make it interesting (to me) … but so long as they have LeSean McCoy, they’ll be a threat … until the playoffs when they’re dropped like the high speed bad habit they (and the NFL) have established as the new brand of football. Prediction: 10-6; one and done.

Moonachie Blue Team … sorry to say it, but Eli may have owned Giselle’s husband, but those days are over. He’s just another bad QB without the right talent around him … they have a good nucleus, but I don’t see them doing much better than last season. Maybe 2 games better. He and brother Payton need to stop making videos … please. Prediction: 8-8 ... and sorry to say, goodbye, Tom Coughlin.

Washington (fuck Daniel Snyder) Native Americans … we’ll finally see if RGIII is for real. Actually, I suspect he is very much for real … and if he manages to keep himself healthy, his team would be a genuine threat … but, alas, he won’t stay healthy. The NFL ain’t college. He’ll run out of the pocket one too many times and that’ll be the end of their season … again. Prediction: 7-9.

Dallas Cowgirls … Jason Garrett won’t make it to the end of the season as the girls get their asses handed to them once again. They’re a bust … again … or did they really think letting DeMarcus Ware take off was a smart move? Prediction: 7-9

Tune in again next week for another TK NFL divisional prediction … but please don’t add them up (the wins and losses across the board), because we sure aren’t …

—Knucks


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Death/Suicide of Robin Williams …

Amici:


I was sitting in front of the television when CNN did their breaking news story about the death of Robin Williams. It was sad to learn of his death, but I was not surprised. Upset, yes, but not surprised. He was a major talent in both comedy and dramatic acting. He was also a manic personality, one I often found difficult to watch when he was being interviewed, but that was my hang-up, not his. I posted nothing on Facebook about his death because I knew so many others would. Mr. Williams will be missed for all his philanthropy and charity, as much as for his exceptional talents.

I posted nothing because I didn’t want to engage beyond a show of respect, which I had planned to do in my weekly TK post. I also knew that sooner or later the psychotics from the Westboro Baptist Church (and/or their ilk) would chirp in and piss off most of the civilized world. Frankly, I can laugh off nuts like the Westboro Baptist Church. It’s the lesser degrees of religious fanaticisms that upset me more. Inevitably, they did. Some people of a lesser degree of messianic faith spewed nonsense about Williams’ suicide being the act of a coward and/or how he’d cheated God of his/her powers over life and death, and/or how his taking his life was a selfish act.

Morons, I figure. Forgive them (the assholes), they know not what they do (or say).

This is not an attack on believers of any particular dogma. I think all religions are essentially silly, make no mistake, but I accept the fact that most (hopefully) believers (of whatever faiths) aren’t so rigid in their particular dogma as to ignore the science of depression and/or to suggest that suicide is a violation of their religious law and therefore subject to condemnation … or that homosexuality is a sin … or that disbelievers should be killed wherever you find them … or that non-believers (or those who believe in the “wrong” God) should be stoned to death.

Suicide statistics in the United States are overwhelming. As many as 108 people a day take their own lives in the so-called greatest country in the world. Many are veterans of wars we unilaterally chose to engage in in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bulk of suicides are people who suffered from depression so deep, it wasn’t worth enduring the pain it took for them to continue living.

None of us (NONE OF US) can ever know the pain and suffering someone goes through before deciding to take their own life. To assume we can know, and/or to make asinine statements about them being cowards  (Shepard Smith, FOX) is nothing short of (or beyond) stupid (i.e., STUPID). Equally as offensive and STUPID, is to condemn someone for taking their own life because of a belief in a God (or Gods). That particular condemnation is a form of ignorance that continues to poison the world we live in. You’re more than welcome to have your faith in a deity (if you must), but condemning those who take their life because it is against a “God’s or several Gods’” law(s) is no less ignorant (or STUPID) than what Mr. Smith from Fox said.

And it’s offensive to rational thinking beings everywhere.

It’s probably offensive to rocks.

Wouldn’t the people of faith rather believe in a merciful, loving God, one that doesn’t pass judgment? — Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matthew 7)

Can you say or believe in something stupid one day and eventually figure out it was a mistake—your mistake? Sure, of course. I originally supported the war in Iraq and the President who started it—a big mistake. In fact, they were two big mistakes … two HUGE mistakes, and both, as it turned out, downright stupid (i.e., STUPID). Fortunately, I was able to swallow my pride and learn from those mistakes. Hopefully, those mistakes chased me back to where I belong (firmly on the left of the left).

Hopefully, those who condemn Robin Williams today (for something they can know nothing about) will realize they were wrong tomorrow and perhaps rethink their hurtful statements and/or thoughts.

In the interim, however, Mr. Smith can shove his phony, network induced apology for being a moron up his tiny ass … behind a bread truck … parked sideways.

I’ve known a few people who took their own lives now. None of them were cowards and none of them were looking to usurp any one (or more) deity’s(ies’) powers over life and death (although if there was a deity and he/she was so fucking all powerful, you’d think that deity would put a stop to it, right?) Or is that too much logic to comprehend at one time?

A very dear friend had dinner with me and Ann Marie just a few nights before he took his own life a few years ago. He was a beautiful person. One of the most generous people I’ve yet to meet. My wife gets emotional every time she thinks of him and she thinks of him often. There’s never a holiday season we both don’t talk about him and what he meant to us. I knew that he was suffering from depression, and I very much feared for him the night he left our home. In fact, that night I mentioned to my wife how concerned I was for our friend.

Brian was neither a coward nor selfish. And he wasn’t cheating some God/deity/tooth fairy. He was in pain and he needed it to end.


Most of the Facebook posts about Robin Williams were supportive and/or shows of respect. Unfortunately, every once in a while I saw some of the most offensive bullshit spewed by so-called Christians; those offended for their magic man or woman in the sky. I read them and was instantly upset. It reminded me why I so abhor religion in general, because of the dangerous ignorance it enhances and spreads like a cancer. My wife is religious; a Catholic cherry picker because she can’t align herself to a church with so much inherent hypocrisy. She’s also intelligent enough to realize the taking of one’s own life doesn’t warrant a church condemnation. She understands how NONE of us can possibly know or understand what it takes to decide to leave life behind. She ignores the book of fairytales most believers call their Bible because she doesn’t believe it to be the actual word of her God (but rather what it is, the writings of a couple dozen or so guys who do a pretty good job of contradicting one another). My wife’s faith, bless her, is hers to do with as she pleases (rather than join the line of blind faith lemmings marching toward what they’ve accepted without question will be paradise).

It’s easy to get confused about this paradise place. One major religion (Qur’an 9:5) advises its followers to “Kill the disbelievers wherever you find them” (and if you call right now, you’ll get a bonus of 72 virgins), while the other major religion advises us to love thy neighbor unless he/she is homosexual orrrrrrrrrrrrrr, (Deuteronomy 17): And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded … then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.

Like I said, this stuff is probably offensive to rocks.

I accept my wife’s faith because I know that hers is harmless to those around her; her faith is hers and hers alone. She doesn’t attempt to force it on anyone else, nor does she condemn others for having different forms of faith. She even accepts me (not very easy for any number of reasons) and my complete lack of faith in a deity. She’s a far better person than I’ll ever be. I’m not as gentle or kind. I am opposed to religions and beliefs in omnipotent beings in general, because although I can usually look the other way when someone tells me how “unworthy we all are”, when I see some of the bullshit mentioned about suicide on Facebook some believers have posted, arguments for intelligent design quickly become arguments for a fucking tooth fairy, except in the case of intelligent design, the tooth fairy is one mean and cruel motherfucker who enjoys spreading decay until all the teeth are gone.

At least two of the major religions, when taken literally by extremists (i.e., the Evangelical Born Again crowd or Islamic Fundamentalists) are tantamount to nation states, each one seeking its own power at the expense of the other (and/or whoever stands in their way). They are far more ruthless and rigid than they are compassionate and tolerant. I wish they’d both go away and stay away.

The world would be a far better place if they did.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Williams.


—Knucks
 
 
A couple of notes on suicide below ...
 


Military Suicides (from Wiki): A 2009 U.S. Army report indicates military veterans have double the suicide rate of non-veterans, and more active-duty soldiers are dying from suicide than in combat in the Iraq War (2003-2011) and War in Afghanistan (2001–present). Colonel Carl Castro, director of military operational medical research for the Army noted "there needs to be a cultural shift in the military to get people to focus more on mental health and fitness." In 2012, the US Army reported 185 suicides among active-duty troops, exceeding the number of combat deaths in that year (176). This figure has significantly increased since 2001, when the number of suicides was 52.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review … 2 Series Reviews … TK’s NFL Preview (Part I) … Amazon vs. Hatchette …

Amici:



Fallen, by Mike Hancock … SNHU MFA grads keep turning them out and this week I was fortunate enough to forget my kindle at work the night before I had a back spasm and had to take 2 days off to recover. Fortunate as regards what I had to read in the interim. I had been reading William Styron’s, Lie Down in Darkness, a very fine read overloaded with some of the wordiest passages I’ve yet to come across. I’m no fan of sentences that go on for 3 paragraphs, a page and sometimes two pages (okay, so I’m exaggerating a little, stay with me on this) … the story behind Styron’s book is a good one and I’ll review it next week, but once I picked up Fallen, I had simultaneous tales being told; one based on historical sources, the other a current piece of fiction.

The background to Fallen includes the Marias Massacre (from Wiki): a massacre of a friendly band of Piegan Blackfeet Indians on January 23, 1870 by the United States Army in Montana Territory during the Indian Wars. About 200 Indians were killed, mostly women and children, and elderly men. In Fallen, a Native American father and son, along with some of their tribe, survive the massacre and their story is told alongside (chapter by chapter) the current day coming of age of a boy dealing with an abusive father (and all the offshoots of that relationship as regards his mother and grandfather). I prefer historical fiction when it’s done well and this one sure is.

No spoilers here, but you’ll be surprised along the way. I sure was.

And wouldn’t it be nice if at least some of the knuckleheads in the Tea Party acknowledged the fact that “taking back their country” would actually involve giving it back to those who were here first … but that’d be like asking for the same knuckleheads to abandon their belief that America is an actual democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people ... rather than the oligarchy it has actually become (and that’s me being very kind to the founding fathers).

Anyway, Fallen is recommended reading. Get it here:



Masters of Sex ... I channel surfed on this Showtime series and was pretty stunned by the subject matter. No, I haven’t become a puritanical fire and brimstone, born again, psycho (those people are very scary). I simply didn’t like the title and kind of avoided it while watching The Killing and a few others. It was a season 2 episode I surfed into and I was intrigued with a 1956 discussion of homosexuality. “Wow,” I said. “This is good.”

And so we started watching from season 1/episode and we both came to this conclusion: “Wow, this is great.”

We’re all caught up now … and it’s interesting to see how the progression of the show and its characters move in time. Of course now that we’re caught up, we’ll have to deal with keeping our eyes open after the season ends, because we don’t like the week-to-week stuff. We prefer marathon sessions on days when we need to sit back and watch.

Bottom line: We think it’s an important show for any number of reasons: women’s rights, feminism, exposing the absurd attempts to “cure” homosexuality, and so on …



Generation War … one from Germany about friends and soldiers in (and out) of the German Wehrmacht during World War II … it’s difficult to ever feel sympathy toward soldiers in the German army, but this one tries … maybe too hard. I think it’s worth watching all 4 episodes just to decide for oneself. It was a huge hit in Germany and not so much in Poland (due to the anti-Semitism Polish partisans were portrayed as having). The NY Times had an interesting review (read it here:). I was glad I watched it and I’m still not sure how I felt about it, but the Principessa did not partake.



Temporary Knucksline’s NFL Preview …

Come on, admit it, this is what yous were all waiting for … to see what Knucks is picking and make a fortune going the other way!

Okay, so let’s start with the AFC Beast, where Robert Kraft continues his stranglehold on a conference in dire need of another contender for the ultimate pretender crown.

The New England Choketriots should have little problem repeating as Division Chumpions, but let’s face it, there isn’t much in the way of true competition. This year they have Gronk back and they’ve beefed up their defense (again) … but going 10-6 or 11-5 or 12-4 has proved more than fruitless the last several years. In fact, you’d have to go back to their cheating ways to find any success at all. They’ll probably win the division sometime in December again, but the Moonachie Dog Killers may well give them a surprise a time or two. Finish: 11-5 and then 1 and done … again.

The Moonachie Green Dog Killers … you hire Michael Vick, you’re a dog killer, end of story. They have a solid defense again … and this year Gino Smith will have some weapons to work with, but bringing Vick into the mix will ultimately prove another Woody Johnson disaster (remember Mr. Tebow?) … Yets fans aren’t very patient. And lord knows, they’re hungry for a winner again. Rex Ryan may save his job yet again, but unless they remain healthy and sane (i.e., let Gino continue to mature and develop), they’ll be another also ran. Finish: 9-7 and maybe 1 or 2 before they’re home watching on the couch.

My Beloved New York State Buffalo Bills … we have a defense … we always have a defense … even when we lose superstars like Jaris Byrd and Kiko Alonzo (one because we’re cheap, the other because he blew out his knee), but our offense should be considerably better this year. Everything depends on whether or not we allow E.J. Manuel to play and not keep sitting him every time he gets a hang nail. I think our usual 6-8 is a lock, but we may surprise and win 7 or 8 this season. We shall see. Finish: 7-9 … improvement before they move to London?

The Miami Dolphinations … there’s no way they recover from last year’s fiasco with allegations of abuse within their offensive line. Reggie Bush is still a bust, I don’t care what anybody says. They’ll take one giant step backward, even with a fine young QB in Tannehill, but they’ll be fortunate to win 7 games this season. Finish: 7-9 and then it's so long coach Philbin.

Next week one of the other AFC Divisions … I’ll let yous know.


—Knucks

As the publishing world goes to war (see Hachette vs. Amazon), authors should be remembering one thing. We’re the workers … and any battle between corporations isn’t exactly going to be in our best interests. In fact, we’re the last people in any equation that involves profit. As an author with books on both sides of the fight; one upcoming with Hachette and several with amazon, I have no interest in anything that increases corporate positions of power over workers (Citizens United did enough of that all on its own). To that end, right now Amazon does far more for the vast majority of authors out there, both traditionally published and those uploading whatever they write. They may well become the monster they are feared, and at that point they may well shit all over authors the way the big guys have in the past, but until we live in a society where workers are paid their actual worth versus manipulated markets (there’s no such thing as a free market), I’ll take what I can get from those who do the most for me while I’m alive (figure another dozen years at best).

And then who the hell will root for my London Bills?


Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Reviews … Movie Review … Stephen A. Smith ... Go Bills!

Amici:

Book Reviews …



Country Hardball, by Steve Weddle … the author has long established chops that have appeared in short story collections such as Protectors, First Shift, Both Barrels, Off The Record, and D*cked. Steve holds an MFA from Louisiana State University. In this novel, told in short story format, Weddle offers a slice of American too often ignored by the media—the flip side of an American dream, or more to the point, what the American dream has turned into. A former convict seeking a new start to life finds himself on the Arkansas-Louisiana border where there are no jobs, lots of drugs, violence, lost lives to a pointless war, banks taking homes and nothing much to look forward to in the foreseeable future.

Roy Alison is haunted by an accident from his past that cost the lives of his parents. He’s made bad choices ever since, winding up in juvenile detention and eventually jail. He wants to change, but the life he finds on the outside is an America devastated by the result of capitalism gone wild (my spin). Life doesn’t hold many promises for those in Weddle’s Southern small town.

Weddle does a wonderful job of linking his stories through fearsome, lonely, frightened and ultimately angry characters. You beat a man (or woman) down hard enough and they’ll eventually bite back. That works for societies in general as well. It may take a little longer before people see and/or feel the commonality of their despair, but it’s there just waiting for the right spark. It’s always there.

Two brilliant passages I found myself highlighting as I read were these:

The sun painted light onto the rug in front of her feet, as flecks of dust danced in a river to the window, every speck visible, sparkling, like your first glimpse of snow. The dust, caught for a moment, before the sun goes away and the dust settles, moving by books, by afghans, by the top edge of a picture frame, from room to room in the darkness.
 
And this one.
 
A car pulled up beside the two of them. Ken Moody rolled down his windows. “You fellas okay? Need a lift?” They shook their heads and he waved, drove on.
 
“How about it?” Rusty asked. “How come God couldn’t save her?”
 
“What would you have the almighty do, son?”
 
“I don’t know. Walk on water. Raise the dead. How come God only did stuff like that in the Bible? Why can’t he help people now?”
 
This is more than just another crime fiction collection. It’s a collection of our stories about our frayed American dream (Bonnie Joe Campbell came to mind while I read this one) that needs to be seen and read about. Kudos to the author for bringing this collection to light.

Highly recommended.

Visit the author’s website here:

Get Country Hardball here:



Naked Me, by Christian Winn … short stories, flash stories, stories about loneliness and grief, fathers and sons, gambling, rambling, desire, awkwardness (including two very awkward relationships—a daughter’s relationship with her mother’s lover; two sisters sharing the same man) … all wonderfully told and intriguing.

It’s difficult to choose a favorite, because there were several that continue to hold my attention (stories and scenarios that I continue to think about several days after I finished reading). Father-son relationships (Where He’s Living Now) are always a particular interest of mine, so there’s that flight to San Diego when a son visit with his father and their coming to terms at a neighbor’s backyard scrabble game. There’s also the title story (Naked Me), wherein a man bets his fellow card players that he can nail the vixen doing stripteases (and more) for them across the courtyard. There’s also a bit about the two dead dentists found floating in a basin (Dentists), although the story isn’t about the dentists (and is probably my co-favorite). These stories, so many of them, are relatable on many levels to my guess? Everyone and anyone who reads them.

A woman mourns dead celebrities (All Her Famous Dead) … while debating how or if to tell her mother she’s been sleeping the same man as mom. There are two young friends going through different types of a loss of motherhood (The Dirtiest Hamburger in the World). One Mom has left her husband son behind, while the other Mom seems to have lost her mind (I wanted this one to keep going—maybe a novel?)

Winn’s collection is not so much linked as it is an all-encompassing view of lives any one of us can (or have) live(d) ourselves. Mr. Formal was another one I thought about long and hard (and wanted even more of); how working in a tuxedo rental joint with a kind of man-child had to lead where the story eventually took us. Brilliant stuff, really. Fighting Mormons gets ugly in Rough Cut, a terrific riff on buddies sharing a hard time after one of them has been knocked senseless and the other has had to rescue him, albeit late. False History is another fine story that ends the collection. A man on vacation with his wife and child defies whatever bleakness might await by the simple act of seeing/recognizing his wife and child, their smiles, what his future really needs to be.

My favorite of the flash fiction in the collection was One Thing to Take. A 19 year-old and her sister have the same boyfriend-lover. Their dad is gone and their mother has taken up with his uncle. Oh, man, did I want more of this one.

Naked Me, is also highly recommended.

Visit the author at his website here:

Get Naked Me here:

Or visit Dock Street Press, like I did, and buy it here:


Movie Review …



 
Barney’s Version … the Principessa Ann Marie and I were both in need of a break last week and we decided to watch a movie instead of fantasize about winning the powerball lotto. We had no idea what we were in for when we chose this particular film. We knew absolutely nothing about it. We hadn’t heard of it, or the novel it was based on. We chose this movie because of the cast. Sometimes, like this time, that kind of choice pays off.

Early on, it’s tough to care much for the lead character, Barney Panofsky (played by Paul Giammatti). He comes off as sexist, arrogant, miserable and generally unlikeable (kind of like Knucks, my wife tells me). He’s in Rome about to be married to a whackjob who is pregnant (why he’s marrying her), except it isn’t his baby. No spoilers here, but what follows is a suicide, a second marriage, some wonderful acting, hilarious humor, and some of the most depressing drama you’ll encounter. Not depressing in a bad way … more heartbreaking than depressing. Bottom line: it’s a wonderful movie with a GREAT cast, and it comes very highly recommended.





Waxing Poetic … Sportscaster, Stephen A. Smith stepped into the shit two weeks ago when his incessant ranting (I really think this clown gets off on it sometimes) spewed out a suggestion to the female sex about not provoking their men into slugging them … say what?

It had to do with Ray Rice’s knockout of his fiancĂ© (now his wife) and Roger Goodell’s never ending ball-licking of his bosses (NFL owners) as he handed out a 2 game suspension to Rice (because, let’s face it, knocking out a woman doesn’t really make the NFL look all that bad … I mean, it’s not like smoking pot, right?). A Bills linebacker received a 1 game suspension for marijuana possession (his charges were later dropped because the amount was so small) … leaving the moral to this story … If you’re an NFL player, get caught with a joint (or less) and you can kiss a single paycheck goodbye. Knock out a woman and it’ll be two paychecks, MF’ers … so take that!

Oy vey …

In any event, Mr. Smith received a one week suspension from the network that licks the NFL’s balls, ESPN.

Man, that’s a lot (and enough) of ball licking for one week.


Go Bills!

My beloved New York State Buffalo Bills are set to play the Moonachie Blue team Sunday night after the Hall of Fame ceremonies that will include the inductions of Andre Reed (Kutztown State, future bride of Cugino, Jason—Alison) and Michael Strahan. I can’t get angry at the Blue team from Moonachie, not after they knocked off the Cheaterfaces from New England (a.k.a., Choketriots). These NFL pre-season games, I suspect, are mere practice for the trainers as they do their best to prolong the careers of guys playing a sport with a shelf life of anywhere from 3.2 years to 6 years (depending on which set of propaganda you use). Bottom line: It ain’t a long career … so while owners get to sell for billions and refuse to open their books, maybe it’s time to strike again (dummies)?


—Knucks

My favorite of the German arias … Liebestod … goosebumps, brothers and sisters … goosebumps.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Reviews … SNHU MFA’ers kicking ass and taking names … Tony Dungy … Political pictures of the week … Stella book deal ... Jesus debate …

Amici:


The Execution of Willie Francis, Gilbert King … a wonderfully written book about one of the more embarrassing moments in American history (not just the south because this was a case that could’ve been overturned). Willie Francis, wrongfully accused and convicted and then sentenced to death twice, as it turned out, was 15 years old at the time of his arrest, 16 when he was sentenced. Without going into the details of how this poor kid was railroaded by the criminals wearing badges and sitting on benches (judges) in Louisiana in 1946 (you’ll have to read the book), Willie Francis was electrocuted during his first execution, but survived because of the chair’s failure to exact the necessary amount of electricity (faulty wiring, maybe?) to kill. Instead, he suffered electrocution just short of death and was re-sentenced to go through the same ordeal 6 days later. The book tells the tales of the battles of two lawyers working the same side of the tracks, but from different angles (an NAACP lawyer attempting to appeal on the law, and a local lawyer from the town of St. Martinsville (where Willie lived) shooting for an emotional appeal to the judges (one of which was the judge who heard Willie's case). This is a heartbreaking tale, but one that should be required reading for those in high schools across this country. The Trayvon Martin murder two years ago (I still consider it a murder), especially the law that allowed a grown man to shoot and kill a 17 year old because the grown man was losing a fight he’d instigated, is not so far removed from a state execution wherein the arrest, trial and sentence are all rigged in advance, and the result is the same thing—a dead black kid.

And remember, Gilbert King’s last book won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America.

Read the New York Times review here:

Gilbert and I shared the best editor in the world, Peter Skutches (the Maestro).

ALL OF GILBERT’S BOOKS COME VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Get THE EXECUTION OF WILLIE FRANCIES here:



Life After Life, Kate Atkinson … Your born, you die, your born again, you die again, and so on. And all the people and circumstances in life that occur between life and death (like whacking Adolf Hitler before he becomes Der Fuehrer) can alter all what might happen before your next death (in the case mentioned above, not very long as some of the future SS exacts immediate revenge). Confusing? It can be, but really isn’t once you’re into this novel about a girl/woman Ursula and her family as the forever changing tides of life ebb and flow, ultimately leading to a darkness none of us can escape. An interesting read that will leave the reader asking “what if” questions. What if there was never a village? After all, we are not born alone to die alone. Be prepared to feel stumped from time to time, at least until you get used to Ursula (and some of her family) dying off and returning with other chances at the same situations.

Recommended reading for the especially curious.

Get it here:

Next week’s book reviews include Steve Weddle’s Country Hardball and Christian Winn’s Naked Me, two short story collections.


SNHU MFA’ers kicking ass and taking names …


Kelly Stone Gamble continues on her tear through the literary world as The Choosing Game, is published in the Red Earth Review. Kelly Stone Gamble already has a couple of novels she’s shopping and one under contract. They Call Me Crazy is under contract with Red Adept Publishing. Currently in content editing, no release date yet.

Kelly Stone Gamble has a Bachelor of Arts in the Integrated Studies of History and Business Administration from Nevada State College, a Master of Arts in Humanities from California State University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Not too shabby, amici.

Check out the Red Earth Review publication here:

Kelly’s website is here:



Mike Hancock … The release of his debut novel, Fallen, happened yesterday. Mike is a graduate of the SNHU MFA program and has an incredible story behind this wonderful book. Check it out by clicking on the link.

Mike Hancock is a former wilderness guide and commercial fisherman, having spent seven years working in the mountains of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and New Mexico. Prior to that, he spent two seasons as a deckhand on board a factory trawler in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Now living in South Padre Island, Texas, he is an Adjunct Professor of English and freelance writer. He holds a B.A. in English Literature, and a M.F.A. in Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Fallen has been edited by noted fiction and non-fiction writers Richard Adams Carey, Diane Les Becquets, Merle Drown, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes.


Susan Kennedy editor of two books released this week.

In Susan’s words: On Tuesday, July 22, my client Bishop O'Connell's debut novel, titled The Stolen, was released in ebook format by Harper Voyager Impulse. It is an urban fantasy that dares to wonder would happen if an ordinary person were thrown into a world of magic that she thought existed only in children's stories. That person is single mother Caitlin Brady, and she's thrown into that world by the kidnapping of her young daughter by dark faeries. She finds that determination alone is not enough to rescue her daughter and must accept help from three unlikely allies: a Fian warrior, a mysterious elf, and her closest friend--who is actually a novice wizard, but that is something he has never told her. Through the suburbs of Manchester, New Hampshire, and down the busy streets of Boston, Massachusetts, to the fabled land of Tir na nOg, the quartet race against time to unravel the faeries' plans and rescue Caitlin's daughter.



 
You can also learn more about Bishop at his blog, A Quiet Pint:

The Stolen will be available in paperback on August 5th. It is the first book in the An American Faerie Tale Series. The second book, titled The Forgotten, will be published in 2015.

Mike Hancock (Fallen) and I were classmates at Southern New Hampshire University's MFA Program (class of 2008, the MFA's inaugural class) and he was my first freelance client.

I'm thrilled that both of these books have been published. They're both great stories, compelling in their individual ways, and it was a privilege to work with both Mike and Bishop. I know they both have bright literary careers ahead of them.


Susan has worked as the Editorial Assistant of NH Writer at New Hampshire Writers' Project, Membership and Publications Coordinator at New Hampshire Writers' Project and a Graduate Assistant at Southern New Hampshire University


All THREE ABOVE, KELLY, MIKE AND SUSAN ARE GRADUATES OF THE SNHU MFA PROGRAM … PRETTY COOL, AMICI … PRETTY DAMN COOL.



Tony Dungy … I don’t think anybody has anything bad to say about Mr. Dungy. I doubt his comments about the Michael Sam situation bore any malicious intent (to his mind). They were a bit offensive, as one person (a woman) wrote on a twitter to ESPN (I don’t have the quote exactly), but paraphrasing it here, it’s a pretty good knockdown. Dungy said he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because of the distractions it would cause (at some point) during a football season. As a coach, he represents the owners and all the owners (the vast majority, at least) want is to win. It’s a business based comment with the heightened awareness that NFL players come from mostly homophobic environments. Like I said, Dungy wasn’t being malicious (to his mind). What the woman wrote to ESPN went something like this: “And what about the rapists, murderers, wife-beaters, drug addicts, DWI’s? Aren’t they distractions, or is the NFL happy to look the other way because the players involved in such criminal behavior are superstars?”

I’m not sure she added that last line, but her point was well-made.


To the woman who tweeted: Women beating must not be a distraction in the NFL.

Maybe it’s his faith based world view that prompted Dungy’s comments. Maybe it was just what he considered the business of winning in the NFL. The bottom line is the woman made a much more valid point than did Dungy. Does that make him a bad person? I don’t think so, but I don’t like the implications of his comments one way or the other (i.e., his opinion isn’t digesting well). It’s a shame Michael Sam has to be scrutinized the way he is because of his sexual orientation, but this is an America that for many the teachings of their Jesus’ (or whatever other God they worship) are ignored for the most part. Look to the border situation and these days and listen to some of the protesters … and then look at these Bible passages:

Leviticus 19:33-34 … “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”


Matthew 25:35 … “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me …”

Exodus 22:21 … “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

Then there’s our own Knucks and his quote of the day: “Every single non-Native American in this country is here without an open invitation. Get over it border protesters and do the right thing.”

Eloquent, SOB, that Knucks fella, huh?



The above six are available right now for $.99 ... oy vey, what a deal! 



A Jesus debate … it’s a short one … the guy was explaining to me how we were all intended to be eternal (i.e., in God’s image) and I asked: “Then what was/is the point of life? If God is all knowing, omnipotent, and so on, why didn’t he just make us eternal? Why the big test? Why see if we’re subservient enough during a lifetime? Isn’t that a bit cruel? I mean, it’s like we’re taking this high school test for something that God already knows some of us won’t pass.” And the Jesus freak said, “God didn’t go to no stupid human high school.”

And I say: “Okay, but does He at least like pastrami?”


—Knucks